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ALL AT SEA

By Yvonne Ridley

How many people remember the hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro way back in October 1985? Four members of the Palestine Liberation Front took control of the liner off the coast of Egypt as she was sailing from Alexandria to Port Said. It was a bungled operation during which the hijackers killed disabled Jewish-American passenger Leon Klinghoffer and then threw his body overboard.

The incident created headlines around the world and polarized people over the Palestinian cause. It also prompted the law makers to create new legislation making it an international crime for anyone to take a ship by force in international waters. Why the brief history lesson? Under article 3 of the Rome Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation of 1988, it is an international crime for any person to seize or exercise control over a ship by force, and also a crime to injure or kill any person in the process.


The treaty adopts a strict approach necessarily. One cannot attack a ship and then claim self-defence if the people on board resist the unlawful use of violence. In other words, according to international law, the actions of the Israeli military on Monday morning in the eastern Mediterranean were beyond the law and those involved should be treated like any other pirates who board and hijack ships by force.

Any right to claim self defence in such dramatic circumstances rests purely with the passengers and crew on board the ship in question. Under international maritime law you are legally entitled to resist unlawful capture, abduction and detention. In fact, think about it a bit more: in English law you are even allowed to use "reasonable force" against an intruder if you find one in your home, especially at 4.30 in the morning.

What those on board the Freedom Flotilla did was thus not only perfectly legal but also the response of reasonable people. I believe they acted with great courage in the face of heavily armed Israeli commandos, although I accept that others might consider their actions reckless in the circumstances.

Whatever your view, a number of courageous people paid the ultimate price for their right to resist and hundreds more were locked up within the Zionist state, including my Press TV colleague Hassan al Banna Ghani.

Israel now stands as a pariah, having exposed itself yet again as a rogue state.

I wrote an article last year calling the Israelis the Pirates of the Mediterranean after they had boarded other aid ships illegally and kidnapping the crew and passengers. Now ask yourself this: if a group of, say, Somali pirates had forced their way onto half a dozen humanitarian aid ships from the West, slaughtering around nine or 10 people and injuring scores more in the process, how do you think the international community would have reacted?

Let me tell you. A NATO task force would by now be steaming towards the Horn of Africa accompanied by a couple of drones and various members of the international media suitably embedded to record the occasion. (Coincidentally, the Achille Lauro sank in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Somalia in 1994.)

In a pre-meditated act the Zionist state showed once again its total disregard for human life and international law. There were pensioners, women and children on board those ships which were carrying bags of cement, electric wheelchairs, toys, medicines and water purifiers for the people of Gaza. So why is Israel allowed to get away with murder time after time?

Realising that his country had shot itself in the foot, the vile Israeli state's leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, started shooting from the lip. He asked us to believe that his elite commandos were acting in self-defence when they killed civilians on the Mavi Marvara. Twenty-four hours later, having had time to concoct more lies, he told the world that the soldiers were armed with paintball guns and had not expected to use their lethal weapons. Not content with insulting our intelligence, Netanyahu then said that his nice, cuddly commandos had only boarded the boats to carry out an inspection and inventory; in the middle of the night and armed to the teeth.

Supporting the puppet-master was Mark Regev, the Zionist state's political Pinocchio; to paraphrase a certain Mr. Galloway's comments about Tony Blair, Regev's nose doesn't get longer whenever he tells a lie, it grows every time he speaks. This particular Australian reckons the evil aid workers on board the Mavi Martara grabbed the commandos' real guns and turned them against the soldiers. The same soldiers, remember, who belong to an elite, highly trained, military unit. Hmm… tell me Mr Regev, why would you send in such an elite team if they were just going to carry out an inventory of the ship? And if this really was the A-Team, how did a bunch of civilians manage to overpower them and give them a good hiding?

Either Israeli soldiers fight like a bunch of old women – which Lebanon's Hezbullah claims they do – or they intended to massacre those on board to send a warning and deter other peace activists from trying to help the Palestinians in Gaza.

If that was the aim then it has failed. As I write this some heroic friends of mine from the Free Gaza Movement are bound for the besieged territory onboard the appropriately named ship MV Rachel Corrie: "In our thousands in our millions… today we are all Palestinians".

Journalist Yvonne Ridley is also the European President of the International Muslim Womens Union, and a committed peace activist who was onboard the first boat to break the siege of Gaza in successfully 2008.

MEMO would like to apologise that an earlier version of this article referred to Israeli spokesman Mark Regev as a South African. He is, in fact, from Australia. We would particularly like to apologise to all South Africans for this error, which crept in at the editing stage.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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