Setting sail toward conflict
Estelle continues voyage toward Gaza
Israel’s United Nations Ambassador Ron Prosor appealed on Tuesday to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to take action to stop the aid vessel Estelle from trying to get to Gaza.
The Estelle is trying to break through the Israeli sea blockade against the territory, and to bring aid supplies to the Palestinians living there. The ship is owned by the Swedish Ship to Gaza organisation.
The ship is on course toward what would seem like an inevitable conflict with Israel. Prosor reiterated Israel’s resolve to do all it can to keep the ship from breaking the blockade.
The ship is also sailing into the middle of an international legal dispute over the legality of the Gaza blockade. The core of the dispute is whether or not Israel is an occupier in Gaza, or if this is an armed conflict between Israel and the Islamist Hamas movement, which is in power in Gaza.
Several aid and human rights organisations and a number of UN organisations have denounced the blockade as illegal. The critics see Israel as an occupying power in Gaza, and that it therefore has the obligation to provide for the basic needs of the population in the area.
"The blockade is a collective punishment of the population of Gaza. It has its most serious impact on those who are in the weakest position", says Anu Tuukkanen, director of human rights work at the Finnish section of Amnesty International.
Israel sees the situation not as an occupation, but rather as an armed conflict, which makes the blockade legal. The aim of the blockade is to prevent the flow of weaponry to Hamas.
For instance, Israel wants to prevent Gaza from getting cement, which is one of the items that the Estelle is bringing with it. In the Israeli view, cement can be used to build rockets and bunkers. Hundreds of rockets have been fired at Israel from Gaza.
A UN report last year also concludes that the Israeli blockade is legal. The report was about an Israeli attack on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara, which had also tried to deliver supplies to Gaza. Nine people were killed the attack.
Matti Koskenniemi, a professor of international law at the University of Helsinki also sees the blockade as legal, on the grounds that an armed conflict exists. He says that with the blockade in place, Israel actually has an obligation to prevent the passage of all vessels, lest it be accused of discrimination. "However, the blockade must not cause unreasonable hardships for civilians."
And what about Finland’s position in the dispute? Israel has been in contact with the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs on the matter. According to Koskenniemi Finland as a state is not responsible for the ship, or for what Finnish citizens do while abroad.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Estelle takes on more passengers en route to Gaza (17.10.2012)
Finnish-flagged aid vessel Estelle en route to Gaza (4.10.2012)
Ship to Gaza website