Palmer Report Did Not Find Gaza Blockade Legal, Despite Media Headlines

September 6, 2011

gaza turkey flotillaThe media has gone crazy these past couple of days announcing that the UN-appointed panel of inquiry into the flotilla raid last summer, known as the Palmer Commission, found that the Israeli imposed blockade on Gaza is legal and that Israel used excessive force during the raid.

From the Jerusalem Post to the BBC, headlines scream that Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip is legal.  This is not only completely false, it distracts from the main point of the inquiry which was to determine if excessive use of force was used by Israeli forces during the raid on the flotilla in international waters and how to avoid a similar incident like this from happening again.

The contents of the Palmer Report were made public Thursday by the New York Times.  The report itself, which was completed last February, was being delayed at the UN while Turkey and Israel negotiated over language and played behind-the-scenes politics.

Sadly, the report does not spend a lot of time on the victims or accountability for the wrong-doing, although it states,

“Forensic evidence showing that most of the deceased were shot multiple times, including in the back, or at close range has not been adequately accounted for in the material presented by Israel.”

And critically notes that Israel’s treatment of the passengers, “included physical mistreatment, harassment and intimidation, unjustified confiscation of belongings and the denial of timely consular assistance,” while acknowledging that once the commandos were on board, they faced violent resistance and felt forced to defend themselves.

The report also found the naval blockade of Gaza by Israel legal.

As the occupying power over the Gaza Strip, Israel has the right to determine where and how goods and people should enter the territory it occupies so the maritime blockade as a tactic is legal.  The report did not make a ruling on the entire closure regime or blockade on the Gaza strip.

The Palmer report’s finding that the naval blockade is lawful should NOT be interpreted to mean that the entire closure regime imposed by Israel on the Gaza Strip is legal.  An excellent analysis of this can be found on the ‘Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement’ website.

Gisha even goes one step farther to argue that the maritime blockade should actually be found to be illegal.  In a Q&A they put together, they argue that when taken into context with the full blockade on Gaza and Israel’s failure to adhere to international law and legal obligations as an occupying power – then the maritime closure is actually illegal:

“By preventing the passage of civilians and goods of a civilian nature to and from the Gaza Strip, Israel has paralyzed the economy of the area and caused substantial damage to key aspects of civilian life. In so doing, it has violated its obligations under international law, rendering its policy of closure – including the maritime closure – unlawful.”

Amnesty also believes the entire closure regime (blockade) on Gaza is illegal.  It is a form of collective punishment which breaches international law.  Amnesty pointed out in a public statement released Friday, that the best way to avoid similar incidents like this one in the future is for Israel to fully and immediately lift the blockade imposed on Gaza since June 2007, and allow Gazans to rebuild the homes, schools, clinics and infrastructure destroyed by the Israeli military.

Update: Gisha, the Legal Center on Freedom of Movement, a highly respected Israeli organization that concentrates much of its work on the Gaza Strip, just issued a short, concise statement called ‘Myths and Facts on the Palmer Report‘. This document clarifies many of the misconceptions about the Palmer Report created by confusing media reports and misconceptions about the Israeli imposed closure regime on the Gaza Strip.