Court sets new precedent against flotillas used to break IDF Gaza blockade

Permits state to seize Zaytouna-Oliva after past seizure attempts rejected.

February 6, 2019 17:36
2 minute read.
Gaza flotilla

Activists aboard a flotilla to Gaza [file]. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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The Haifa District Court has ruled that the state can confiscate ships used in flotillas attempting to break the IDF’s naval blockade of Gaza, setting a precedent which could deter the flotilla tactic.

On Wednesday, the Haifa District Attorney’s Office announced the decision issued earlier in the week by Haifa Court Deputy President Ron Sokol, approving the state’s request to seize the Zaytouna-Olivia, which sailed from Barcelona in a September 2016 “women’s flotilla” to break the blockade.

The sailboat was taken over by the IDF in October 2016. The state has maintained a blockade of Gaza for over a decade, saying it has a right to do so under international law because of the ongoing state of war with Hamas, which controls Gaza.

The IDF used female soldiers to take over the ship to reduce the possibility of friction with the all-female crew.

In contrast, various human rights groups, including those involved in flotillas, criticize the blockade as violating international law and causing collective suffering of Gazan civilians.

International bodies which have looked at the issue are split over the blockade’s legality.

Although the state has tried this move before, Sokol had previously rejected a confiscation request, which was upheld by the Supreme Court.

In August 2016, the Supreme Court rejected the state’s attempt to confiscate the ship SV Estelle, which was used in a 2012 flotilla.

The basis of that rejection was that the state took 10 months before applying to confiscate the ship, a delay which the court viewed as creating injustice.

However, the three justices – Supreme Court President Miriam Naor, Hanan Melcer and Salim Joubran – had left open the possibility then of confiscating ships in the future if the same delays and other mistakes were avoided.

The theoretical basis for confiscating the Estelle and other boats would be the international law of the sea as embodied by England’s Naval Prize Act of 1864.

In light of the court’s essential endorsement of confiscation and the state making sure that in this case it moved to seize the ship in a reasonable amount of time, Sokol granted the confiscation.

Haifa District Court lawyer Dr. Hadar Mousri called the ruling, “an additional piece of the legal shield against repeated attempts to use the law to delegitimize the blockade,” and noted that it set a precedent in balancing the right to protest through a flotilla versus the right of the state to confiscate a ship which tries to violate the blockade.

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