Did Israel Commit An Act of Piracy?

We’ve had some interesting debates here on One Utah about Israel and Gaza, for example whether the December 2008-January 2009 IDF assault on civilians amounted to terrorism. Now the question is whether Israel has engaged in piracy.

While many details remain unknown or unverified, some facts are thus far undisputed:

1) The so-called “Freedom Flotilla” of six civilian ships loaded with humanitarian aid and carrying around 700 protesters from various pro-Palestinian groups set out with the intention of running the three-year Israeli blockade of Gaza. They were shadowed by three Israeli warships.

2) At about 4:30 a.m., Israeli commandos dropped from a helicopter onto the deck of the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara, and took control of it. The other smaller ships were also seized. The boarding of the ships took place in international waters more than 70 nautical miles outside Israeli territorial waters.

3) The Israeli commandos shot and killed 10-20 passengers and wounded 50-60 wounded. There were 7 Israelis wounded to varying degrees. Some of the activists seem to have been armed with slingshots(!) and improvised weapons. Those on the ships emphatically state that the Israelis came on board shooting.

4) The aid ships are now at the port of Ashdod, and most of the surviving passengers are being detained in Israel pending deportation proceedings. At least 34 wounded have been hospitalized.

Glenn Greenwald (his whole post is worth reading):

It hardly seemed possible for Israel — after its brutal devastation of Gaza and its ongoing blockade — to engage in more heinous and repugnant crimes. But by attacking a flotilla in international waters carrying humanitarian aid, and slaughtering at least 10 people, Israel has managed to do exactly that. If Israel’s goal were to provoke as much disgust and contempt for it as possible, it’s hard to imagine how it could be doing a better job.

It’s clear that flotillas such as this one are designed to embarrass the Israeli government and call attention to their ongoing war on the people of Gaza (yes, a blockade is an act of war – look it up). By over-reacting, Israel seems to have guaranteed worldwide headlines, harsh criticism in Europe, and might even have caused some re-thinking in Washington. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has canceled a planned meeting Tuesday with President Obama.

UPDATE: One of the ships attacked by Israel belonged to a Turkish aid organization, and it’s been reported that among the dead are at least two Turks. Turkey today “warned that further supply vessels will be sent to Gaza, escorted by the Turkish Navy.” Among other things, Turkey is a NATO member with increasing tensions with Israel. Its Prime Minister today condemned the Israeli action as “state terrorism.”

UPDATE: The government of Egypt has opened its border with the Gaza Strip to allow passage of food and medical supplies “for an unlimited time.” However, badly-needed construction materials to rebuild from the ruins left by Israel’s 2008-2009 offensive are still prohibited.

UPDATE: FDL: Right Wingers Reflexively Defend Israel, Bash Obama

UPDATE: Glenn Greenwald offer links to some surprisingly candid statements of U.S. politicians willing to put the interests of the Israeli government ahead of our own interests. Not to mention the truth.

UPDATE: Alan Dershowitz makes the claim that Israel’s actions were entirely lawful. Any resemblance to the Somali pirates is coincidental.

Israelis Opened Fire Before Boarding Gaza Flotilla, say Released Activists. First eyewitness accounts of raid contradict version put out by Israeli officials.

Via FDL: Glenn Greenwald vs. Eliot Spitzer on MSNBC yesterday.

UPDATE: Here’s a legal analysis of the Israeli action by maritime law expert Craig Murray, who says that it was not piracy but a war crime:

Possibility one is that the Israeli commandos were acting on behalf of the government of Israel in killing the activists on the ships. In that case Israel is in a position of war with Turkey, and the act falls under international jurisdiction as a war crime.

Possibility two is that, if the killings were not authorized Israeli military action, they were acts of murder under Turkish jurisdiction. If Israel does not consider itself in a position of war with Turkey, then it must hand over the commandos involved for trial in Turkey under Turkish law.

In brief, if Israel and Turkey are not at war, then it is Turkish law which is applicable to what happened on the ship. It is for Turkey, not Israel, to carry out any inquiry or investigation into events and to initiate any prosecutions. Israel is obliged to hand over indicted personnel for prosecution.

UPDATE: More eyewitness accounts, backed up by video, indicate that the IDF opened fire before trying to board the vessels. After a passenger was killed, a white flag was raised but the Israelis kept shooting according to a journalist on board the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara.

Cenk Uygur on HuffPo:

I can speak Turkish, so having watched all the tapes, I can tell you that over the loud speaker the people in charge of the ship are saying, “We have surrendered, the white flag is up, people are lying on the ground and they are still firing.” And you still hear the gunfire as they are saying this on tape.

UPDATE: U.S. citizen among those killed in Israeli flotilla raid

The American citizen was identified by the Anatolia news agency as Furkan Dogan, a 19-year-old student. His body had four bullet wounds to the head and one to the chest, the news agency reported.

Related One Utah posts:
Goldstone Report on Gaza War Crimes May Go to The Hague (February 7, 2010)
Gaza One Year Later (December 28, 2009)
Gaza War Crimes Report Referred to U.N. Security Council (October 16, 2009)
Gaza War Crimes: A Reminder (April 23, 2009)
Gaza 2009: We Will Never Forget (February 1, 2009)
NYT Columnist Tom Friedman Accuses Israel of Terrorism (January 14, 2009)
Israel: No Cease Fire For You! (January 10, 2009)
Why Are We (Israel) Fighting Now? (January 7, 2009)
All We Need to Know About Israel’s Gaza Operation (January 5, 2009)

  1. #1 by jdberger on June 1, 2010 - 3:30 pm

    Came on board shooting?

    While rappelling from a helicopter?

    Oh boy, Richard. You sure are gullible.

    For fun, check out this video.

    Yeah. That looks like the soldiers are shooting….

  2. #2 by jdberger on June 1, 2010 - 3:31 pm

    Try again –

    See this video.

  3. #3 by Cliff Lyon on June 1, 2010 - 9:44 pm

    Rich, FYI. Have you seen this?

  4. #4 by Richard Warnick on June 2, 2010 - 7:59 am

    Thanks for the comments, jd and Cliff. The so-called “censored” video is being shown over and over on MSNBC and even on the local KSL news. Are the Israelis guilty of piracy? Prof. Alan Dershowitz says no, I say maybe.

    I suppose your point is that the IDF commandos in the assault force were somehow victimized. In the video I posted, you can clearly see that the activists are defending their ship. Now, imagine that an American humanitarian aid ship was attacked by Somali pirates in international waters, and the unarmed crew fought back with whatever improvised weapons they had at their disposal. At which point the pirates shot and killed ten crew members and wounded dozens more.

    Wouldn’t we be calling those Americans courageous? You bet we would!

    It has been pointed out that the Turkish activists were hoping to create an incident that would worsen Israel-Turkish relations (hence the presence of TV cameras). This could have been avoided easily, if Israel let the ships proceed to Gaza as they have done in the past.

    The residents of Gaza are not allowed to leave, and they are not even allowed to bring in construction materials to rebuild their ruined homes.

    As it turned out, U.S, – Israel relations are affected too. Secretary of State Clinton has spoken out against the blockade of Gaza, calling it “unsustainable and unacceptable.”

    Israel has become a rogue nation and an enormous foreign policy liability for the USA, not to mention a $3 billion a year drain on taxpayers. We ought to cut them loose.

  5. #5 by Uncle Rico on June 2, 2010 - 9:12 am

    Hmm. Israeli commandos spoiling for a fight drop onto the deck of a vessel plying international waters in the black of night while bedecked in full combat regalia and toting weapons and we’re supposed to buy the bullshit being pedaled by Israel and its apologists that its soldiers were victimized because some of those on the boarded vessel predictably reacted with physical resistance? Down the rabbit hole we go.

  6. #6 by Anonymous on June 2, 2010 - 10:49 am

    Ask yourself this. The Israelis claim that the humanitarian flotilla is carrying lethal weapons and supplies to Hamas for the purpose of killing Israelis.

    Now unless I miss my mark arms dealers, and weapons suppliers don’t defend themselves with pipes and clubs when boarded by “pirates” in international waters, which is where this event occurred. In fact at that range, a 7.62 x 49 hand held machine gun is quite capable of putting a helicopter of most varieties into the drink.

    Anyone knowing the risks of arms transport that was not a “humanitarian” would have whacked any idiot coming down onto the boat on a rope with such an easily obtained weapon, for those with a will.

    So now “terrorists’ are transporting deadly weapons and when discovered are defending themselves with batons. Interesting.

    The collective IQ’s of Americans that cannot do this math has fallen well into the “moron” category. The state of affairs as it were.

  7. #7 by Richard Okelberry on June 2, 2010 - 12:36 pm

    Just as you failed to use the entire legal definition of “terrorism” in accusing Israel of terrorism in your above linked piece, “NYT Columnist Tom Friedman Accuses Israel of Terrorism,” once again you have failed to provide the actual definition of what piracy legally is. Just as a sovereign nation does not fall under the legal definition of terrorism, so it is true with piracy. A nation cannot be accused of piracy because by definition piracy is the action of private individuals not acting under the authority of a sovereign power. In this case the Israeli commandos were definitely acting on behalf of and under the authority of their government. When ships are seized by private individuals under the authority of the nation under whom flag they fly, they are called privateers.

    A perfect example of the difference can be found with the Sea Shepherd’s boat the Steve Irwin which is regularly used to harass whaling fleets and has even been known to ram whaling vessels. Japan regularly calls them pirates but legally, because they sail under another nation’s flag (the Netherlands) they are not technically guilty of “piracy.” Any attempt to charge them as pirates by Japan has thus failed. If the Netherlands were to revoke their authorization to fly under their flag then they would immediately be considered pirates and could be seized by any other nation.

    “The Convention defines piracy as any illegal act of violence, detention, or depredation committed by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft against another on the high seas. As international law considers piracy hostis humani generis (an enemy of mankind), it is established as an offense of universal jurisdiction. Accordingly, all states are entitled to seize a pirate ship or aircraft and arrest the persons and seize the property on board and try the pirates according to their own laws.

    In 1988, to address “other forms” of violence at sea, the Rome Convention on the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation (also known as the SUA Convention) and its Fixed Platforms Protocol were developed. The Convention prohibits a broad range of acts with the aim of ensuring safe navigation and, to a limited extent, deals with the act of using the ship as a weapon against navigational safety. Terrorist attacks necessitated the passage of a Protocol to the SUA Convention in 2005 which, inter alia, criminalizes the use of a ship to further an act of terrorism.” – http://jurist.law.pitt.edu/forumy/2009/01/fighting-somali-pirates-shipriders.php

    In this case, Israel was enforcing a legal wartime blockade, much like the blockades we enforced against Germany in WWII and against Cuba during the missile crisis.

    A little research before you post can go a long way!

  8. #8 by jdberger on June 2, 2010 - 2:56 pm

    Rico – if the commandos were really “bedecked in full combat regalia” why were they carrying pepperball guns and not M4 carbines? Maybe there’s a little bit of hyperbole, there?

    Anon – there’s no such thing as a “7.62×49 handheld machine gun”. Thanks for playing. 😉

    Here’s a little thought experiment for ya. If one of the parties to the conflict were to universally disarm, what would happen?

    What would happen to the Palis if they unilaterally disarmed tomorrow?

    What would happen to the Israelis if they universally disarmed tomorrow?

    Richard, for a territory without construction materials, Gaza is some how making do…. They’re going swimming!

  9. #9 by Richard Warnick on June 2, 2010 - 3:25 pm


    Nice propaganda link. It omits the fact that most people in Gaza live in extreme poverty. I prefer to believe the United Nations reports.

    “Sixty-one percent of the Gaza population is food insecure,” said Sarah Leppert, FAO’s communications adviser for the West Bank and Gaza Strip. “There is a diverse range of foods available in Gaza; the problem is people do not have the means to purchase the food due to rising poverty and unemployment, now nearly 39 percent.”

    ..The World Health Organization (WHO) is concerned by rising malnutrition indicators – increased cases of stunting, wasting and underweight children – and continuing high rates of anaemia among children and pregnant women.

    A poverty survey conducted by the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) shows that the number of Palestine refugees unable to access food and lacking the means to purchase even the most basic items, such as soap, school stationery and safe drinking water, has tripled since the imposition of the blockade in June 2007.

    …Goods coming through the tunnels from Egypt, sold at inflated prices and inaccessible to most Gazans, are not a viable solution, according to aid agencies in Gaza.

    Ten people were killed by pepperball guns?

  10. #10 by Uncle Rico on June 2, 2010 - 3:40 pm

    Rico – if the commandos were really “bedecked in full combat regalia” why were they carrying pepperball guns and not M4 carbines? Maybe there’s a little bit of hyperbole, there?

    I don’t think so jd. Are you telling me Israel called up its commandos to drop from helicopters in the middle of the night onto the deck of what they perceived to be a hostile vessel armed with nothing more than pepper guns? Is that what I am supposed to believe? And when things predicatbly got tense, the commados killed 9 activists armed with slings shots and pipes with pepper guns?

    This wasn’t no Keystone Kops operation. This was the Israeli military at its finest.

  11. #11 by Rochet 68 on June 2, 2010 - 6:45 pm

    A Rochet 68 for example, a Czech made hand held machine gun, is a 7.62 x 54, even bigger jd, and was wielded by Ijaw tribesmen in their assaults on platforms in the Nigerian Delta within the last 10 years. You know not what you are talking about there jd.

    It is used in rifles and machine guns worldwide.


    The 7.62 x 51 is used in the HK assault rifles, and is a Nato variant of the bigger Russian, Eastern block round.


    You ‘aint even playin’ jd

  12. #12 by Rochet 68 on June 2, 2010 - 6:51 pm

    jd, I do believe the Browning Automatic rifle was a .308, or 7.62, or 30.6 and the cartridge was a 49.

    It came in a fully automatic variant over 60 years ago.

  13. #13 by Richard Warnick on June 2, 2010 - 10:17 pm

    jd– Thanks again for the propaganda link. Here’s the debunk.

    Israeli propaganda fail: The Israeli Government Press Office Roots restaurant video shows PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who hasn’t been seen in Gaza since 2007. Turns out it was shot at the grand opening in 2005, two years before Israel imposed its blockade.

    The goods on display in the Gaza market pictures had to be smuggled in because the blockade prohibits the importation of sweets or spices.

    The items forbidden by Israel include coriander, notebooks, jam, chocolate and children’s toys. Even USAID supplies are intercepted at the border. These include blankets, white tehina, tomato paste and recreational sports equipment for children.

    Gaza now has a parallel economy, with tunnel owners employing 30,000 workers and paying official taxes imposed by Hamas. Around 4,200 items are smuggled in through the tunnels – from cattle and cars to sanitary napkins and clothes.

    Amnesty International, in its latest annual report, documents the reality of life in Gaza under Israel’s (and Egypt’s) three-year-old siege.

    Begun in June 2007, the blockade continued to cut off almost 1.5 million Palestinians from the rest of the world, isolating them in Gaza’s cramped confines, and greatly limiting the import of essential goods and supplies. This gratuitous exacerbation of the privations already suffered by the inhabitants of Gaza seriously hampered their access to health care and education and destroyed industries and livelihoods.

    The report goes on to describe the blockade as collective punishment — illegal under international law — and notes that fully 80 percent of Gazans depend on aid because of the blockade.

    But hey, they’ve got one swimming pool for 1.5 million people so things can’t be that bad. It must be great fun in between bombing raids.

  14. #14 by cav on June 3, 2010 - 6:07 am

    Israel has been gradually turning from a strategic asset to a burden for the United States

  15. #15 by cav on June 3, 2010 - 6:14 am

    “We communicated with Israel through multiple channels many times regarding the flotilla,” P.J. Crowley, a State Department spokesman, said in a statement issued in response to a question from the Washington Post. “We emphasized caution and restraint given the anticipated presence of civilians, including American citizens.”

    Either the US should be very angry and responding like the rest of the world, or they were aware of Israel’s intentions ahead of time and did nothing but ‘urge caution.’


  16. #16 by anon on June 3, 2010 - 7:43 am

    jd; the BAR was a 7.62, or thereabouts, a .306, and fully automatic 60 years ago. The cartridge is a 49 I believe.

    The large round for heavy nato hand held machine guns is 7.62 x 51. HK and many others use it.

    The Eastern block round for hand held heavy assault weapons of the east block is a 7.62 x 54, even bigger cartridge.

    You ‘aint even playing if you don’t know that.

  17. #17 by Blinded by Science on June 5, 2010 - 7:40 am

    and now for the FKN News…

  18. #18 by Suzanne on June 6, 2010 - 2:56 am

    Your second last update: don’t you find it weird that they were announcing this _over the loudspeaker_ in Turkish? It would make much more sense to shout this in English, Hebrew or Arabic, but not in Turkish.
    How did they expect that the Israeli soldiers understand them?

  19. #19 by cav on June 6, 2010 - 6:58 am

    It was all some semantic bobble-up. There was no deeper message being delivered about the prospects for peace in the Middle East. None, Nada, Zip, Zilch.

    Now, if we could only bomb Iran, everything will hinge on Paul McCartney apologizing to G W Bush. Life will be good once again.

  20. #20 by Uncle Rico on June 6, 2010 - 8:01 am

    Translating that Turkish white flag can be a tricky proposition. The English, Hebrew or Arabic white flag should have been hoisted instead.

  21. #21 by Richard Warnick on June 6, 2010 - 8:07 am


    First of all, Cenk Uygur is commenting on a brief video clip. For all we know, the announcement could have been repeated in another language. Anyway, Turkish was the language of the vast majority of passengers. Are you telling me that the Israeli naval special forces are so clueless that they would attack and board a Turkish ship full of hundreds of Turks without bring along a translator?

    What is your opinion of the numerous accounts that Israeli forces opened fire on the ships before boarding?

  22. #22 by jdberger on June 7, 2010 - 4:17 pm

    Rochet 68 :A Rochet 68 for example, a Czech made hand held machine gun, is a 7.62 x 54, even bigger jd, and was wielded by Ijaw tribesmen in their assaults on platforms in the Nigerian Delta within the last 10 years. You know not what you are talking about there jd.
    It is used in rifles and machine guns worldwide.
    The 7.62 x 51 is used in the HK assault rifles, and is a Nato variant of the bigger Russian, Eastern block round.
    You ‘aint even playin’ jd

    1) You said 7.62×49. Find me a “handheld machine gun” in that caliber, sugar.

    2) 7.62×54 has absolutely no relation to 7.62×51 (.308). They don’t even use the same diameter bullets. They’re about as related as shrimp and bluejays.

    3) The Browning Automatic Rifle was invented in 1917 as a select fire rifle. That’s a few years more than 60 years ago. In fact, you completely missed two major conflicts that is was involved in. Further, it did not fire the .308 (7.62×51) round, as that had to wait another 30 some odd years to be invented. Finally, the 30-06 bullet isn’t .306 inches in diameter, it’s .308 inches in diameter and the case isn’t 49 millimeters, it’s 63 millimeters long.

    4) What’s a “hand held heavy assault weapon”? Is that something like a “large displacement light craft”?

    C’mon – if you’re going to play, at least try to get the terminology right. Or use Wikipedia for goodness sakes. It makes you look like less of an idiot.

    Cav – the soldiers had pistols – but that’s a pretty far cry from “full combat regalia” unless you happen to be Jack Bauer. Pistols make piss-poor offensive weapons. The primary use of a pistol is to allow the bearer to fight his way to a rifle. That’s why I questioned you on your use of hyperbole. 😉

    – –

    Let’s do the thought experiment again.

    What would happen to the Palis if they unilaterally disarmed tomorrow?
    What would happen to the Israelis if they universally disarmed tomorrow?

  23. #23 by cav on June 7, 2010 - 5:11 pm

    jd, I don’t recall you questioning my use of hyperbole, but the vids I’ve seen clearly show IDF members with long barreled rifle like weapons – call em pistols if you like.

    ‘Palis’ is a bit of a derrogative, but you’re attatched to it so I’ll try to see beyond any bias the use of such terms might reflect.

    Thought experiments are fun. I’d like to see the real deal go down on all sides – yesterday

  24. #24 by jdberger on June 8, 2010 - 11:40 am

    Cav – I questioned Rico’s use of hyperbole. Sorry for the mixup.

    re: “Pali” – I use “Izzy” too. For instance, I own an “Izzy HB FAL” (which happens to be chambered in 7.62×51. :p

    Those “long barreled rifle like weapons” are the paintball/pepperball guns.

    Regarding the thought experiment, what do you think would happen if, *poof* the Middle East, from the Med to the Afghan border suddenly found itself without weapons? Do you think they’d live in peace with the Izzys? Or do you think they’d try to tear their throats out with their bare hands?

    Honest answer…..?

  25. #25 by cav on June 8, 2010 - 11:55 am

    Humility would certainly come into play.

  26. #26 by srqvol on June 14, 2010 - 5:22 pm

    cav,you ,sir have basic real life issues.i have two family members actively serving right now, one in mosul and one on a nuke sub, and they would not only be insulted ,but would laugh at you for your lack of real time knowledge about the military or world events.this admin.is cutting everything to the bone while china ,korea,iran ,etc is arming to the teeth. please get a grip !

  27. #27 by cav on June 14, 2010 - 9:19 pm

    srqvol, your concern is noted. I do have issues, but they’re betrayed by the fearful way we relate to our broader community – which is not to say there’s no danger out there: Just look at British Petroleum.

    Your sons don’t seem to have been insulted by the lies that have promoted their service.

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