Gaza Map, courtesy Creative Commons

Legal expert to flotilla participants: Blockade is legal; stay home

Special to Gaza 101

Activists who truly want to get humanitarian goods to the people of Gaza should do so through established routes, making use of such official organizations as the International Committee of the Red Cross, according to Wolff Heintschel von Heinegg, a law professor in Germany.

Anyone planning to participate in the Gaza flotilla is seeking only to provoke Israel into actions that it legally must take to enforce its blockade, Von Heinegg said on Thursday during a conference call arranged by The Israel Project. If the blockade is breached even once, he said, it would become legally void.

Von Heinegg was among a group of international lawyers and naval experts who produced the San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea.

“Stay at home,” is his advice to those planning to participate in the Gaza flotilla. “You are not aware of the legality of the measures that might be used” by the Israel Defense Forces.

Von Heinegg said that under international law, Israel, which is in a recognized state of armed conflict with Hamas, was entitled to establish a blockade to prevent not just the smuggling of arms, but also the transport of terrorists. And once it has established a blockade, a nation is obligated to stop anyone from breaking it.

“Under the law of armed conflict, all vessels,” he said, must be prevented from breaching a blockade and acts of escape or active resistance may be overcome by force.

Von Heinegg said an enforcing party, such as the IDF, would typically summon the ship and order it to stop. The next step would be to fire a shot across the bow. If the vessel continued, the IDF would be permitted to fire into the rudder or another part of the ship to make it stop, short of sinking the ship. The IDF also may legally board the vessel, von Heinegg said.

He said a blockade is not a form of punishment, but rather a method of warfare that, he conceded, does have an effect on the population. Yet, he also said, that Israel’s permission this week to allow construction goods to be transported to Gaza for the building of homes and schools “is beyond what’s required by law.”

Von Heinegg also did an extensive interview with Die Zeit-Germany on the legality of Gaza blockade and the flotilla.

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