Zoabi: Blockade ordered only after flotilla set sail

Balad MK argues IDF ordered Gaza naval blockade two days after ship departed from Turkey; IDF responds: Blockade was imposed in January 2009.

February 15, 2012 18:06
4 minute read.
Mavi Marmara

Mavi Marmara 311. (photo credit: Stringer Turkey / Reuters)

The IDF ordered its naval blockade of Gaza after the “Freedom Flotilla” set sail from Turkey, and therefore there was no legal restriction preventing the flotilla ships arriving off the Gaza coast and no legal justification to seize them, MK Haneen Zoabi (Balad) claimed Wednesday.

Zoabi made her claims in response to a High Court of Justice petition against the attorney-general’s decision not to press charges against her for her participation in the flotilla.

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Attorney Hassan Jabareen of the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights, who is representing Zoabi in the petition and filed the response on her behalf, said Adalah has a copy of the military order, which he claims is dated May 28, 2010.

The flotilla ship Mavi Marmara, owned by the Hamas-linked Turkish Islamic group IHH, sailed from its dock in Antalya, Turkey, on May 26, 2010, to join several other ships in international waters off the coast of Cyprus. Several days later, on May 30, the six “Gaza Freedom Flotilla” ships set sail from those international waters to Gaza. The IDF raided the flotilla a day later.

According to Jabareen, the military order was signed by OC Navy V.-Adm. Eliezer Marom, and Adalah claims they received a copy in its capacity as a representative of the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, which participated in the flotilla.

In December, the Eretz Israel Shelanu (Our Land of Israel) movement, MK Michael Ben Ari (National Union) and far-right activist Itamar Ben-Gvir petitioned the High Court against the attorney-general’s decision not to indict Zoabi. The attorney-general had cited “evidentiary and legal difficulties” as reasons for his decision to close the investigation files on Zoabi and others.

Police had investigated suspicions that several Israeli citizens, including Zoabi, had participated in the flotilla and attempted to enter Gaza illegally, in contravention of the Disengagement Implementation Law.

In addition to the attorneygeneral and Zoabi, the petition names Raed Salah, head of the Islamic Movement in Israel’s northern faction, who also took part in the flotilla, as a respondent.

In October 2011 an immigration tribunal in the UK ruled that Salah should be banned from entering that country because he “engaged in the unacceptable behavior of fostering hatred.” The petitioners argue that the state’s failure to indict Zoabi and Salah is unfair, since haredi Jews who participate in other violent events have been prosecuted, including West Bank settlers who took part in various demonstrations.

“Zoabi and Salah are treated differently, and this causes serious damage to the principle of equality,” the petitioners argue, and ask the court to intervene by ordering the attorney-general to reopen its case against the two Arab Israelis.

In his response to the petition, Jabareen claims that the petitioners have not taken into consideration that the military order came only after the flotilla set sail.

Adalah also argue that the IDF’s takeover of the flotilla was carried out in international waters, and as such Israeli criminal law does not apply.

According to Zoabi, the petitioners have also failed to take into account the fact that no one has brought any claims against her for violent acts during the IDF’s takeover of the Mavi Marmara.

The response to the High Court petition also argues that as an MK, Zoabi enjoys parliamentary immunity. That immunity, attorney Jabareen argues, extends to all political activities that a lawmaker conducts as part of her public role.

After Adalah filed the response to the High Court, Zoabi said on Wednesday that the central issue for her was “the blockade of Gaza and the killing of nine activists [aboard the ship].”

“Both these things are crimes that should be punished under international law,” Zoabi said. “The people behind the siege [of Gaza] and the killing of the nine activists should stand trial, namely the Israeli government and not Haneen Zoabi.”

Zoabi added that she wants to prosecute the IDF sailors who raided the flotilla ship, and the prime minister who sent them.

The Balad MK said she has asked the IDF and the attorney-general to release documentation confiscated by the naval commandos who raided the ship, and documents relating to the commando unit itself, which she claims may expose the IDF’s actions during the flotilla takeover.

In response to Zoabi’s claims, the IDF spokesman said on Wednesday that the blockade’s legality was not dependent on any particular order.

“The naval blockade of Gaza, which MK Zoabi sought to break, was already imposed on January 3, 2009, under international military laws. Already at that time, the [political echelons] made public declarations regarding the imposition and enforcement of a blockade, including via a ‘Notice to Mariners.’ Other messages were posted periodically through the proper channels,” the IDF said.

The IDF spokesman added that the two probe committees – one appointed by the Israeli government and the other by the UN secretary-general – said unequivocally that the imposition of the blockade and its enforcement with respect to the Mavi Marmara had been made in accordance with the law.

“This includes the fact that the extent and the location of the blockade were made publicly known prior to the Mavi Marmara reaching the Gaza Strip,” the IDF spokesman said.

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