Whenever Israel gets itself into serious hot water and kills a lot of people and looks really bad in the process, if it can, the MFA and the rest of the hasbara brigade goes into overdrive, dusts off all the possible avenues of defense they can find. Lately, with the Gaza flotilla shortly to embark on its attempt to break the illegal Israeli blockade of Gaza, and with memories fresh in the world’s mind of the nine dead bodies shot at point blank range by Israeli naval commandos, hasbarists are turning to an obscure international treaty to defend the indefensible: the collective punishment of 1.5 million Gazans by Israel’s armed forces.
I’m so tired to hearing these chirping hasbarists crickets all singing the same song (I must’ve had six different commenters in the past year who each separately raised San Remo as justification for the blockade) that I wanted to thank a commenter who pointed me to a rebuttal of the San Remo argument. It was written by a former British ambassador, Craig Murray. And before you question his credentials, let’s present them:
…Former Head of the Maritime Section of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He negotiated the UK’s current maritime boundaries with Ireland, Denmark (Faeroes), Belgium and France, and boundaries of the Channel Islands, Turks and Caicos and British Virgin Islands. He was alternate Head of the UK Delegation to the UN Preparatory Commission on the Law of the Sea. He was Head of the FCO Section of the Embargo Surveillance Centre, enforcing sanctions on Iraq, and directly responsible for clearance of Royal Navy boarding operations in the Persian Gulf.
I quote Ambassador Murray in full (italics are mine):
Every comments thread on every internet site on the world which has discussed the Israeli naval murders, has been inundated by organised ZIonist commenters stating that the Israeli action was legal under the San Remo Manual of International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea.
They ignore those parts of San Remo that specifically state that it is illegal to enforce a general blockade on an entire population. But even apart from that, San Remo simply does not apply.
The manual relates specifically to legal practice in time of war. With whom is Israel at war?
There is no war.
Israeli apologists have gone on to say they are in a state of armed conflict with Gaza.
Really? In that case, why do we continually hear Israeli complaints about rockets fired from Gaza into Israel? If it is the formal Israeli position that it is in a state of armed conflict with Gaza, then Gaza has every right to attack Israel with rockets.
But in fact, plainly to the whole world, the nature and frequency of Israeli complaints about rocket attacks gives evidence that Israel does not in fact believe that a situation of armed conflict exists.
Secondly, if Israel wishes to claim it is in a state of armed conflict with Gaza, then it must treat all of its Gazan prisoners as prisoners of war entitled to the protections of the Geneva Convention. If you are in a formal state of armed conflict, you cannot categorise your opponents as terrorists.
But again, it is plain for the world to see from its treatment and description of Gazan prisoners that it does not consider itself to be in a formal position of armed conflict.
Israel is seeking to pick and choose which bits of law applicable to armed conflict it applies, by accepting or not accepting it is in armed conflcit depending on the expediency of the moment.
I have consistently denounced Hamas rocket attacks into Israel. I have categorised them as terrorism. If Israel wishes now to declare it is in armed conflcit with Gaza, I withdraw my opposition and indeed would urge Hamas to step up such attacks to the maximum.
Does Israel really wish to justify its latest action by declaring it is at war with Gaza? That is what the invocation of San Remo amounts to.
So please no more references to San Remo. It’s a red herring argument.