Frequently Asked Questions About the Boat and the Blockade
PART 1. WHAT IS THE CANADIAN BOAT TO GAZA?
- Who is organizing the Canadian Boat to Gaza?
- What do you hope to achieve through the Canadian Boat to Gaza?
- Other than the organizing group, who supports this initiative?
- Does the Canadian Boat to Gaza receive government funding?
- Israel enforces the blockade, but do any other governments help to maintain it?
- How will the Canadian Boat to Gaza and similar projects change the situation for the Palestinians?
- Does the Canadian Boat to Gaza have connections with organizations inside the Strip to define the real needs for the population?
- Would you accept to be directed to Ashdod or Arish if promised that your cargo will be taken by land to Gaza?
- What is the strategy vis-à-vis Israel's determination to stop all boats?
- What’s next for the Canadian Boat to Gaza?
PART 2: HISTORY OF THE FLOTILLA MOVEMENT
- What is the Freedom Flotilla II?
- What is Freedom Waves and how is it different from Freedom Flotilla II?
- What happened to Freedom Waves?
- What did Freedom Waves achieve?
- What is your relationship to the Free Gaza Movement?
PART 3: HUMANITARIAN LAW AND GAZA
- Why is Israel's blockade of Gaza illegal under international law?
- Why does the international community continue to consider Israel an occupying power in Gaza?
- If Israeli claims to have ended its occupation of Gaza were true, would the blockade still be illegal?
- Did Israel have the legal right to prevent the passage of the earlier humanitarian aid flotilla?
- Israel claims its blockade of Gaza is legal according to the San Remo Manual (SRM) on armed conflicts at sea. Why do you feel it is legitimate to break Israel's blockade of Gaza?
- Did Israel have the right to board the ships in international waters?
- Can maritime blockades be imposed in international waters?
PART 1. WHAT IS THE CANADIAN BOAT TO GAZA?
Q: Who is organizing the Canadian Boat to Gaza? up
A: The Canadian Boat to Gaza is a civil society initiative, undertaken by individuals from all walks of life and reflecting the diversity of Canadian society (www.tahrir.ca/who-we-are).
Q: What do you hope to achieve through the Canadian Boat to Gaza? up
A: We aim to challenge, undermine and expose illegal Israeli policies and actions behind the blockade of Gaza in the spirit of promoting justice, prosperity, social responsibility and the right of free movement for all peoples. Our hope is to also bring attention to the suffering of the blockaded people of Gaza.
Q: Other than the organizing group, who supports this initiative? up
A: A large number of organizations and individuals support the Canadian Boat to Gaza. The full list of endorsing organizations and public figures is available on our website (www.tahrir.ca/endorsements).
Q: Does the Canadian Boat to Gaza receive government funding? up
A: No. We receive no public funding and do not represent any government. Our only relations with states or governments are those that are mandated by Maritime Law.
Q: Israel enforces the blockade, but do any other governments help to maintain it? up
A: Yes. The principal international enablers of the blockade of Gaza are the United States, Canada and Germany. The governments of these three countries support the blockade in different ways. In the case of the United States, direct military aid is the most tangible form of support. All three governments provide Israel with diplomatic support safeguarding its blockade policy from censure at the United Nations and other international bodies. In addition, Canada has signed bilateral agreements in such matters as border control and military co-operation, which, inter alia, support the blockade. In addition to diplomatic support and economic and military cooperation, Germany has supplied the Israeli navy with state-of-the-art submarines, which have been used to maintain the maritime blockade.
Q: How will the Canadian Boat to Gaza and similar projects change the situation for the Palestinians? up
A: Palestinian civil society has explicitly called for international supporters to mount such campaigns in solidarity with them (http://www.tahrir.ca/Gaza-open-letter). As a result of previous boats and flotillas, pressure was put on Israel to ease the blockade. We need to continue to challenge Israel to allow free movement of goods in and out of Gaza as well as free movement of the population of Gaza. Any supplies that reach Gaza are also of great help under the current blockade.
Q: Does the Canadian Boat to Gaza have connections with organizations inside the Strip to define the real needs for the population? up
A: Yes. We are in contact with local civil society groups in Gaza and ask for their advice and opinions on a regular basis throughout the campaign. We have their support and encouragement.
Q: Would you accept to be directed to Ashdod or Arish if promised that your cargo will be taken by land to Gaza? up
A: No. The blockade is illegal and we have the right to carry our materials to Gaza ourselves and to carry out material from Gaza for export as well. Moreover, there is no proof that supplies previously hijacked to Ashdod or forced to go to Arish have been sent to Gaza in a full or timely manner. We demand no less than have the Tahrir returned with all Canadian belongings including the medical aid and that we are allowed to sail to Gaza.
Q: What is the strategy vis-à-vis Israel's determination to stop all boats? up
A: This is not a deterrent for us. The May 2010 flotilla brought world attention to the plight of the people of Gaza. It embarrassed and exposed Israel and increased international pressure towards at least partially lifting the blockade. The goal is to get Israel to lift the blockade of Gaza fully. We also aim to challenge Canadian foreign policy and the uncritical support of Israel by the current Conservative government.
Q: What’s next for the Canadian Boat to Gaza? up
A: Israel commandeered the Tahrir and the Saoirse, and took them by force to Israel, along with everything on-board, including the medical supplies intended for the suffering Palestinians of Gaza. At this time, Israel is still holding other boats from the Freedom Flotillas and previous missions. As we work with our flotilla partners to retrieve our boats, we are also working in Canada to mobilize a public campaign against Israel's illegal attack on the Tahrir in international waters, the abduction and imprisonment of the delegates on board and theft of the boat, the humanitarian supplies it was carrying and the personal and other belongings that were also taken.
PART 2: HISTORY OF THE FLOTILLA MOVEMENT
Q: What is the Freedom Flotilla II? up
A: In the summer of 2011, the 10-vessel Freedom Flotilla II including passenger and cargo ships attempted to travel from Greece to Gaza. The vessels’ goal was to bring attention to and ultimately end the illegal blockade of Gaza and the humanitarian crisis facing its citizens. Groups from all over the world participated including Canada, Belgium, Denmark, Australia, United States, France, Spain, Italy, Ireland, the U.K, Greece, Turkey, Malaysia, and others. As the departure date grew near, the Greek government under pressure from the United States and Israel, blocked most of the vessels, including the Canadian Tahrir, from leaving Greek ports. A single French boat, the Dignité-AlKarama, managed to sail from Greece towards Gaza but was boarded and seized in international waters by the Israeli navy.
Despite these setbacks, however, Freedom Flotilla II gained an important partial victory. The extensive mainstream media coverage throughout July and August raised invaluable awareness of the plight of the people of Gaza, and the complicity of Western governments, especially the Greek government, in maintaining the blockade.
Q: What is Freedom Waves and how is it different from Freedom Flotilla II? up
A: Freedom Waves is a continuation of the effort to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza. With Israel having successfully outsourced its blockade to European governments, new tactics were required, and Freedom Waves was born.
Instead of sailing at predetermined and publicized times, multiple sailings are planned in unrelenting “waves” to the shores of Gaza. Sailings would happen at the times and places of our choosing to use the element of surprise. Other actions and campaigns against the blockade could also be part of Freedom Waves.
In November 2011, the Canadian ship Tahrir along with the Irish ship the Saoirse sailed from a Turkish port carrying a representative group of 27 delegates, journalists and captains. On November 2nd, in international waters, the world learned that Gaza had not been forgotten and another attempt was underway to run the Israeli blockade. There had been no advance publicity and the IDF was caught off guard!
Q: What happened to Freedom Waves? up
A: On November 4th, Israel again used disproportional force to defend its illegal blockade of Gaza. A naval armada of over 20 vessels, including three warships, water cannon boats and swarms of commando-laden zodiacs attacked and captured the Tahrir and the Saoirse 48 nautical miles from the coast of Gaza. News of the attack, complete with eye-witness video, was quickly picked up by all major news channels, including CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera and others. 27 delegates, journalists and captains from the two boats were kidnapped and illegally detained in Israel, some for as long as six days.
Q: What did Freedom Waves achieve? up
A: Despite the capture of the boats, the Freedom Waves initiative in November 2011 signaled important new milestone:
i) The Palestinians of Gaza got the message loud and clear: you are not forgotten and will never be.
ii) Israel and its allies (including the Canadian government) got the message as well: No matter what you do, no matter how unlawfully you operate, the conscientious people of the world - and we are the majority - will not let you practice oppression, apartheid, occupation, injustice and state piracy unchecked.
iii) The myth of Israel's intelligence superiority was shattered -- civil society activists using standard communication methods managed to keep their plans secret and surprised Israel when they declared themselves, at the time they chose, that they are in international waters on their way to Gaza.
iv) The situation in Gaza and the inhumane and illegal actions of Israel were again front-line in the media all over the world raising awareness and gathering support for the just Palestinian cause.
Q: What is your relationship to the Free Gaza Movement? up
A: Since the inception of this project we have been working in cooperation and coordination with the Free Gaza Movement (http://www.freegaza.org) and through them we are a part of an international movement to break the blockade of Gaza by sea.
PART 3: HUMANITARIAN LAW AND GAZA
Q: Why is Israel's blockade of Gaza illegal under international law? up
A: As an occupying power tha t exercises effective control over Gaza, Israel has legal obligations to the residents of the occupied territory under the Fourth Geneva Convention, including the general duty to protect civilians under its control, and the specific duty to allow adequate access to food and medical supplies. Israel's blockade of Gaza, including its land and sea blockade, violates these duties of protection by denying Palestinian civilians in Gaza access to adequate amounts of the most basic food and medical supplies, not to mention a host of other supplies necessary for rebuilding after the destruction wrought by Israel's overwhelming devastation of Gaza's infrastructure in its 2009 attacks. Israel's violation of its duties, extensively documented by international organizations (http://www.tahrir.ca/official-documents), ultimately amounts to the collective punishment of 1.6 million civilians, in violation of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Q: Why does the international community continue to consider Israel an occupying power in Gaza? up
A: Israel's claim that its occupation of Gaza ended with its 2005 withdrawal of troops and settlers from the Strip is an attempt to absolve itself of responsibility for the civilian population of Gaza. Israel's continued control of Gaza's territorial waters, its airspace, the flow of people and goods through its land borders, and its continued ground and air incursions into the territory verify that it exercises the "effective control" necessary to qualify as a foreign occupying power under the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Q: If Israeli claims to have ended its occupation of Gaza were true, would the blockade still be illegal? up
A: Yes. Even if the Gaza Strip were not occupied, Israel would still be constrained by the principle of proportionality in imposing the blockade. This means that the military advantage gained must outweigh the harm caused to the civilian population. This also means that the blockade may be no more restrictive than is necessary for military purposes. Yet the blockade is far broader, and its explicit aims are political, not military. It is therefore illegal and actions taken to enforce it are similarly illegal.
Q: Did Israel have the legal right to prevent the passage of the earlier humanitarian aid flotilla? up
A: No. As an occupying power, Israel is required under the Fourth Geneva Convention to ensure free, unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief to the occupied population. And again, even if Israel's claims to have ended its occupation were true, according to the laws that regulate armed conflict, "If the civilian population of the blockaded territory is inadequately provided with food and other objects essential for its survival, the blockading party must provide for free passage of such foodstuffs and other essential supplies," (San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea, 12 June 1994) including medical supplies, provided the blockading party is allowed to make technical arrangements for the passage. Israel's denial of passage to the humanitarian flotilla, which was carrying solely humanitarian supplies and was searched by Turkish authorities prior to departure, was thus illegal. The effect of the blockade on the civilian population in Gaza is well documented, causing alarming levels of malnutrition (WHO). Moreover, Israel's stated objective in imposing the blockade is also largely not military, but political in nature, namely, to weaken Gaza's economy and decrease support for Hamas. The damage that the blockade has caused to the civilian population is therefore clearly disproportionate to any military advantage Israel may obtain from the blockade. Preventing humanitarian goods from reaching Gaza has no relation to any threat posed by Hamas. The UN Security Council's Resolution 1860 of January 2009, which mandates the blockade be lifted to allow humanitarian assistance, confirms that Israel's blockade of Gaza is illegitimate.
Q: Israel claims its blockade of Gaza is legal according to the San Remo Manual (SRM) on armed conflicts at sea. Why do you feel it is legitimate to break Israel's blockade of Gaza? up
A: According to both the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), to which Israel is not party, and the SRM which Israel cites. According to the SRM, every naval blockade must satisfy a number of legal requirements, including proportionality. If the blockade "has the sole purpose of starving the civilian population or denying it other objects essential for its survival; or 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", then the "blockade is prohibited" (San Remo Manual). The United States Ambassador to the United Nations said, "we continue to believe the situation in Gaza is unsustainable and is not in the interest of any of those concerned" (UN Human Rights Council, 15th Session Geneva).
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) described the impact of the closure on the situation in Gaza as "devastating" for the 1.6 million people living there.
"The level of "abject poverty" among the Palestinians of Gaza has tripled since the imposition of the blockade, 61 per cent of households are food insecure. There has been a shift in diet (from protein rich to low cost and high carbohydrate foods), triggering concerns over mineral and vitamin deficiencies. Moreover, Gaza has been affected by a protracted energy crisis, with the power plant operating at 30 per cent of its capacity, scheduled cuts of 8-12 hours per day, leaving households with partial food refrigeration....Water and sanitation services have deteriorated." (15th session of the Human Rights Council: Report A/HRC/15/21)
Thus the UN fact-finding mission to investigate Israel's attacks on flotilla boats has concluded the blockade is illegal and the attacks on the high seas are violations of international law.
Q: Did Israel have the right to board the ships in international waters? up
A: No. The humanitarian flotilla of May 2010, including the Turkish-flagged ship which bore the brunt of the casualties, was in international waters, on the high seas. The principle of freedom of navigation is enshrined in international law, including in the Convention on the High Seas, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and has attained the status of customary international law by which all states are bound. Under this principle, all states have the freedom to sail ships flying their flags on the high seas. Sovereignty over a ship is exclusive to the state whose flag the ship is flying. Any attempt to board the ship of another flag-state is therefore considered a breach of that state's sovereignty.
Q: Can maritime blockades be imposed in international waters? up
A: No. Contrary to Israel's assertions, maritime blockades must be restricted to ports or coastal areas under the enemy's control, and may not be imposed in international waters. Israel's attempt to impose and enforce its blockade in international waters is therefore illegal. Israel's claim that it has a right to pursue a ship intending to breach its blockade from the time it begins its voyage, based on the so-called doctrine of continuous voyage, is a minority position in international law. Israel's reliance on this questionable doctrine does not justify its attack on the humanitarian flotilla and its infliction of many casualties.