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Destruction of the ‘Mavi Marmara’ monument draws international attention to Israel war crimes

November 23, 2023 at 2:19 pm

A Turkish boy reflects in a puddle of water as he waves a Palestinian flag during the arrival of Turkish ship Mavi Marmara at Istanbul’s Sarayburnu port, on December 26, 2010. The Israeli navy raided on May 31, 2010 the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara, which was part of a flotilla of aid ships bound for Gaza, killing several passengers and sparking international outrage [Mustafa Ozer/AFP via Getty Images]

A book titled “Midnight on the Mavi Marmara: The Attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and How it Changed the Course of the Israel/Palestine Conflict”, consists of 48 essays compiled by Arab-American author and professor, Mustafa Bayoumi.

Its diverse accounts, which were published only three months after the attack, include witness testimonies, rebuttals of Israel’s justifications for the violence and in-depth analyses of the flotilla’s ramifications on foreign policy.

In his introduction, Bayoumi writes: “Even if the Israelis confiscated all recordings of the event in a desperate attempt to control the narrative … you can’t confiscate people’s memories.”

Related to this book, over 13 years after the Israeli attack on the “Mavi Marmara” aid flotilla, Israeli forces have recently destroyed a monument built in Gaza to honour the victims by attacking the people’s memories.

The monument, built in Gaza Port, in memory of those who lost their lives in the raid by the occupying Israeli forces on the “Mavi Marmara” ship that went to Gaza to deliver humanitarian aid.

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On 31 May, 2010, the ship carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza, organised by the IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation and the Free Gaza Movement, was intercepted by the Israeli navy, and 10 Turkish passengers on the ship were martyred by the occupying Israeli forces.

The 12-meter-high monument, built for those who lost their lives in Gaza Port, was blown up by Israeli forces occupying Gaza.

The victims of the “Mavi Marmara” attack and their families took their case to the International Criminal Court (ICC). On 14 May 2013, an application was made to the ICC on behalf of the Comoros, where the “Mavi Marmara” was registered, against several Israeli politicians and military officials. These included the late Shimon Peres, who was President of Israel at the time, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. They were accused of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity during the attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla.

In her first decision on 6 November 2014, the ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, stated that war crimes had been committed by Israel, describing the attack as “wilful killing and causing serious injury to body and health, and committing outrages upon personal dignity.”

Despite finding evidence to indicate that crimes may have been committed by Israel, the Prosecutor refused to open an investigation into the attack on the basis that it did not carry sufficient “gravity” to justify further action by the Court. Following an appeal by the lawyers of the “Mavi Marmara” victims, the Court concluded that the Prosecutor had erred in her decision.

In addition to “Mavi Marmara” case, today, the world watches with horror the killing of thousands of civilians in Gaza, the violation of the fundamental rights and freedoms of millions of people due to the siege, and the refusal to allow aid to enter the besieged and blockaded area. We are witnessing a fascist occupation policy before the eyes of the whole world. It has been documented that Israel used white phosphorus bombs in attacks against densely populated areas in the north of Gaza, contrary to the norms of the law of war. Israel made statements indicating that they were ready for war and that attacks on Gaza would increase.

With Israel warning more than one million Palestinians living in the northern Gaza Strip to evacuate their homes on 13 October, attacks against civilians in the region intensified. It was noted that there are more than 2 million people in Gaza suffering under fire without water, food, fuel and medicine. According to the statements of the Palestinian Ministry of Health, 4385 people, including 1756 children, lost their lives and more than 13 thousand people were injured in Israel’s attacks on Gaza.

In the international community, Israel’s attack on Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital, which caused the death of hundreds of people, is considered a “turning point”. However, Israel ignores the warnings of the United Nations (UN) and other international organisations and continues its attacks and blockade of Gaza, which constitute an inhumane war crime. It also prevents water, electricity, food and other basic needs from reaching civilians. Civilians, especially women, children and the elderly, who need to be kept away from the devastating effects of war, are at the centre of these asymmetric attacks.

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The rules of armed conflict are determined by the Geneva Conventions (1949), ratified by UN member states and supported by decisions of international war crimes tribunals. International Humanitarian Law consists of a series of conventions that regulate the treatment of soldiers, civilians and prisoners of war.

The fourth of the Geneva Conventions concerns the “protection of civilian persons in time of war”. This contract, in terms of its content, is related to the rights of the civilian population. According to Article 18 of the Convention for the Protection of Civilians in Time of War, “Civilian hospitals established for the treatment of the wounded, the sick, the disabled and maternity women shall never be attacked. “These hospitals cannot be used for military purposes.”

International humanitarian law norms require warring parties to provide effective advance warning of attacks that could affect civilian populations. The obligation to give effective advance warning of an attack that may affect the civilian population is a long-standing rule of international law recognised in the Lieber Code of 1863, the Brussels Declaration of 1874 and the manual of rules on armed conflict published by Oxford Press in 1880.

Additionally, not giving civilians enough time to move away makes the warning ineffective. However, it is unthinkable that civilians who cannot be evacuated will become a legitimate target. Even if these people do not choose to be released, they are still under the protection of international humanitarian law norms. Therefore, even after warnings have been issued, the Israeli army has an obligation to take all possible measures to protect civilians and their property in the so-called evacuation zone.

As a result, it seems that the civilian population, which should be kept away from the destructive effects of war within the scope of the rules of “international humanitarian law”, is at the exact target of the conflict. Bombardments that constitute mass murder against civilians, electricity and water outages, and destruction of hospitals are clear violations of humanitarian law norms. The international community needs to take a more proactive role to eliminate this state of war, taking into account the rights of the Palestinian civilian population.

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