Israeli pirates of the Mediterranean

The hijacking of the Marianne flotilla to Gaza highlights the hypocrisy surrounding piracy, argues Felicity Arbuthnot.


The port of Ashdod. vic15 under a Creative Commons Licence

Piracy: ‘The practice of attacking and robbing ships at sea.’ (Oxford English Dictionary)

The ‘international community’ is, it would seem, remarkably selective about what it considers to be piracy.

Concern over Somali pirates in recent years has been such that foreign navies were sent to protect shipping in international waters.

In one incident, 3 alleged pirates were killed and a Somali teenager spirited away to the US to be tried, while 11 others were sent for trial in Kenya.

However, in the early hours of 29 June, 3 Israeli navy ships intercepted and hijacked a Swedish-flagged ship, the Marianne av Göteborg, en route to Gaza in the State of Palestine (recognized as a State by the United Nations on 30 November 2012 by an overwhelming vote of 138-9, which elevated Palestine to Non-Member Observer State – a status bestowed on just one other entity, The Vatican).

The Marianne was in international waters – approximately 100 nautical miles (185 kilometres) off-shore – but Israeli authorities boarded the vessel and the navy towed it to Israel’s port of Ashdod.

Those who boarded the ship allegedly stole cameras, computers, mobile phones and other belongings. It is hoped they will be returned, but the track record is not good.

Previously pirated vessels carrying aid cargo purchased by public donations, all destined for the people of Gaza, have experienced the same: their personal belongings and aid cargo taken and never returned.

The Marianne was carrying a consignment of solar panels, destined for a place where, for the most part, a constant electricity supply has become a distant memory.

Israel’s territorial waters (into which the Marianne had no intention of sailing) presumably should extend just 12 nautical miles (22 kilometres) from shore as the 1984 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea directs:

‘Every State has the right to establish the breadth of its territorial sea up to a limit not exceeding 12 nautical miles, measured from baselines determined in accordance with this Convention.’

Territorial waters do not extend 100 nautical miles.

Israel has claimed that it requested the Marianne to change course a number of times. Israel has no legal right to demand anything of a vessel in international waters.

In a mind numbingly schizophrenic communication to the Marianne, the Israeli government wrote:

‘There is no blockade on the Gaza Strip, and you are invited to transfer humanitarian supplies through Israel.’

If there is ‘no blockade’, it has to be asked, why should humanitarian supplies be sent to Israel and why indulge in multiple warship piracy, towing this most recent ship to a foreign country to which it had never intended to travel?

The communiqué ended in regret that the Marianne’s passengers had not chosen to visit Israel, where they would have been ‘impressed’ by the democracy upheld by the Jewish state that affords equality and religious freedoms for all its citizens.

So they were forcibly taken there to experience the ‘freedoms’ from the inside of Givon prison, where all but 2 are currently being held. It is truly a mad world in ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’.

Perhaps the government scribe was unaware of the latest of their country’s innumerable acts – far from resembling democracy or equality – targeting children.

These include cutting budgets for private Christian schools while increasing budgets (up to 100%) for the private yeshivas serving Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish population. The state schools that serve Palestinian citizens of Israel are also severely underfunded.

The passengers of the Marianne currently being ‘impressed’ by Israeli democracy from inside Givon Prison are:

Dror Feiler (Sweden) Musician and composer Ana Miranda (Spain) Member of the European Parliament Nadya Kervorkova (Russia) Journalist Kajsa Ekis Ekman (Sweden) Journalist, author Robert Lovelace (Canada) University Professor and retired Algonquin Chief Joel Opperdoes (Sweden) Crew Gustave Bergstrom (Sweden) Herman Reksten (Norway) Kevin Neish (Canada) Jonas Karlin (Sweden) Charlie Andreasson (Sweden) Ammar Al-Hamdan (Norway) Al Jazeera Arabic Mohammed El Bakkali (Morocco) Al Jazeera Arabic Ohad Hemo (Israel) Channel 2 Israeli TV Ruwani Perera (New Zealand/Aotearoa) MaoriTV Jacob Bryant (New Zealand/Aotearoa) MaoriTV

So far, the whereabouts of passengers Moncef Marzouki, former President of Tunisia (2011-14) and Palestinian politician Bassel Ghattas, a Member of the Israeli Knesset, are unknown at the time of writing.

The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, binding for 154 nations and the European Union (though not yet ratified by the United States), makes ‘piracy a universal crime and subjects pirates to arrest and prosecution by any nation’.

However, for all the quoting of its fine words, Israel has not signed this important, detailed Convention. No doubt some of the reasons for disregarding the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea can be found in the articles of Part 7, which declare:

Article 89: No State may validly purport to subject any part of the high seas to its sovereignty.

Article 90: Every State, whether coastal or land-locked, has the right to sail ships flying its flag on the high seas.

Article 100: All States shall co-operate to the fullest possible extent in the repression of piracy on the high seas or in any other place outside the jurisdiction of any State.

Ironically, Somalia was an early signatory to the Convention, signing in 1982, and can thus be held accountable. Will accountability ever apply to the supposed ‘only democracy in the Middle East’? Will the UN and the ‘international community’ ever demand it?

Those who work in solidarity with Palestinians to raise money and sail humanitarian goods to Gaza, risk their lives, are hijacked, or, like Palestinians themselves, are put in prison. Or even, as in the case of crew members of the Mavi Marmara, murdered.

When will this impunity end?