I wanted to follow up on Dustin’s post, I was traveling yesterday and wasn’t aware of Israel’s boarding of a "humanitarian" ship until I read it on my own blog. From my point of view the issue boils down to where the Israeli commandoes boarded. If this happened in Israeli waters then Israel has the right to board any ship in her waters, and the crew should have peacefully complied. If they were then attacked with deadly weapons whether it was a knife or a handgun they have the right to use deadly force (much as our own police or Coast Guard would do).
I do want to dispute Dustin’s title that the crew was unarmed, perhaps they were poorly armed, but they were armed nonetheless:
The Israelis, who had declared they would not let the ships reach Gaza, said they only opened fire after being attacked by activists with sticks, knives and live fire from weapons seized from the Israeli commandos.
"On board the ship we found weapons prepared in advance and used against our forces," declared Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon.
"The organizers’ intent was violent, their method was violent and the results were unfortunately violent. Israel regrets any loss of life and did everything to avoid this outcome.
While I support Israel I don’t do so blindly. I understand their need to defend themselves against terrorism and they have been embattled for many, many years and are in a situation few can understand. However, that doesn’t give them carte blanche to do whatever they want, especially in international waters. Their legal authority for doing so is questionable at best. However, let’s not turn the ship’s crew into saints either. They attacked first, and they were armed. So we shouldn’t portray this as IDF attacking a bunch of peace loving hippies.
If you are outgunned, it is stupid to attack armed commandoes and not expect them to defend themselves. Their claim of being a “humanitarian” ship somewhat suspect which the Israeli Defense Force Chief of General Staff, Lt. General Gabi Ashkenazi said in a Jerusalem Post article today:
IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi said Monday that the violence aboard the Mavi Marmara, one of the ships of the Gaza-bound protest flotilla, was instigated by those aboard the ships and that soldiers who opened fire were defending themselves.
Ashkenazi noted that the Mavi Marmara, the only ship on which violence took place, was different than the other five ships of the flotilla. He said that five ships carried humanitarians and peace activists but the Mavi Marmara was sponsored by the extremist organization the IHH and those aboard acted in "extreme violence."
Legitimate humanitarian groups are not generally armed and would respond peacefully to being boarded whether it was justified or not. Israel will have to face deserved international criticism and diplomatic pressure over this incident, but let’s not turn this ship’s crew into something they weren’t either.
Update: Casey corrected me. It was legal for Israel to board that ship.
It is permissible to attack a neutral ship when the vessels are believed on reasonable grounds to be carrying contraband or breaching a blockade, and after prior warning they intentionally and clearly refuse to stop, or intentionally and clearly resist visit, search or capture.”