Search Results for : mavi marmara


The Mavi Marmara Murders

I can claim to have had a small hand in instigating the legal complaint to the International Criminal Court by the Comoros Islands against the murders by Israeli troops on the Mavi Marmara. The Washington Post writes:

In a filing, lawyers from the Istanbul-based law firm Elmadag argued that the events that took place on the Mavi Marmari should be considered as having occurred on the territory of Comoros.

As though this were in any sense a matter of dispute. That crimes committed on any ship outside of territorial waters are under the jurisdiction of the flag state of the ship, is both customary international law of ancient standing and a fundamental provision of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Article 92:
Ships shall sail under the flag of one State only and, save in exceptional cases expressly provided for in international treaties or in this Convention, shall be subject to its exclusive jurisdiction on the high seas.

The Comoros Islands are a tiny state off the East coast of the continent. They are part of the disgraceful system where small or failed states lease out their shipping registers – often corruptly – to western companies who run them, enabling major shipping owners to evade safety, conditions, qualifications and pay regulations of more serious states. Liberia has been the most notorious example. The Comoros government therefore deserves huge congratulation for taking its flag state responsibility so seriously, and so bravely, in taking on Israel.

It is a responsibility Turkey deliberately shed just before the Mavi Marmara was attacked.

There is, in this regard, as I reported from my meetings with organisers and bereaved families of the Mavi Marmara in Izmir two years ago, something extremely disturbing about the case of the Mavi Marmara:

Shortly before sailing, the registration was switched from Turkey to the Comoros Islands. This exempted Turkey from the responsibility of jurisdiction. It also made discussion at NATO much easier for the US; if the Israelis had attacked in international waters a ship flying the flag of a NATO state, that would have been a much more difficult thing for the alliance to ignore.

It turns out that the change was made at the insistence of the Turkish Ministry of Transport. They carried out a number of inspections of the Mavi Marmara prior to the Gaza trip and made repeated demands for changes: mattresses and cushions had to have more modern, fire resistant foam. Internal walls had to be upgraded for fire resistance. Whatever changes were then made, the Ministry found new faults. In the end, the Ministry had said that the Mavi Marmara would be impounded unless it changed its registration, as it could not meet the safety requirements for a Turkish flagged ship.

The strange thing is that the Mavi Marmara had been Turkish flagged for years, and hade been running tourist cruises out of Istanbul. None of the faults the Ministry found resulted from any changes, yet none had apparently been a problem on past inspections. The family told me that, before the Mavi Marmara sailed, they had been in no doubt the Turkish government had been deliberately obstructive and had forced the change of flag.

Part of the Turkish state was insistent on giving the Mavi Marmara no protection. You have to ask the question, did these people know in advance the Mavi Marmara was to be attacked? The fatal shootings on board were mostly not random – they were targeted shots to the head of selected people. If Israel had planned this, how long in advance, where did they get their intelligence on who was aboard? If they had assistance from within the Turkish state, of course the Turkish state would want to ensure they did not have legal responsibility over the killings.

Let me be plain. I am not accusing the current government of Turkey. But they inherited a bureaucracy and political establishment riddled, especially at the most senior levels, with ultra-nationalists and relatives and connections of the Turkish military. The Turkish Foreign Office in particular is notoriously ultra and completely penetrated and corrupted by Israel. The Turkish government has had a most difficult job in changing the direction of the country without provoking violent nationalist reaction. That has been a process; and the result is that those apparently in power did not in reality get control of all the levers of power at once.

We are a long way yet from knowing the full truth about the Mavi Marmara: and Israel is not the only place to look.

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Mavi Marmara: Footage Hidden From the Israelis

Israeli Attack on the Mavi Marmara, May 31st 2010 // 15 min. from Cultures of Resistance on Vimeo.

Lara Lee managed to hide this footage from the Israelis when they confiscated all the evidence from passengers. This video shows plainly a bloodstained ship before any commandos boarded, and that the passengers were not teroorists preparing for a fight.

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Why Was the Mavi Marmara Reflagged Just Before Sailing?

Contrary to virtually all media reports to date, it appears the Mavi Marmara was reflagged from Turkey to the Comoros Islands around 20 May, shortly before heading the peace flotilla.

This is very important. While the Israeli attack remains illegal, it means that the injured party – and the party with legal jurisdiction over the event – is the incapable Comoros Islands rather than the highly capable Turkey. It also greatly reduces the NATO angle, unless other attacked ships were flying the Turkish flag.

But the question must be why on earth was the flag changed just before sailing, and who instigated it?

Flags of convenience are normally adopted for purely commercial reasons to escape regulations of s “serious” flag state like the UK or US, in particular on issues like rates of pay, union recognition, working conditions and hours etc. The Turkish owned merchant fleet uses flags of convenience much less than other advance nations – possibly from national pride, possibly because Turkish regulations are not too onerous anyway.

But it would seem remarkable if the owners of the ship decided for commercial reasons to switch flags just before sailing in the “Peace flotilla”. It is on the face of it a remarkably foolish decision. Did the Turkish governrnent influence it to lessen the political responsibility of Turkey in any incident? Did Israel manage to influence the owners in any way? Is the vessel leased? Who are the owners, and just why did they do this?

None of this masks the illegality of Israel attacking a ship under any foregin flag in international waters. But bluntly, it was a stupid decision in practice by the protestors to set sail in a Comoros flagged ship.

Fortunately the MV Rachel Corrie is Irish registered, and the flag state (Ireland) has already shown it takes its duty seriously by telling the Israeli government it expects the Rachel Corrie to pass unhindered.

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Two Smooth Faces of Evil

smooth faces of evil

Many of you will recognise one of the faces in this photograph, Mark Regev. He is Israel’s new Ambassador to London and of course was the Israeli government spokesman who justified the massacre of more than 600 women and children in Gaza, and the murder of peace activists aboard the Mavi Marmara.

The other face of evil is Simon McDonald, head of the UK Diplomatic Service. You probably now think I am indulging in hyperbole. But no, I am not.

Simon McDonald was the Foreign Secretary Jack Straw’s Private Secretary at the time of the implementation of the British government’s extraordinary rendition and intelligence from torture programmes. When I became the only member of the UK’s senior civil service to make formal objection to these programmes, it was Simon McDonald who managed Jack Straw’s response in continuing to use torture.

I have indisputable documentary evidence of this, plain despite redactions by the British government censors (redactions which primarily remove all references to the CIA).

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It is put to me frequently that people like McDonald, who were merely implementing a policy of torture, are not evil. That of course is the age old “only doing my job” defence. As somebody who was sacked for refusing to go along with torture, I think I have walked the walk and can describe him as evil. It is also worth noting that, while McDonald meets all new Ambassadors to London, he went far further with Regev than with anybody else. He tweeted out their photo with the message “Happy to see Mark Regev newly arrived Israeli Ambassador, an old friend from Tel Aviv ten years ago.”

Ten years ago, when they were friends in Tel Aviv, was of course the year in which Israel invaded Lebanon and Mark Regev was the chief Israeli spokesman justifying that attack, with its mass civilian casualties. Regev also defended the bombing by Israel of a United Nations observation post.

It is hardly surprising McDonald and Regev became friends at this time, as Gordon Brown’s government were doing everything possible behind the scenes to assist the Israeli invasion. As I wrote at that time

I have just watched on television sixty bodies being buried in a mass grave in Tyre, victims of Israeli bombing. At the same time I saw the odious Kim Howells, Foreign Office minister, arguing that a ceasefire would not solve the problem.

British diplomats at the UK Mission to the United Nations in New York – people I know personally – are putting massive effort into working against a ceasefire. They have the ultimate weapon that they and the US can veto any resolution at the Security Council, but are bending their backs into heading the subject off the agenda.

I hope they are proud of their succesful efforts. For every hour they prevent a ceasefire, on average two more Lebanese children are dying. Israel claims now to have killed 100 Hizbollah fighters. Even if true, that means they are killing two children to every fighter.

McDonald and Regev. Torture meets child-killing. Don’t they make a lovely couple?

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Israeli Criminals No Longer Welcome

The state of Palestine today becomes a member of the International Criminal Court. This has a practical significance beyond the additional political pressure it piles on Israel. It means that in future Israelis will be liable to the jurisdiction of the court for crimes committed on Palestinian territory, despite Israel’s refusal to sign up to the court along with that other international rogue state, the United States of America.

In the case of the murders on the Mavi Marmara, the Court ruled that the scale of the incident did not reach the bar required for the Court’s jurisdiction – that it does not try war crimes which are individual acts. However it will be impossible to argue that at the next mass Israeli killing in Gaza, or even at the next large scale seizure of territory for Israeli settlements.

One of the many disgraces of neo-con government in the UK is the existence of legislation passed by the UK parliament specifically to allow Israeli war criminals to visit the UK without fear of arrest. That however will be overridden by Britain’s obligation to detain and hand over persons indicted by the International Criminal Court. Today’s apparently small step could change the atmosphere for the arrogant Israeli elite in a fundamental way. They will no longer be able to massacre hundreds of Palestinian women and children whenever they feel it boosts their cause, without some concern about personal consequences.

With the prospect of a deal bringing Iran back into the international community also appearing bright, we can be allowed a rare moment of optimism.

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The Tough Life of a Dissident

Ray McGovern always advises me not to accentuate the negatives in becoming a whistleblower. I always talk of the inevitable unemployment – no employer, not even those you might think of as moral, will ever employ a whistleblower as the quality an employer values in an employee above all others is loyalty to their employer. I also talk of the persecution and harassment. Those are very real indeed, and I think of Bradley Manning constantly.

Ray’s excellent point is that we need more whistleblowers not less, so I should accentuate the positive and talk of how great I feel, how I can sleep at night, how I am recognized all round the world, etc. – all of which is true.

On top of which, I am at the Cannes Film Festival with my incredibly beautiful and talented Nadira.

It’s been a bit hectic getting here straight after Istanbul, so will post on the Mavi Marmara tomorrow.

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Palestine and the Assange Test

Many congratulations to Palestine on being recognised as a non-member state at the United Nations. There is a distinct irony that, apart from the unreconstructed climate change deniers in the United States, Canada and the Czech Republic, the supporters of Palestinian genocide could only muster votes from the tiniest island states threatened by climate change. Where is the much vaunted American Empire now?

Both the United States and Israel are incapable of introspection; instead they have reacted by saying the rest of the world is mad.

There was also a chilling admission of the United States support for extreme zionist land claims, from Hillary Clinton, who called for negotiation “Between Jerusalem and Ramallah”. Not Tel Aviv; Jerusalem.

I argued a year ago that Palestine could join the International Criminal Court without waiting for this vote. But this vote certainly removes all doubt on that score.

I was absolutely disgusted by William Hague’s offer of support form Palestine if Palestine agreed not to join, or take cases to, the International Criminal Court. It is yet another example of that theme to which my writing constantly returns, the abandonment by neo-con UK governments of the principle of international law in favour of a might is right approach. It was always UK policy to encourage dispute resolution by international courts. Now we are discouraging it.

There is a very important practical point here. As I also wrote a year ago:

There is an extremely crucial point here: if Palestine accedes to the Statute of Rome, under Article 12 of the Statute of Rome, the International Criminal Court would have jurisdiction over Israelis committing war crimes on Palestinian soil. Other states parties – including the UK – would be obliged by law to hand over indicted Israeli war criminals to the court at the Hague. This would be a massive blow to the Israeli propaganda and lobbying machine.

This explains why Hague was so keen to avert Palestinian membership of the ICC. Not only can Palestine indict Israeli war criminals (and they should start immediately with those behind Operation Cast Lead and the attack on the Mavi Marmara) but Britain will be obliged – as will all other European Union countries – to hand them over to the court.

Given that this disgraceful government had specifically enacted legislation to block other avenues for the indictment of Israeli war criminals in the United Kingdom, this is infuriating for our zionist sponsored politicians.

It also raises an interesting point. We have seen the entire political establishment enthusiastically promoting the automaticity of European arrest warrants in the case of Julian Assange. How will those same politicians react to the automaticity of arrest warrants for Israeli war criminals? I suspect that they will suddenly discover there is a need for political intervention in such cases.

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For Cengiz Songur

This afternoon I visited the family of Cengiz Songur. Cengiz died, age 47, when he was shot in the chest from point blank range by an Israeli soldier on board the Mavi Marmara. Cengiz was unarmed. he had never been armed in his life.

Cengiz lived in a small but clean apartment, occupying the middle floor of a three floor tenement, in the suburbs of Izmir, Turkey. He is still a tangible presence in his small living room, as I drink the tea and nibble the cake his daughters have prepared. His books still line the bookshelves. There is a Koran and some collections of the Hadith, and a few books on Islamic culture. But there are also encyclopaedias, atlases and – most of all – scores of well-thumbed novels. Cengiz loved to read.

He also loved to help people. He had been involved in a number of charitable enterprises his whole adult life. I should make plain that I came into his world not entirely as a stranger – my Turkish friends were friends of his, and I know that as a group they have been involved in charitable work in places as disparate as London and Somalia, Haiti and Sierra Leone, to name but a few.

Cengiz had a little textiles shop. He had six daughters and just one son. The ladies of his household wear a colourful headscarf, covering the hair but none of the face, and are not segregated. A religious family, but not in any way that is unusual in Izmir. Cengiz’ brother and cousin have also come to meet me, and they are very friendly. They know who I am and thank me for my work in Uzbekistan.

Life now is something of a struggle; Cengiz’ business did alright, in a small way. But now he is gone, and although the extended family are rallying around, six is a large number of daughters. I am astonished to learn that, despite the governmental show of nationalistic outrage at the Israeli killings, the family have not received a penny by way of compensation, award or pension. Attempts to start a legal case have been buried in the legal system. They tell me that twice the courts have “Lost the papers”. From their point of view, the Turkish government is desperate to forget the matter and get relations with Israel back to normal. There is, they tell me, a “small Israel” in Turkey which is able to control the key organs of the state.

In this regard, they told me something which seems to shed light on a loose end which had been bothering me. The attack on the Mavi Marmara occurred in international waters. In that case, the jurisdiction over any crimes committed on board is held by the flag state, ie the state in which the ship is registered. Shortly before sailing, the registration was switched from Turkey to the Comoros Islands. This exempted Turkey from the responsibility of jurisdiction. It also made discussion at NATO much easier for the US; if the Israelis had attacked in international waters a ship flying the flag of a NATO state, that would have been a much more difficult thing for the alliance to ignore.

It turns out that the change was made at the insistence of the Turkish Ministry of Transport. They carried out a number of inspections of the Mavi Marmara prior to the Gaza trip and made repeated demands for changes: mattresses and cushions had to have more modern, fire resistant foam. Internal walls had to be upgraded for fire resistance. Whatever changes were then made, the Ministry found new faults. In the end, the Ministry had said that the Mavi Marmara would be impounded unless it changed its registration, as it could not meet the safety requirements for a Turkish flagged ship.

The strange thing is that the Mavi Marmara had been Turkish flagged for years, and hade been running tourist cruises out of Istanbul. None of the faults the Ministry found resulted from any changes, yet none had apparently been a problem on past inspections. The family told me that, before the Mavi Marmara sailed, they had been in no doubt the Turkish government had been deliberately obstructive and had forced the change of flag. But they had no idea of its significance. Indeed they still did not understand why it could be important, something I tried to explain to them. Of course, set beside their personal loss, it did not seem that interesting.

None of the family had even the slightest thought that Cengiz was risking his life in going. He had told his son that he thought they would not get in to Gaza. He had expected the ship to be impounded. He also thought that he himself would be imprisoned. But the thinking was that, after a month or so, international pressure on Israel would build until the prisoners were released, and Israel would be shamed into sending the cargo on to Gaza.

Cengiz was a kind family man, trying to do some good in the world. He did not deserve to be murdered. I do hope those readers who follow a religion will pray for him.
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At 16.00 Today I Was

Organising my air ticket back to London, via Turkey. Although I live in the UK, it is much cheaper to buy tickets as returns from the Ghanaian end. But because of the prevalence of fraud, you can’t buy a ticket over the internet starting from West Africa. So my long suffering Ghanaian PA has had a complex task working out from the airlines the best way to fly Accra/Izmir/London/Accra.

The answer turns out to be Lufthansa, and Accra/Frankfurt/Munich/Izmir/Munich/London/Accra, all of which in business class comes to a surprisingly cheap US $3,560. I know this arouses sceptical smiles, but I have to fly business class because of my episode of pulmonary emboli. The doctors say that I should in fact fly business class and with an oxygen mask, but it’s not a good look.

My itinerary in Turkey is being organised by IHH, the Turkish charity that sent the Mavi Marmara. I am donatiing all my royalties from the Turkish language edition of Murder in Samarkand to IHH. I am not receiving any payment at all for this lecture tour to Turkey and am paying my own travel expenses, staying with kind Turkish friends. I give this detail because, if I am going to do this 16.00 posting, I think you need to know how my life works to put it in context.

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Gaza Blockade Update

Many thanks to the anonymous commenter who posted this in response to my plea for information on the current state of the Gaza Blockade. They didn’t post a link, so it is reproduced here in full.

As I suspected, there has been no real change in the Israeli strangulation of Gaza.

By Vittorio Arrigoni, Gaza City, Gaza

July 4, 2010

Ketchup, mayonnaise, thread and needles are the items that were included last week by Israel on the list of those few goods now allowed into Gaza. Farming tools, spare parts for cars, toys and make-up were added to the list on Tuesday, items we watched being carried into the Strip loaded onto 130 trucks.

Taking into account the decision of the Israeli government to “loosen” the siege of Gaza by allowing the entry of more goods, B’Tselem, the Israeli organisation for human rights commented: “This is a first, tiny step towards the right direction, the direction which’ll bring Israeli policy in line with its obligations.”

A veritable microscopic step, considering that before the start of the siege, more than ten thousand trucks a month would drive through the Karni pass alone, and even then, these deliveries were miles away from the 500 truckfuls of goods a day (15,000 trucks a month), the minimum decreed by the United Nations to cover the basic needs of one and a half million people.

According to some Palestinian political analysts, this step might even be counterproductive, because it proposes to attempt to legitimise the siege. This is a siege that is a form of collective punishment against a civilian population. As such, it violates Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and is considered illegal by all major human rights organisations, whether governmental or otherwise, as Amnesty International and the International Red Cross have recently decreed.

Cement, iron and any other building material continues to be banned from the Strip, so much so that according to the UN, one year after the Cast Lead bombings, 75% of the damaged buildings still gape open among the rubble.

According to Christopher Gunness, spokesman for the UNRWA (UN Agency for Palestinian refugees), Israel’s new policy is an attempt to throw smoke into the eyes of the international community and hide its blatant violation of international law: “The Israeli strategy is that of getting the world to talk about a random bag of cement being let in on one side, and a sponsored project on another. What we really need is complete and free access through all the passes.”

All eyes are now turned towards the mirage of the opened Israeli passes. Yet, forgetting to take note of the Egyptian border is a mistake. Rafah continues to remain semi-open, or better still… semi-closed. The Egyptian border authorities refuse to let any type of goods through, including tons of food supplies and medicine collected during the last weeks by the union of Cairo chemists. The bullies of the infamous Egyptian Mubarak, renowned for their rough treatment of Palestinian civilians, including women, children and sick people, have sent back hundreds of travellers with regular passports and visas over the past few weeks.

For internationals in Egypt who plan to come and report on what they see, or support the population of Gaza in any way, entering “the Rafah Pass” remains forbidding. John, a freelance journalist who accompanied us from the International Solidarity Movement to report on the daily harrassment that the farmers face from Israeli snipers at the border, eventually came in through the tunnels when he had grown tired of waiting for a pass that never came at Al Arish.

Italian state television is trying to put through the message that the siege has been loosened as an act of generosity on the part of the Israeli government, but the reality is indeed very different. The siege itself needs to be totally lifted, because the people here certainly don’t need potato chips or toothpicks. They need cement, iron, medicine, medical supplies and all the essentials coming in the way they would normally come in… through import and export. Only that means will help boost the economy and make Gaza self-sufficient, besides opening the borders to make it possible for anyone to come into or leave this prison.

All that we have before our eyes these days is the artificial image of a tragic situation, made up to seem like an improvement after the cosmetic surgery of Israeli and Egyptian propaganda. Amid these far-reaching echoes of propaganda, Tony Blair’s congratulations to Israel for the alleged “loosening” of its blockade comes across as a strident contradition. Behind the smile of Blair, one the of puppet masters of the Quartet (USA, EU, Russia and UN) who for years has produced nothing but useless press releases, is all the rot of the stone caryatids jointly holding up the current Iraqi genocide, as well as the political laxity of European governments in the face of the Palestinian tragedy.

I’m keen to remind Tony Blair that if two extra bags of flour enter the besieged Strip, it certainly isn’t thanks to his work within the castrated quartet, or any other institution in charge of resolving the Israeli occupation of Palestine. It’s actually thanks to the sacrifices over many years of thousands of ordinary civilians throughout the world committed to the rights of Palestinians. It’s an effort that has culminated in the murder of nine Turkish activists on the Mavi Marmara, much the same way as before them, Tom Hurndall and Rachel Corrie gave their lives for the good of Gaza.

On the eve of the second Gulf war, the New York Times coined the phrase “second world power”, to define the global pacifist movement that filled thousands of squares around the world. These civilians were protesting against a war “that never before in history had been met with as much blatant hostility.” Well, that second world power has now joined us on the field and is siding with the Palestinians: it is now Israel that’s under siege.

Stay human.

Vittorio Arrigoni from Gaza city

(translated by Daniela Filippin)

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