Monday, May 31, 2010

Israel Raids Pro-Gaza Flotilla Ship: Unnecessary Violence In Violation of International Law

Early this morning, Israeli commandos raided a ship which was part of a pro-Gaza flotilla, carrying humanitarian aid to the Gaza strip and attempting generally to draw international attention to the situation in this troubled region (click here to read the story:,0,2990275.story?page=2&track=rss). In fact, since 2007, when Hamas leaders were elected into power in Gaza, Israel has engaged in an overall blockade of Gazan borders, provoking thereby a humanitarian crisis in this region. Moreover, in late 2008 and early 2009, Israel launched so-called Operation Cast Lead, a full-blown military offensive over Gaza, during which approximately 1300 citizens of Gaza were killed and many more wounded. The latest incident - the raid on a humanitarian ship- has sparked international outrage and has tarnished Israel's shaky world image.
The facts of the raid remain disputed, but it appears that early this morning, Israeli commandos boarded one of the flotilla ships, by being dropped off helicopters. Upon boarding, commandos were confronted by ship passengers - pro-Gaza activists and, by some accounts, a few members of the European Parliament. Israel claims that its commandos were attacked by ship passengers, and that they opened fire in self-defense, killing nine individuals on board. Ship passengers and activists claim that Israeli commandos began firing immediately upon boarding the ship, and that nobody on the ship was armed. What is unclear and unknown for now is why Israel chose to send commandos to board the ship. By all accounts, the ship was sailing in international waters, the so-called high seas, at the time of the raid. High seas are considered no-man's land in international law, and thus any ship may sail in such waters. The act of boarding or raiding a ship, which is what Israeli commandos did, is illegal under international law. Israel's claim of self-defense is unfounded: its commandos were aggressors to begin with, as they illegally boarded the flotilla ship. An aggressor cannot claim self-defense if he or she initiated the lethal fight.
The international community reacted swiftly to this incident. Turkey demanded that a meeting of the United Nations Security Council take place, to discuss the incident. Massive demonstrations took place in many countries, including Turkey, France, Iran, Egypt, among others. Many world leaders expressed outrage over the incident and demanded explanations from Israel. And Israeli prime minister canceled a scheduled visit to the United States, in the wake of the raid. It is strongly believed that the raid will chill the already frosty relations between the Obama administration and Israel.
Three things are certain. One, the raid called attention to the situation in Gaza, with many countries calling upon Israel to end its blockade and to allow for the passage of humanitarian aid into Gaza. Two, Israel's image around the globe has been further undermined. While most Israeli politicians publicly supported their government and justified the raid, some have expressed concern and have questioned the necessity of the raid. And many countries have upped their already existing critique of Israel. Three, Israel has violated international law by engaging in a raid on the high seas, and by using unnecessary lethal force against unarmed civilians. With more global attention on Israel, its leadership will hopefully understand that its foreign policy requires change, and that international law poses serious limits on countries' abilities to use force.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Serbia Uncovers Mass Grave: A Step Toward Recognizing Responsibility and Accountability

Serbia uncovered a large mass grave on its soil, thought to contain bodies of approximately 250 ethnic Albanians, killed during the 1998-99 civil war in Kosovo (click here to read the story: It is presumed that then President Milosevic's forces moved the bodies from Kosovo to Serbia, to hide war crimes and deny that ethnic Albanians were being killed.
In ackonwledging this fact, Serbia today has shown that it is ready to face and accept responsibility for what happened in Kosovo. In fact, the mass grave, the third one to be discovered since the conflict in Kosovo, was found through a joint effort between Serbia's war crimes prosecution office, and EULEX, the EU mission in Kosovo. Human rights activists in Serbia believe that there may be more mass graves of this nature on Serbian soil, but everyone, including the independent Kosovar leadership, agrees that the Serbian willingness to acknowledge the grave is a positive step. The man who most likely ordered the cover up in the late 1990's, the then top police officer, Vlastimir Djordjevic, is now on trial at the Hague, at the ICTY, for alleged war crimes. And Serbia has been more actively cooperating with the ICTY, assuring this international tribunal that it is serious about true justice and accountability. Several hundred ethnic Albanians are still missing since the Kosovo war, and the uncovering of mass graves and the possible identification of victims may bring closure to families of those who disappeared. Moreover, such positive steps on behalf of the current Serbian leadership signal to the rest of the world that the country has changed, that it has moved on from the dark Milosevic era, and that it is ready to work with international authorities, as well as with neighboring states, on developing good relations for the future. In order to further bring closure to the Kosovar civil war, Serbia may want to consider establishing a truth and reconciliation commission, like South Africa. In the meantime, its war crimes prosecution office has been doing a fine job handling investigations and prosecuting those accused of the most heinous crimes. If Serbia wants to join Europe and to ensure that no more Milosevic's grab power within its territory, it must continue on this path of responsibility and justice.