The world discovers the legality of the Gaza blockade

When Israel interdicted a Turkish flotilla seeking to break the Gaza blockade, many international law groups called the blockade illegal. The famous Goldstone Commission report of the year before had similar conclusions. On the other hand, the United Nations’ Palmer Commission Report concluded the blockade was legal.

This week, Israel stopped another vessel ostensibly laden with supplies (cement) for Gaza and crewed by Turks. This time, it was transporting Iranian-brokered missiles. The international reaction is quite different, suggesting a sub silentio acceptance of the Palmer position and rejection of Goldstone. As I write in Commentary:

[S]o far, no one appears to have accused Israel of violating international law by interdicting the vessel in international waters. This is odd because stopping neutral vessels on the high seas violates fundamental principals of international law, with some narrow exceptions for piracy and the like not relevant here. The United States and a few other countries have tried to carve out a further exception for WMD proliferation through by spearheading the Proliferation Security Initiative — but to the extent that targets WMDs and their delivery systems, it is not obviously relevant here.

Of course, there is another situation in which non-hostile vessels can be stopped on the high seas — blockade running. . . [G]iven Israel’s armed activities certainly do not enjoy a presumption of legality from the international community, this silence comes quite close to an acknowledgement of the legitimacy of the blockade.

One might say foreign ministries are busy with Crimea, but it does not take much energy to condemn aggression. (And this would be a perfect time to pour on criticism, as Israel’s Foreign Ministry is not busy at all – it is on strike.)

Eugene Kontorovich is a professor at Northwestern University School of Law, and an expert on constitutional and international law. He also writes and lectures frequently about the Arab-Israel conflict.

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Eugene Volokh · March 6, 2014