The Mavi Marmara (Palmer) Report from the United Nations Critique

Anyone who has been seeing the news the past 20hrs or so sees an interesting headline on the major media outlets. It reads something like this “UN report says Israeli blockade is legal.” So far I have found minor variation from the major media outlets and I would like to commend the New York Times for having, generally, the most accurate article. It has what might be the most important point about the report that no other major media outlet is talking about:

The report noted that the panel did not have the power to compel testimony or demand documents, but instead had to rely on information provided by Israel and Turkey. Therefore, its conclusions cannot be considered definitive in either fact or law.

So basically what they are saying is, Israel gave us information it wanted us to have, Turkey gave us information it wanted us to have, and here are the conclusions. This also means no oath or independent information seeking was involved, which means, the report is worthless. Anyone who saw the Israeli hasbara (propaganda) used before and after the Mavi Marmara incident knows that Israel admits no wrong whatsoever in the incident. To them, it was a boat of anti-semitic Jewish blood seeking terrorists, bent on hurting them. Israel said the boats had knives and guns (with no proof), it said the ship was taken in the best way, and that they only acted in self defense. This is proved wrong by testimony of the many attendants on the ship, and by various videos that were smuggled from the ship (considering Israel confiscated the vast majority of cameras and flash drives). In addition the Israeli army said “we didn’t use live ammunition until we were threatened. Why then did they detain the ship for weeks, and painted it over? Also why is it one of the dead was shot from a helicopter? Did he magically attack IDF soldiers while they were perched on top of the ship and he jumped downwards? I am no physics major, I admit, but this is still defying science. So let us look at what the report actually says.

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.

This is curious considering groups in Hamas almost exclusively get their arms from tunnels. Considering Gaza does not have a large port (which will be discussed later) Israel could easily have a mechanism in place to take in the boats near the border and allow safe entry of cargo that is inspected. Next it says:

On the other hand, the specific impact of the naval blockade on the civilian population in Gaza is difficult to gauge because it is the land crossings policy that primarily determines the amount of goods permitted to reach Gaza. One important consideration is the absence of significant port facilities in Gaza. The only vessels that can be handled in Gaza appear to be small fishing vessels

So because Gaza does not have a large port, the naval blockade is legal. Had Gaza actually been allowed independent development (stunned by Israel), they would have a large port, and hence make the naval blockade illegal, nice. Next it says:

Important humanitarian considerations constrain the imposition of a naval blockade. For one, it would be illegal if its imposition was intended to starve or to collectively punish the civilian population. However, there is no material before the Panel that would permit a finding confirming the allegations that Israel had either of those intentions or that the naval blockade was imposed in retaliation for the take-over of Hamas in Gaza or otherwise.

It is also noteworthy that the earliest maritime interception operations to prevent weapons smuggling to Gaza predated the 2007 take-over of Hamas in Gaza. The actual naval blockade was imposed more than one year after that event.These factors alone indicate it was not imposed to punish its citizens for the election of Hamas.

What does the Palmer Report use for citations? The Israeli commission on the incident, it was if it was taken verbatim from the Israel naval department. But yet if one reads what the Israeli Military Advocate General said:

He told the panel that the naval blockade, imposed by Israel in 2007 after Hamas violently seized power over the coastal Palestinian territory, was in keeping with international law and was imposed due to “pure military considerations” and not as a part of “economic warfare” against Hamas.

he follows by saying:

“Every step taken, be it part of classical warfare or economic warfare, aims to bring the other side to do what we want it to do. We want Hamas to stop launching rockets at our citizens. We have no desire to punish the civilian population [in Gaza],” he said. “As an indirect result, the civilian population does suffer, and that is why we have checked the legality [of the blockade]. We’ve consulted with the attorney general and with the Supreme Court, and found that it is legal and permitted.”

So he admits it hurts the civilian population, making it illegal, BUT he checks with the Israeli law and it says it is OK. Well then let me get this straight. The Israeli Supreme Court (one of the worst in the Western world) says that its legal, well then it must be. Or as the Tikun Olim blog says

Palmer proceeds with another specious argument with its claim that the land and sea blockades were independently implemented and hence cannot be considered collective punishment.  The land blockade did commence after Hamas’ 2006 victory in the PA elections.  As such it clearly was a political, and not security motivated act. The commission argues however that the sea blockade, begun a year later was not punitive. In fact, the sea blockade began after Fatah planned a political putsch, which Hamas pre-empted, in the process taking complete control of Gaza. The sea blockade that followed was a direct political and punitive response to the Hamas takeover

Next the report says:

Israel has faced and continues to face a real threat to its security from militant groups in Gaza. Rockets, missiles and mortar bombs have been launched from Gaza towards Israel since 2001. More than 5,000 were fired between 2005 and January 2009, when the naval blockade was imposed. Hundreds of thousands of Israeli civilians live in the range of these attacks. As their effectiveness has increased some rockets are now capable of reaching Tel Aviv. Since 2001 such attacks have caused more than 25 deaths and hundreds of injuries. The enormity of the psychological toll on the affected population cannot be underestimated

25 in 10 years is sad, no question, but where is the mention of the Israeli atrocities in Gaza? The constant bombing, raids, occupation, low level terrorism (in terms of doing military exercises at low altitude to create sonic booms during school hours), and artillery shelling. What about the 15-30 Gazans who have died in the past month, not ten years alone? What of the 1400 killed, majority civilians, with 400 children killed during Operation Cast Lead? Yeah we should just emphasize the scariness of homemade rockets that barely reach Beer-Sheva, let alone Tel Aviv. Hamas has proved it does not have any sophisticated rockets in its arsenal that are capable of reaching Tel Aviv. Hundreds of thousands live within the reach of these rockets, again no question, but what about the 1.6m Gazans who are actually terrorized on a daily or weekly basis? Do they not count, if not why? Why is there no mention of them in this as suffering as well?

Lastly the report states:

This is not to deny or ignore the consequences of the land crossings policy and the state of the humanitarian situation in Gaza. We have reached the view that the naval blockade was proportionate in the circumstances. While we are unable to conclude that the combined effects of the naval blockade and the crossings policy rendered the naval blockade disproportionate, we can make the policy judgment that the procedures applied by Israel in relation to land access to Gaza are unsustainable and need to be changed.

So because the panel decides just to discuss the naval block in a context that is befitting to Israel, meaning not in conjuncture with its greater policy of land closure, ipso facto, it must be legal. Because the panel decides that discussing an illegal policy in context is too large, why bother considering it? It is like addressing the problems between Israelis and Palestinians and not looking at the occupation, throwing your hands up and saying “I do not get why they can’t get along?”

This is just quoting from 10% of the text but the bias and justifications seem obvious enough. If one would like the full document just ask and I will provide it. It is obviously written as to not offend either side, not place blame where it actually is. Many parts take verbatim Israeli points that have little to no correlation to the facts, just look above. The Israelis are taken in good faith to have no broken international law, even though they prove time and time again to break international law.

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7 thoughts on “The Mavi Marmara (Palmer) Report from the United Nations Critique

  1. Some of your points I agree with, and I think the report does too. So for example, you mention the shooting from helicopters; in paragraph 122 the report seems to agree with you that the Israelis shot from above. You haven’t quoted any of the passages that are critical of the way the raid was carried out, but there are plenty of them.
    But some of what you say seems to be contradicted by the report. For example, you say the testimony of people on board the ship proves Israel wrong. But if you read paragraph 123 (and footnotes 384-386, which quote the Turkish report and not the Israeli, and are based on eyewitness testimony) there is evidence that a minority of the people on board were preparing for violence.
    As to why Israeli atrocities in Gaza are not mentioned, perhaps the answer is that the point the panel was making is that Israel has a clear and legitimate security need, and that’s enough to justify a blockade (assuming proportionality etc). If they were talking about events within Gaza, I’m sure they would have done.

    There’s more I could say, but I don’t want to be boring, so I won’t. Thanks for a thought-provoking article!

    1. Unless I read it wrong, the incident about the helicopter they mention and passing and do not give credence to either side. In terms of the content, I wanted to specifically refer to the blockade issue. This is because the media is reporting this as this great triumph that needs to be accepted as truth and nothing more. There is a very good section about the murder of the people, but the overall context lacks. THey say the participants were provoking and violent. Did they attack Israeli ships? No. Did they use weapons that were on the ship and planned said attack? No. They took the railings off, hence I think they acted in self defense, and not the Israelis.
      Preparing for violence is a very odd term that goes back to the point before. If the participants were premeditating to hurt Israelis, why didn’t they bring weapons? THey relied on railings from the boats, took Israeli guns away, yet never used them. Some were thrown overboard (guns) and others kept in a storage closet.
      My point about not mentioning the atrocities in Gaza is that this kind of thing only perpetuates situations where Israel’s security would be at risk. Why don’t the Palestinians have a clear and legitimate security need? Why do we put the security needs of the 4th largest military power in the world (and by and far in the region) above a stateless, defenseless mostly civilian population? This just seems absolutely backwards to me, just on a matter of principle. And to not discuss this, but make dozens of references to Israel’s needs and security breaches proves the bias and intent behind the report, which is to legitimize Israel’s actions.
      Thanks for commenting, I am so used to receiving comments that are not as thought provoking and intelligent as yours.

      1. Fair point about the post being about the blockade.
        With regard to which side was acting in self defence, perhaps the answer is both? Think of it in terms of escalations: the flotilla provoked by setting sail, the Israelis escalated by boarding, the passengers escalated by starting to beat the soldiers and the Israelis escalated again by shooting (and I know the shooting might have come first). So both sides could be said to be acting in self defence at different times.
        As to reasons for putting the security needs of one bunch of civilians over another bunch of civilians, Chris Keeler put it concisely: this report is not the place to go into everything. If I thought the UN was ignoring events within Gaza I would absolutely stand with you, but I haven’t heard anyone complaining of lack of attention there, only results…

  2. @Yisroel: I agree with you concerning Israeli actions in Gaza. While there are plenty, this report is not the place to describe them. Rockets from Gaza to Israel should be discussed because they are (in theory) the reason for the blockade. Good point.

    @Chris: One thing I am unsure of. The fact that Gaza lacks a larger port capable of handling larger ships makes the naval blockade illegal? It can be considered illegal and inhumane in any number of different way, but is there a legal ruling that says the naval blockade is illegal because Gaza only has small ports? Theoretically, weapons could still be brought into Gaza via fishing boats (from Egypt pr – potentially – Lebanon). Why does the absence of a large port make the blockade illegal?

  3. @Chris: no no no no no. The report basically says, because the port is not large, it is not hurting Gaza that bad, ipso facto, the naval blockade is legal.

  4. I am from vancouver,canada and i wanted to say that the United Nations made a grave blunder by supporting israel in this act of piracy against the mavi Marmara.The United Nations is complicit in this crime by its support for israel.Shame on the United Nations.There will never be peace in israel until the apartheid gov. is overthrown.

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