Last year I posted on the Israeli blockade of Gaza and the incident in which Israeli soldiers killed several of the people on board one of the ships attempting to run the blockade. I opined that the blockade was probably legal but that the incident was a PR disaster for Israel. Many countries, and many commenters here on BMG, asserted that the blockade was illegal.
The final report of the Secretary-General’s Panel of Inquiry on the incident is out today. The report, available here, opines that the blockade was legal, that the flotilla participants acted recklessly, that the Israeli soldiers were justified in using force once they boarded the ship as they were attacked, but that the details of the Israeli operation, and in particular the details of the use of force, were unreasonable. Here are some key paragraphs from the report’s summary:
The fundamental principle of the freedom of navigation on the high seas is subject to only certain limited exceptions under international law. Israel faces a real threat to its security from militant groups in Gaza. The naval blockade was imposed as a legitimate security measure in order to prevent weapons from entering Gaza by sea and its implementation complied with the requirements of international law.
Israeli Defense Forces personnel faced significant, organized and violent resistance from a group of passengers when they boarded the Mavi Marmara requiring them to use force for their own protection. Three soldiers were captured, mistreated, and placed at risk by those passengers. Several others were wounded.
The loss of life and injuries resulting from the use of force by Israeli forces during the take-over of the Mavi Marmara was unacceptable. Nine passengers were killed and many others seriously wounded by Israeli forces. No satisfactory explanation has been provided to the Panel by Israel for any of the nine deaths. Forensic evidence showing that most of the deceased were shot multiple times, including in the back, or at close range has not been adequately accounted for in the material presented by Israel.
The dispute about the legality of the blockade is not over, but I think there are a few lessons to be drawn from this report. The most important lesson is: do not confuse your views of the rights and wrongs of Israel’s policy in Gaza with the legality of the policy under international law, or with the public relations problems with the policies. All too often, critics of the Israeli policy cast their arguments as arguments about the law, which Israelis tend to view as an effort to delegitimize the Israeli state. I would say that the Israeli policy in Gaza is flawed in some respects; that its response to the flotilla was a PR disaster; but that the blockade is legal.