The Attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and International Law



Did the human rights activists on board the ship have the right to repel the Israeli commanders on the basis of self-defence?

Since the initial boarding of the ship was likely illegal, the civilian passengers did have the right to act in self-defence against the invading soldiers.  However, lawful self-defence on the part of the civilians was limited to reasonable force in the circumstances.  Since the ship’s flag determines the legal jurisdiction of the ship that it flies and, in this case, it was a Turkish flag, the precise rules on self-defence and the amount of force permitted is determined by Turkish criminal law.  However, given that the Israeli commanders were displaying firearms and the response appears to have been through the use of ‘sharp objects’ including ‘sticks’ and in some cases, ‘bladed weapons’, it is arguable that the response by the civilians was indeed proportional to the threat they faced, especially if evidence emerges that Israeli commandos had used their weapons on any civilians prior to their actions against the commandos.

What should happen next?

As the ship was flying a Turkish flag and pursuant to the principle of exclusive flag jurisdiction, Turkey has complete jurisdiction over the vessel, and it is within its rights to conduct and demand a full investigation into the violation of its sovereign rights and Israel’s violation of international law, including international human rights and humanitarian law provisions protecting the right to life of civilians and breaches of Turkish homicide law etc.

Israel should be required to release all the evidence to the Turkish authorities and the civilians who have been kidnapped by Israel should be given immediate access to their consulates and legal assistance and be enabled to give their accounts to the Turkish authorities without delay.  The full details of the dead and injured should be released to the consulates and published without delay to end the anxiety of waiting friends and relatives.

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Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights (LPHR) was set up by UK-based practising lawyers and law students in London in 1988, during the first intifada in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  LPHR supports Palestinian people in their legal struggle to exercise their right of self-determination.  It works, both in the UK and abroad, on legal issues focused on protecting and promoting Palestinian human rights, with a special focus on Palestinians living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza Strip.  See, also, Daniel Machover, “Who Will Bring Israel to Book over Flotilla Attack?”

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