Why San Remo Does Not Apply 105

Every comments thread on every internet site on the world which has discussed the Israeli naval murders, has been inundated by organised ZIonist commenters stating that the Israeli action was legal under the San Remo Manual of International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea.

They ignore those parts of San Remo that specifically state that it is illegal to enforce a general blockade on an entire population. But even apart from that, San Remo simply does not apply.

The manual relates specifically to legal practice in time of war. With whom is Israel at war?

There is no war.

Israeli apologists have gone on to say they are in a state of armed conflict with Gaza.

Really? In that case, why do we continually hear Israeli complaints about rockets fired from Gaza into Israel? If it is the formal Israeli position that it is in a state of armed conflict with Gaza, then Gaza has every right to attack Israel with rockets.

But in fact, plainly to the whole world, the nature and frequency of Israeli complaints about rocket attacks gives evidence that Israel does not in fact believe that a situation of armed conflict exists.

Secondly, if Israel wishes to claim it is in a state of armed conflict with Gaza, then it must treat all of its Gazan prisoners as prisoners of war entitled to the protections of the Geneva Convention. If you are in a formal state of armed conflict, you cannot categorise your opponents as terrorists.

But again, it is plain for the world to see from its treatment and description of Gazan prisoners that it does not consider itself to be in a formal position of armed conflict.

Israel is seeking to pick and choose which bits of law applicable to armed conflict it applies, by accepting or not accepting it is in armed conflcit depending on the expediency of the moment.

I have consistently denounced Hamas rocket attacks into Israel. I have categorised them as terrorism. If Israel wishes now to declare it is in armed conflcit with Gaza, I withdraw my opposition and indeed would urge Hamas to step up such attacks to the maximum.

Does Israel really wish to justify its latest action by declaring it is at war with Gaza? That is what the invocation of San Remo amounts to.

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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105 thoughts on “Why San Remo Does Not Apply

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  • John D. Monkey


    You need to be careful here. Knowing what you are talking about, while all around you don’t care about the truth and only wish to promote their “line”, can only cause problems…

  • Ian M

    Craig, as we know the hasbara mouthpieces have suddenly found the San Remo convention, which they falsely claim applies to this situation.

    However, you may be interested in Professor Francis Boyle’s more relevant point about the SUA convention:

    “The Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla violated the SUA Convention [Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation], to which Israel, Turkey, Ireland and the USA are all parties. This convention was pushed by the USA in reaction to the Achille Lauro hijacking and the murder of Leon Klinghoffer.”

    The ironies of the reason for the adoption of this treaty need hardly any comment. Strange how Israel and the PR machine have ignored it.

    See the article here:


    and the convention here:


  • glenn

    Parky: Indeed. I wonder if anyone predicted that the arrival of 24-hour news would resulted in far less, not more, actual news being delivered. Instead of more subjects, greater international coverage, more politics and current affairs, we get that day’s (or week’s) Big Item repeated over and over again, maybe with more angles on the Big Item.

    It’s unlikely they’ve been told they’d better move on to something else, after a day or so on the latest Israeli atrocity. They probably knew they’d already said all they could get away with.

  • Randal

    Re the suggestion by lwtc247 that, if the Hamas/Israel conflict were to be regarded as war, then rockets fired into Israel would be illegitimate because they indiscriminately target Israelis rather than aiming at military targets.

    Imo this suggestion is wrong because it does not take the particular circumstances of the Gazans into account. They are fighting a desperate defence against overwhelming force, under unchallenged enemy air superiority and ongoing close surveillance. They do not have the luxury of carefully designing strikes against military targets. In these circumstances, their rocket pin-pricks (whether by Hamas or by other minor Palestinian resistance organisations) against Israel are basically the best they can reasonably be expected to manage.

    Unless you are going to be honest and adopt a hardline position that would render all the RAF and USAF strategic bomber crews of WW2 war criminals, there are no grounds for criticising Gazan rocket attacks on Israel on this basis.

    And that’s to disregard the two greatest single terrorist acts in history – the atomic bomb murders of hundreds of thousands of innocents at Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the US regime, the perpetrators of which have lived in freedom, honoured by their national government, to this day.

  • Larry from St. Louis

    “The aim is plainly to ask Israeli supporters to consider the logical consequences of wishing to be regarded as in a state of armed conflict.”

    So you picked a side, Craig Murray, WHEN YOU DID NOT HAVE TO. So all it would take for you to overtly support a group that seeks the destruction of Israel is for Israel to declare war.

    It must be noticed that you don’t “condition” your statement on some major disagreements a non-jihadist must have with Hamas.

  • Ian M

    One thing not mentioned so far is the right to self-defence (an Israeli favourite, this one), and also the right to resist an occupying force. Both apply to Gaza and its inhabitants.If they choose to interpret ‘self-defence’ as Israel does, then any offensive action, imprisonment without trial, seizure of land and houses etc is defined as self-defence, which of course they are quite entitled to.

  • doug scorgie


    “Embargo activities in international waters are only legal when a state of war has been declared.”

    Is this true and if so can you give me a reference to the relevent document?

  • Craig


    Not precisely. The San Remo manual gives examples of where an embargo can be lawful in time of war. But it can also be lawful without war if supported by a UN secrutiy council resolution.

    In this case, there is neitehr a war nor a UNSCR.

  • MarkW

    San Remo says: “specific mention must be made of the fact that the Manual lays down that starvation blockades are unlawful and requires the blockading power to allow relief shipments if a secondary effect of the blockade is that civilians are short of food or other essential supplies.”

    Also exempt from attack are:

    “(ii) vessels engaged in humanitarian missions, including vessels carrying supplies indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, and vessels engaged in relief actions and rescue operations;”

  • lwtc247

    Where is the Palestinian declaration of war? Who speaks for the Palestinians? Why do you think the Israyhelli’s infiltrated and threw trinkets to the PLO? Which the PLO seemed happy to lap up. I remember Yessir Arafat’s Black Merc. Very Fancy. Fatah’s suits are pretty sharp too.

    And is it really Hammas that launches these rockets? I don’t think so. I think it’s small groups of angry men. Hasn’t Hammas tried to crack down on these rocket launchers? And it is very strange how these rockets often seem to come at convenient times for Israyhell.

  • Larry from St. Louis

    Ron Paul.


    Yep. Loony British Left = Loony American Right

  • Shay


    Thank you for your insights. I’ve recently found your blog, and it is a very good read.

    I join amk in asking: what would it take for Israel to declare war on Hamas?

    Can a state declare a war on a non-state entity?

    I’m not versed in matters of international law, but my limited understanding is that the PA has formal governance over the Gaza Strip, and the Hamas take-over in 2007 was illegal.

    Therefore, can Israel declare war just on Hamas?

    And if so, wouldn’t that mean that Israel recognizes Hamas as the valid sovereign in the Gaza Strip?

  • Craig

    Larry –

    Of course I picked a side. I view Israel in the same light I viewed apartheid South Africa – of which Israel was of course the greatest support.

  • Langue D'Oc

    The first I heard of San Remo was on the Radio the day after the attack. Some Aussie maritime lawyer talking about it. He said *if* it applied (and while he would not say it didn’t directly he very strongly implied it didn’t) then Israel broke it anyway because the force the used was unreasonable.

    Thanks, Craig – as always – for your knowlegeable and insightful commentary on current events.

  • Mac

    I see that South Africa has withdrawn it’s Israeli Ambassador today; can somebody explain to me what this actually means; presumably the two countries will still have diplomatic relations, and am I right in thinking that such withdrawals are very temporary, or is the Venezuelan Ambassador still absent from Tel Aviv & vice versa following the 2008/2009 Gaza massacre ?

  • paul

    Shay, no, Hamas is the democratically elected government of Gaza but everyone chooses to put their fingers in their ears and shout “I cant hear you” because Hamas is a “terrorist” organisation and the West only approves of elections that result in the right (pro-Western) winner, otherwise it starts overthrowing and assassinating.

  • Mat

    International Humanitarian Law does indeed deem non-uniformed combatants “spies or terrorists”.

    However, since no war has been declared between Israel and Turkey, the Law does not apply – and the occupants of a Turkish-flagged ship, on high seas, are considered Turkish civilians on sovereign Turkish territory – regardless of their manners.

    One might observe that Turkey is now well positioned to finally test the legality of Israel’s blockade. Since no war has been officially declared by Israel on Gaza, that still makes the latter’s ports legally “neutral”. Under Section II, Paragraph 120 of the the now-famous San Remo Manual, lies a provision for a neutral warship to escort a neutral merchant vessel though a naval blockade to a neutral port – on the condition that the captain of the naval ship is willing to vouch for the non-military nature of the cargo on the merchant vessel.

    Now an aid flotilla arriving at the blockade, flanked by a couple of Turkish warships would create what used to be once called “a devil of a fuss”… But then perhaps we need one? The freedoms and rights which a lot of us on this planet take for granted were not won by men who lay about paralysed by the thought of adverse consequences.

  • ScouseBilly

    Larry from St. Louis at June 3, 2010 4:37 PM

    Oh, Larry and you are so qualified to judge…

    Such an amateur – LMFAO.

  • craig


    have just deleted your comments referencing 9/11 and Protocols of the Elders of Zion. If you want to 11p1l11ay1 1you1r x d1e11gree1s 11of s1e1pa11r111a1tion1 11game to link me to people with nutty beliefs, you can do it on other sites.

  • Parky

    Glenn – apparently CNN is some thirty years old on the 1st June and although not perfect I’ve found it’s Europe service a bit more wide ranging than either of Sky or BBC’s offerings. When I first got a sky box just over ten years ago, I was pleasantly surprised that their international news was wider than the BBC and it was not so politically correct and fawning to New Labour.

    However since then and I would say it was from about the time of 911, they all have dispensed with honest news reporting and have become a mush of dumbed down presentation and opinion. I rarely find I can bear any of their offerings for more than ten minutes at a time. With the prominence of the internet, television 24hour news is becoming an irrelevance.

  • Shay


    Hamas indeed won the 2006 Palestinian elections, but on June 14th 2007, President Mahmoud Abbas announced dissolution of government, dismissing PM Ismail Haniya of the Hamas.

    That ended the official Hamas regime in the PA, including the Gaza Strip.

    That dissolution could be undemocratic, but from a legal standpoint, the Hamas governing of the Gaza Strip is unlawful. And my question to Craig was about the word of the law.

    Hamas aims are for an Islamic, Sharia-ruled state. And that is undemocratic as it can be. While I’m not supporting the “bombing democracy into the savages” approach favored by Bush, but I also do not justify a non democratic regime just because it won the majority vote.

    I honestly think the Palestinian deserve better, and hope they would. And better isn’t necessarily Fatah, which I also don’t hold in high regard.

  • Larry from St. Louis

    Craig – there’s something quite sick about you picking a side and supporting the killing of innocent civilians (yes, subject to your caveat that the Knesset somehow “declare war” on Hamas).

    Again, you don’t caveat that with any change you’d like Hamas to make.

    So you fully support the hatred of religious nuts of Gaza being stoked by the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the completely disturbing and irrational belief that Israel can and should be destroyed.

    Lots of people (for instance, me) take a more moderate approach. I generally support the existence of Israel, but of course I vehemently disagree with the many Jewish settlers fueling the flames based on an idiotic reading of a Bronze Age book.

    In contrast, your support of Hamas killing innocent civilians is truly disgusting.

    It’s quite pathetic, and quite telling, that you would bring up South Africa. Since Israel supported South Africa many years ago, you’re now willing carte blanche to religious crazies in Gaza.

    By the way, who do you support in the Fatah?”Hamas conflict? Do you think the religious nuts in Hamas should have the same carte blanche to murder members of Fatah?

  • Redders

    Larry from St. Louis

    “………..completely disturbing and irrational belief that Israel can and should be destroyed.”

    I don’t recall Craig saying or even alluding to that.

    Kindly don’t misinterpret and regurgitate with your own clumsy spin, for your own hysterical ends, perfectly reasonable statements made by others.

    You are either completely deluded or simply deliberately provocative and disruptive.

  • Larry from St. Louis

    “I don’t recall Craig saying or even alluding to that.”

    No, but apparently Hamas is guided by that principle, and Craig Murray supports such religious zealots in murdering innocent civilians.

    He could not have made it any more clear.

  • Bob

    @Ian M.

    One little problem there, Ian. Israel, the U.S., and Turkey are signatories of the 1988 treaty. Not the 2005 amendments to the treaty. The 2005 amendments, which say you need permission from the flag country before searching, were only adopted by twelve countries. Israel, Turkey, Ireland, and the U.S. not included.

    As for whether Israel violated the 1988 treaty. The treaty includes article 9:

    “Nothing in this Convention shall affect in any way the rules of international law pertaining to the competence of States to exercise investigative or enforcement jurisdiction on board ships not flying their flag.”

    SUA applies to non-state actors, not to States exercising investigative or enforcement jurisdiction, which Israel was doing.

    Yes, a blockading power can still legally search and seize blockade runners outside the territorial waters of the country.

    BTW, we blockaded North Viet Nam with no declaration of war and without accepting them as the government of a nation. The question is “is there a war” not “is there a declared war between two sovereign nations”.

    Otherwise, you couldn’t blockade an enemy city in a civil war.

    Let’s see, thousands dead on both sides (over the years), thousands of rockets fired by both sides (Palestinian rockets aimed at civilians, Israeli rockets at military targets). Conflict between organized political groups which each claim jurisdiction over their people. Sounds like a tea party to me. Oh, wait, not a tea party, a war.

    Thanks that was fun.

  • Clark

    I have a… Yes, it’s a postcard, from the House of Commons. Franked very neatly, second class, and printed with the words “Thank you for your communication of” – then 1-6-2010 filled in by hand, – “which will receive attention”. How quaintly British.

    Oh, Hi Larry!

  • TheTruthO

    So many mistakes in one article.

    1. Rockets are fired on civilians on purpose, that’s a clear war crime and terrorism by Hamas.

    2. You need to look up the dictionary for the term terrorism, since you clearly don’t understand it. Not every act of war is terrorism.

    3. All Gazans as prisoners of war? Why? Makes no sense.

    In short, just propaganda drivel. I hope for the sake of the UK that other British diplomats are of higher standard than this.

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