In international law, it is up to a state to police its internal waters as they are a part of its territory. Furthermore, by extension in international law states can act, at their discretion to police incoming vessels. Where a vessel continues on its path into a state, a state can legitimately use force. This is a similar rule to the right of hot-pursuit where states can sink ships that leave their internal waters where there is a (subjective) possibility of a threat or crime regarding their sovereignty (see Professor Malcolm Shaw's colossal work on International Law, 5th Ed, p.549). The real concern for international relations is not Israel's act, but the reaction of several states and non-state entities before the facts came to light. A classic example of this is the Egyptian President's uttering that Israel, 'had excessively used force'. How he can ascertain what is excess without any regard to the nature of the incident or the threat posed by the ship is really quite astonishing. This is important as there is a generic international paranoia leading to prejudice every time Israel is involved in an incident using military force out of the confines of its territory. Peace is never achievable when minds are gorged with passions and prejudice. Often the first step towards peaceful relations is realising when passions and prejudices begin and reason ends. Understanding that boundary and erring on the side of reason and caution will lead to a far safer and harmonious world. That this is not realised as demonstrated by the reactions of states means that international public order (accord between states) is on slippery footing. Historically, the international community is in serious trouble where leaders of states throw logic out of the window and breathe only on the emotion in the air. These statements are indicative of the gap in maturity in international relations that needs to be overcome, before any progress can be made. My concern is that these statements were made before any of the facts were raised. Thus they are reflective of predetermined positions on Israel, or in simpler words: Prejudice. Thus the Russians claimed - 'a violation of international law by Israel', where it is quite feasible that the law is on the side of Israel. Iran - 'this is maritime terrorism', despite the fact that the states have a right to protect their internal waters and a right to determine who comes into their territory. Far worse is the following language used immediately after the incident by the following: The Turkish Prime Minister stating that 'this is state terrorism', whatever that means. Hezbollah - 'a premeditated crime against humanity'. Hamas - 'Muslims must now rise up'. PLO Abbas - 'this was a massacre'. What these latter entities should have done is followed the more mature approach that the U.S. took regarding the incident, which was a simple statement which focused on the most important issue: 'the regret at the loss of life'. It seems clear to the undergraduate law student that several of the above mentioned statements were taken without due advice on the law or on the limits of the state action. This is not a responsible approach to international relations that bodes well for the future of international public order. The worst statement of all, perhaps, came from William Hague. Hague stated that Israel, had 'unacceptably blockaded Gaza'. This is nonsense as Israel has every right to blockade access to Gaza, as Gaza is not a land-locked state covered by international law. This is frightening because the Foreign Office in the UK has one of the most astounding international lawyers around working for them, Daniel Bethlehem QC who would, if no doubt consulted, given Hague advice to the contrary. If a country like UK, well equipped with lawyers at the tax payers expense can't get this right, then there is little hope of decent UK leadership in the Security Council on this and the other issues relating to international security. Hague is setting a woeful example to the rest of the world. A wise adage of 'the greater the possibility of outrage, more tempered recourse to vocality' needs to be followed.
Copyright Abhijit P.G. Pandya
Copyright Birkenhead Society 2010