Widespread condemnation to Israeli attack on humanitarian ships

Several organizations, such as the World Alliance for Citizen Participation (Civicus) or Human Rights Watch, have condemned the attack on humanitarian ships, including the killing of at least nine activists and the wounding of many more, by the Israeli military in international waters on 31 May and call for the Israeli government to be held accountable under international law.

A flotilla of three passenger and three cargo ships departed off the coast of Cyprus on 30 May 2010 under United States, Greece, and Turkey flags carrying a combined 10,000 tonnes of humanitarian and reconstruction supplies along with over 600 passengers bound for Gaza. In the early hours of 31 May Israeli commandos killed at least nine activists and wounded many others during a military operation to board and seize the six ships en route while in international waters. After taking control, the Israeli military forced the seized ship to the port of Ashdod, approximately 40 kilometers south of Tel Aviv, from where the hundreds of passengers have been detained or deported. Among the activists from Australia, Europe, Israel, Palestine and the United States were an elderly Holocaust survivor, two German members of the Bundestag lower house of parliament, and 1976 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire of Northern Ireland.

A unanimous UN Security Council resolution called for "the immediate release of the ships as well as the civilians held by Israel" along with "a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to international standards". International law unequivocally prohibits attacks on ships in international waters and the attack on these six ships has drawn widespread international condemnation. 

"The claim of blanket entitlement to act against potential security threats cannot justify the extreme and lethal use of force against unarmed civilian ships and passengers," said Ingrid Srinath, Secretary General of CIVICUS. "Although Israel has a right to self-defense, as do all nations, any defensive act must abide by the basic principle of proportionality". See CIVICUS's statement.

Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch said “A prompt, credible, and impartial investigation is absolutely essential to determine whether the lethal force used by Israeli commandos was necessary to protect lives and whether it could have been avoided”. Read the statement by Human Rights Watch.

The request for an investigation in full compliance with international standards is unanimous among member organisations of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) in Israel.Some of these organisations, in light of past experience, fear that an investigation being conducted at a national level will not meet the necessary conditions for establishing the truth, therefore, they request that, as of now, the investigation be conducted at an international level. Read FIDH's reaction.

Human rights groups are calling upon the Israeli government to end the three year blockade on Gaza, which perpetuates a social and economic humanitarian disaster in the territory and amounts to collective punishment of civilians. The six ships sized on Monday were carrying cement and other building materials that the Israeli government bars; as a result three-quarters of the damage inflicted during Israel's three-week attack on Gaza in 2008-2009 remains unreconstructed more than a year later. 

For a population of 1.5 million people, the government of Israel allows 15,000 tons of humanitarian aid into Gaza each week and according to the World Health Organisation this causes a shortage of medicines and other essential supplies.