The Legal Position on the Israeli Attack 139

I think that anybody with any fairness is bound to admit that the statement William Hague came out with is much better than anything on Israel which New Labour ever came out with, especially this bit:

“This news underlines the need to lift the restrictions on access to Gaza, in line with UNSCR 1860. The closure is unacceptable and counter-productive. There can be no better response from the international community to this tragedy than to achieve urgently a durable resolution to the Gaza crisis.

I call on the Government of Israel to open the crossings to allow unfettered access for aid to Gaza, and address the serious concerns about the deterioration in the humanitarian and economic situation and about the effect on a generation of young Palestinians


But as I told this afternoon’s tremendous spontaneous demonstration on Whitehall, fine words are not enough and we must now see the kind of sanctions regime we saw against apartheid South Africa.

A word on the legal position, which is very plain. To attack a foreign flagged vessel in international waters is illegal. It is not piracy, as the Israeli vessels carried a military commission. It is rather an act of illegal warfare.

Because the incident took place on the high seas does not mean however that international law is the only applicable law. The Law of the Sea is quite plain that, when an incident takes place

on a ship on the high seas (outside anybody’s territorial waters) the applicable law is that of the flag state of the ship on which the incident occurred. In legal terms, the Turkish ship was Turkish territory.

There are therefore two clear legal possibilities.

Possibility one is that the Israeli commandos were acting on behalf of the government of Israel in killing the activists on the ships. In that case Israel is in a position of war with Turkey, and the act falls under international jurisdiction as a war crime.

Possibility two is that, if the killings were not authorised Israeli military action, they were acts of murder under Turkish jurisdiction. If Israel does not consider itself in a position of war with Turkey, then it must hand over the commandos involved for trial in Turkey under Turkish law.

In brief, if Israel and Turkey are not at war, then it is Turkish law which is applicable to what happened on the ship. It is for Turkey, not Israel, to carry out any inquiry or investigation into events and to initiate any prosecutions. Israel is obliged to hand over indicted personnel for prosecution.

Craig Murray is a former British Ambassador. He is also a former Head of the Maritime Section of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He negotiated the UK’s current maritime boundaries with Ireland, Denmark (Faeroes), Belgium and France, and boundaries of the Channel Islands, Turks and Caicos and British Virgin Islands. He was alternate Head of the UK Delegation to the UN Preparatory Commission on the Law of the Sea. He was Head of the FCO Section of the Embargo Surveillance Centre, enforcing sanctions on Iraq, and directly responsible for clearance of Royal Navy boarding operations in the Persian Gulf.

Reviews of Craig Murray’s War on Terror Memoir, “Murder in Samarkand” – published in the US as “Dirty Diplomacy”:

“It really is a magnificent achievement” – Noam Chomsky

“A fearless book by a fearless man. Craig Murray tells the truth whether the “authorities” like it or not. I salute a man of integrity” – Harold Pinter

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139 thoughts on “The Legal Position on the Israeli Attack

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  • Suhayl Saadi

    Who are these anonymous posters, arguing with one another? It’s very confusing. Please do consider giving yourselves at least consistent pseudonyms (Apple, Orange, Mango, whatever) so that we can follow properly what you’re saying. Right now, I don’t know who’s arguing with whom, or whether it’s one person arguing with themselves!

  • Anonymous

    San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea, 12 June 1994

    102. The declaration or establishment of a blockade is prohibited if:

    (a) it has the sole purpose of starving the civilian population or denying it other objects essential for its survival; or

    (b) the damage to the civilian population is, or may be expected to be, excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated from the blockade.

  • David

    OK. and?

    Israel is at war with Hamas – a terrorist organization that took control illegally via a civil war with Fatah. If Israel wanted either (a) or (b) they would not transport the aid to gaza after inspecting for weapons. and they would not provide gaza with water, gas, power, medicine, food, health care, and work permits.

    No country in the world, no army in the world, EVER went of their way for the sake of civilians in enemy territory as much as Israel has.

    You seriously need to be on some sort of medication if you think that Israel being at war with Hamas has no legitimate reasons to make sure Hamas is not being re-armed. Have you EVER even looked at the map of the region?

    Human stupidity IS infinite…amazing.

  • Anonymous

    The UN says that the aid Isreal allows in is not enough to meet basic needs and frankly many items that are banned appear rather punative. I can well imagine the Isreali Government letting ships dock in Isreal and changing their mind about letting all of the aid through. Obviously this is not a problem if it is delivered directly.

    Whent the IRA were bombing England, the UK Government did not Blockade Northern Ireland. Think on that for a bit.

    As far as the Isreali Army and Civilians goes, the death toll speaks for itself.

    Anyway are you accusing the Irish of supplying Arms to Hamas? Are you accusing the representatives of many nations, including the USA of supporting Terrorism?

    I guess you must be in Isreal or are you a member of some Pro Isreal propaganda group that has been busy all weekend spamming forums. Your respons to the San Remo Manual paragraph says quite a lot.

    Nighty Night.

  • David

    hey moron, do you think that ships with weapons carry a big f-ing neon sign that says “weapons on board”?

    Look up Karine A – 50 tons of rockets on a ship that carried “humanitarian aid.”

    No one is accusing anyone of anything, but Hamas – a terrorist, totalitarian regime – will not be getting direct shipments of anything.

    Hamas is not recognizing Israel’s right to exist and from the day Israel pulled out of gaza Hamas did not stop launching rockets into Israel – if it were any other country in Israel’s position that whole area would have been a parking lot by now. But Israel provides water, gas, power, medicine, work permits and even health care to the civilians that are in enemy territory.

    this explains the situation rather well:

  • Anonymous

    So you are accusing the Irish and others of supporting Terrorism!

    Now you really do need to check your facts. It is well publicised that there is not enough power in Gaza, access to Hospitals is doubtful and work permits are currently non-existent.

    The problem is Isreal’s attitude toward other people. By turning Gaza into an open prison a great many people have nothing to do. This is making your enemies stronger, since many more people are beholden to them for basics.

    Also, like I said before, the body count speaks for itself. Including an English guy who was shot by an Israeli Sniper a few years ago, even though he was clearly unarmed and no threat at all.

    Nice talking to you Propaganda Guy, incidentally you sound rather flustered. Take a break.

  • David

    You have serious reading comprehension issues. Where have I accused the Irish of supporting terrorism?

    The naval blockade is in place to prevent Hamas rearming. Maritime law dictates that any ship, neutral or not, attempting to enter the blockaded area is subject to inspection or will suffer the consequences.

    Hamas is the SOLE oppressor in Gaza. If any one Palestinian is missing anything whatsoever it is by the will of Hamas. It is well known that they oppress their own people and that they took control by forcing Fatah to step away with live fire – a well documented civil conflict.

    Hamas has the budget of a small country. They spend nothing on their civilians, but they ALWAYS have money for weapons. Why? becasue it’s a double pronged war effort: one the one hand they continuously fire rockets into Israel, on the other they lead a propaganda campaign by throwing their people under a bus.

    You are a damn hypocrite. No country in the world would have extended so much effort of inspecting the ships and transporting the good into gaza. Israel is at a WAR and yet it expands untold resources for the sake of the people in the enemy territory.

    Hamas is killing Palestinians by the dozens EVERY DAY. Just do your own research – they are spraying their own people with bullets and keeping the fear alive. They are simply not allowing for any moderate Palestinian authority to arise.

  • Anonymous

    Hi there propaganda guy,

    If an Irish, Turkish or American Civil craft is not allowed to dock in Gaza it is because you / Isreal assume the Irish, Turkish, others are intent on delivering weapons. Simple Logic.

    Isreal could take the word of many countries about the contents of an aid ship. The only logical conclusion is that Isreal wants to be the gatekeeper for the aid so that it can prevent supplies arriving on a whim.

    Additinally Isreal is clearly not going to extraordinary lengths to inspect ships, because it will only inspect them in Isreal and not allow any direct access to Gaza, by imposing an illegal blockade.

    If Hamas had the budget of a small country, I’m sure it could procure much better weapons.

    You are quite right, Hamas are not a nice group. However Isreal acts as Hama’s recruiting agent with the way it treats others. I would even go as far as saying that Isreal created the environment which allowed Hamas to come into being and gain a power base.

    Isreal, as a State, treats the Palestinians like animals and some of your colleages in the propaganda business actually seem to promote this.

  • Anonymous

    Hey, dimwit

    do you know what a naval blockade is?

    did you just suggest that a country at war will let ships through to enemy territory based on a simple promise?

    what mental institution are you writing from?

    Karine A and Francop also claimed to have humanitarian aid and Israel boarded them in international waters to discover hundreds of thousands of tons in weapons. how about that, dimwit?

    Hamas is a terrorist organization that has taken control over gaza by the virtue of war with the opposition -Fatah. Ever since Israel pulled out og gaza Hamas did not stop launching weapons into southern Israel.

    No ship will go through to gaza without an inspection. Israeli naval blockade is established based on international maritime law. Anyone who expects Israel to lift the blockade is prejudiced, bigoted, hypocrite. And anyone suggesting that they let ships through based on a promise of not having weapons is a CLOWN. (<–that’s you)

  • David

    Hamas couldn’t care less about their civilians. Hamas are using them as an excuse to smuggle in weapons, as human shields, and as a means to lead their PR effort. The latter recruits idiots from Europe who can’t tell their arse from their elbow.

  • Ax

    Hi there propaganda guy,

    Do you know what Illegal means? The Isreali blockade of Gaza is Illegal. Therefor the siezure of the ships (all of the ships) is Illegal and the killing of passengers was aggression, not self defence.

    I had a look at the IDF Flicker page. Did you realise that the IDF assumes people are terrorists because they found the contents of the ships tool box and the knives from the Galley? Where were the guns?

    Why use so many bullets to kill a man with a peice of wood?

    Isreal has to be really careful, it’s on very dangerous ground. It can trust ships from a great many places, but chooses not to. Weapons are a pretext for collective punishment.

    Did I mention that the blockade is Illegal?

  • David

    There’s only one problem with your argument, dipshit.

    The blockade is legal. Legal and necessary.

    Israel is at war with Hamas. Hamas is the totalitarian terrorist militia that is in charge of gaza.

    Pigeon brain, you follow so far?

    According to maritime law, Israel is within its rights to establish a blockade on such an are to prevent the enemy of smuggling in arms.

    Israel is at war, and it has recovered HUNDREDS of tons of weapons when it boarded other “aid” ships that attempted to break the entirely legal, and fully vindicated blockade. And you suggest that Israel subject itself – 8,367sq mi in total size – to such danger on a wing and a prayer.

    If you are not kidding, then talking to you is like a glimpse into a world where communication with pigeons has been made possible.

  • David


    can you read well?

    98. Merchant vessels believed on reasonable grounds to be breaching a blockade may be captured. Merchant vessels which, after prior warning, clearly resist capture may be attacked.

    100. A blockade must be applied impartially to the vessels of all States.

  • observer

    Is Israel flotilla raid involved espionage, sabotage?

    Carlos Benson|Monday, June 28, 2010

    The worldwide debate about last Israeli raid on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla has concentrated relatively little on the operation’s intelligence aspect. This is rather puzzling, considering that the intelligence aspects of the attack are largely responsible for its bloody outcome. Many first accounts or the flotilla participants, as well as some facts purposely were ignored or at last not paid attention to.

    The Gaza-bound ships had drawn minor international attention prior of the raid in international waters by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). But the effort by the Israeli security services to prevent the flotilla from reaching its intended destination did not begin in the evening of 30-th of May 2010 the Mediterranean Sea. It started several months before the fleet of ten vessels was even chartered by the Humanitarian Aid Foundation (

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