On 3 January 2009 Israel deployed a naval blockade against Gaza in order to prevent materials entering or leaving Gaza that could be used by Hamas in its ongoing armed conflict with Israel. With the humanitarian crisis in Gaza worsening, on 31 May 2010 a flotilla of vessels carrying humanitarian aid expressed its intention to violate the naval blockade and deliver the aid to Gaza. Before violating the blockade and whilst still on the high seas, Israel sought to enforce its blockade and capture the vessels. This occurred largely without incident except in relation to the Mavi Marmara, which resisted capture by the Israeli Special Forces and continued to sail in the direction of Gaza. As Israel Special Forces boarded the Mavi violence ensued, with nine crew members of the Mavi being killed and dozens of others injured. Israel eventually assumed control of the ship and the crew members were detained and the vessel and its cargo confiscated. Whether or not Israel’s interdiction of the Mavi was permissible under international law has caused considerable controversy. Indeed, three high profile reports have been published examining the legality of the incident. Most recently, in September 2011 the Palmer Report was published (named after the Chair of the four members Panel, Sir Geoffrey Palmer). All in all, the Panel finds that Israel’s blockade of Gaza was lawful. However, the Panel also concludes that the enforcement of the blockade against the Mavi on 31 May 2010 was unlawful and that Israel’s treatment of the crew members whilst they were detained was in violation of international human rights law. In this commentary the author will assess the accuracy of the Panel’s interpretation and application of the international law of naval blockade to Israel’s blockade of Gaza.
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