UN rules that Israel naval blockade is legal (& Tunisia’s “naked women” travel ads)

July 13, 2011

Above: A new Tunisian government tourist board advert on a London bus

* Hamas arrests male hairdressers for cutting women’s hair
* In contrast to the BBC, the reports on the soccer match by Al Arabiya and other Arab media I saw don’t make any mention of Israeli occupation

* U.S. sends sophisticated new arms to Egypt despite likelihood that the Muslim Brotherhood will participate in the next government
* U.S. apologizes for mistakenly placing Israel on terror watch list

* Unlike other prominent Western media, Reuters explains why Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza is legal
* Gaza blockade in reverse: Hamas build a wall on the Egyptian border to prevent infiltrators

* From an article in the West Bank publication “This Week in Palestine”: “Palestine is the best-kept secret in the aid industry. People need field experience and Palestine sounds cool and dangerous because it can be described as a war zone, but in reality it’s quite safe and has all the comforts that internationals want. Quality of life here is so much higher than somewhere like Afghanistan, but we don’t tell anyone so that we are not replaced or reassigned. In cities like Ramallah and Nablus, expensive restaurants and high-powered financial institutions are common now. Nightlife and entertainment is expanding to cater for international tastes.”



1. UN Gaza flotilla probe: Israel naval blockade is legal
2. Reuters: If pro-Palestinian activists reach Gaza, they might be surprised at how well it’s doing
3. Alice Walker: “Israel is a terrorist organization”
4. Gaza authorities publish a new tourist map
5. Gaza blockade in reverse: Hamas build a wall on the Egyptian border to prevent infiltrators
6. Palestinians celebrate World Cup soccer advance (but BBC can’t report it straight)
7. “Palestine is the best-kept secret in the aid industry”
8. Hamas arrests male hairdressers for Gaza women’s haircuts
9. Small steps to democracy in the UAE?
10. EU bans Egyptian agricultural produce following E. coli outbreak
11. Israel concerned as Obama announces huge arms deal for new Egyptian government
12. U.S. government apologizes for mistakenly placing Israel on terror watch list
13. Tunisia risks controversy with “naked women” travel ads
14. “Is Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza legal?” (Reuters news agency)

[All notes below by Tom Gross]


The Israeli paper Ha’aretz reports that “The final findings of the UN commission that investigated the events concerning the Turkish-led flotilla in May 2010 do not call for Israel to apologize, and conclude that the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza is legal and is in accordance with international law and a country’s right of self-defense.”

The UN committee investigating the events of last May’s Gaza flotilla is headed by the former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Geoffrey Palmer, who is an expert on international maritime law.

The UN report also sharply criticized the Turkish government’s behavior in its dealings with the committee. Palmer added in the report that Israel’s independent commission led by Judge Turkel had investigated the events in a “professional, independent and unbiased” way.

By contrast, Palmer concluded that “the Turkish investigation was politically influenced and its work was not professional or independent.”

The Palmer Committee also criticizes the IHH group that organized the Gaza flotilla as well as its ties to the Turkish government, suggesting Turkey did not do enough to stop the flotilla last year. (By contrast, the Turkish authorities cooperated with Israel this year to ensure the flotilla didn’t sail from Turkey -- Tom Gross.)

According to the final draft of the UN probe, Israel has not been asked to apologize to Turkey, but the report does recommend it expresses regret over the casualties.

Palmer said that although international law permits the interception of ships outside territorial waters, Israel should have taken control of the flotilla when the ships were closer to the limit of the naval blockade – 20 miles off the coast. Israel responded by saying that its interception of the flotilla further from the coast was due to military and tactical considerations, following the organizers’ refusal to stop.


Tom Gross adds: the above information was widely reported last week in the Israeli media, but why do all those influential international media, which criticize Israel day after day, not report properly that the UN committee has ruled Israel was right in its assertions after all?

Unlike journalists at other media, Reuters did run a piece last year, which I attach at the end of this dispatch, explaining how Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza is indeed legal under international law.

And why is the UN always spending huge amounts of money investigating supposed Israeli wrongdoings while not investigating countless wrongdoings by other governments which occur daily and most of which are barely reported by the media?



Over the last two years, I have reported on many occasions how Gaza is not nearly as impoverished as many Western media have reported. In addition to many messages of support, I have received many nasty messages as a result, some from far Right extremists, but most from left-wing intellectuals (including Jewish ones).

As I have stated time and again, I have been a supporter of an independent Palestinian state all my life. But I think the utterly skewered reporting of many leading Western news media has misled politicians, resulting in their making bad policy, and this has moved us further away from a peaceful two-state solution.

It doesn’t help governments to formulate intelligent policies when, for example, Time magazine reports: “Please spare a thought for the starving Palestinians of Gaza. There are 1.5 million of them, most of them living hand to mouth.”

Or when Nobel peace-prize winner Jimmy Carter said Gazans are being “starved to death.”

Now, finally, under pressure from myself and others, virtually all these media are reversing themselves and finally reporting the truth about the “starving of Gaza”.

Both the Reuters and Associated Press news agencies have now run more positive reports about life in Gaza. This follows my most recent dispatches on this (including the one last week which has been widely linked to around the world: As North Korea starves, this is life in Gaza). (Senior staff at both agencies subscribe to this email list, including the chief executive editor of the Associated Press in New York.)

As the reports below by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Ibrahim Barzak demonstrate, as is often the case, Palestinian journalists are less anti-Israeli than left-wing Western journalists, including left-wing Jewish ones:

Nidal al-Mughrabi, the Reuters correspondent in Gaza, began his report last week:

“GAZA (Reuters) - If pro-Palestinian activists unexpectedly manage to slip past Israel’s naval blockade on the Gaza Strip in the coming days, they might be surprised by what they see in the Hamas-controlled enclave when they disembark.

“Roads are being paved, houses are being built, new cars have taken to the busy streets and shops are full of myriad products.”


And Ibrahim Barzak of the Associated Press reports (July 5) that “Maher Khoudari boasts that his Gaza grocery has a wide assortment of chocolates for sale – even some you couldn’t find in the cosmopolitan Israeli city of Tel Aviv.” He adds that “Gaza is awash in big ticket items such as cars and refrigerators.”


However, AP just can’t let their report continue without reverting to the Palestinian “victimhood” narrative. The AP story continues:

“Israel has made much of the fact that there is no starvation in Gaza,” said Gaza economist Omar Shaban. “But the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is not about food,” he added. “The humanitarian crisis is about education.”


Tom Gross adds: In fact everyone in Gaza gets a free education, and there is almost universal literacy in Gaza, which AP neglects to mention. And as for being such a “crisis” location, the International Monetary Fund reported that Gaza’s economy expanded 16 percent in the first half of 2010.

But the real question is why don’t AP, and The New York Times and the BBC and CNN go across the border into Egypt and report on how life there is in many ways much worse than in Gaza? Could it be because that way they wouldn’t have a story with which to attack Israel?



Perhaps as a result of reading misinformation about Israel in certain American media, the author Alice Walker, who attempted to sail in a second hostile Gaza flotilla last week (but was prevented from doing so by the Greek authorities) has told Foreign Policy magazine that: “Israel is the greatest terrorist in that part of the world. And I think in general, the United States and Israel are great terrorist organizations themselves.”



Although tourism to the Gaza Strip remains low, as I have mentioned before, some of Gaza’s nice restaurants, music venues (those not closed down by Hamas) and beaches do feature in international travel guides such as the Lonely Planet.

Now a new English-language guide and map funded by the Bank of Palestine, has been produced and is to be handed out free of charge. Besides documenting its archaeological and tourist sites, the map will include practical information such as the location of hospitals and government buildings, according to the Gazan ministry of tourism.

“Gaza City is the world’s fourth-most-ancient city,” said Amir Shurrab, who helped produce the map. “This project was our dream and aspiration, which we finally realized.”

Many tourist maps in the past have detailed the 3000 year-old Jewish history in Gaza, including the many synagogues. It remains to be seen whether the new map – the first produced under Hamas rule in Gaza – will mention the area’s rich Jewish heritage.

Above: On the beach in Gaza earlier this month.



While complaining to the international media about the Israeli and Egyptian blockade of the Gaza Strip, according to some news reports, Hamas last week began building its own 12 meter high fortifications to block Gaza’s western border with Egypt. Hamas is said to be concerned about the spillover of post-revolutionary chaos from Egypt into Gaza and wishes to prevent a new influx of militants from Libya and Egypt who have links to Al Qaeda.

Hamas has recently clamped down on the Al Qaeda-affiliated group, the “Army of Islam,” shooting dead several of their members. Hamas blames them for the resurgence of rocket fire into Israel in violation of the informal ceasefire agreed with Israel four months ago.

On Saturday, July 9, another three Qassam missiles were fired from Gaza at the Israeli city of Ashkelon and the Eshkol district. There were no injuries. Three more Kassam rockets hit southern Israel last night.



In its first-ever home World Cup match in Ramallah last week, the Palestinian national soccer team defeated Afghanistan to move into the second Asian World Cup qualifying round. The Palestinians came away with a 3-1 aggregate victory after drawing the Afghanis 1-1.

In its sports report on the match, the BBC couldn’t help but mention several times how “Palestine” is under Israeli occupation, but interestingly didn’t mention once how parts of Afghanistan are, in the views of many, under British occupation. Nor did they mention how, in recent weeks, Britain and her allies have killed far more Afghans, including Afghan civilians, than Israel has killed Palestinians – this despite the fact that Afghans are not rocketing British towns and villages, as Palestinians did again to Israel last weekend.

In contrast to the BBC, the reports on the soccer match by Al Arabiya and other Arab media I saw don’t make any mention of Israeli occupation.

The Palestinian team will now play Thailand in a home-and-away match, first in Thailand on 23rd July and then in Ramallah on 28th July, for a chance to move closer to the World Cup finals. Let’s hope they go through and that one day soon Israel and Palestine can play each other in a sportsmanlike manner in the World Cup.

(Incidentally, the Palestinian team is the only one of world football body FIFA’s 208 members which is not a UN recognized state. The hundreds of other peoples in the world who would like to have their own independent states, such as the Tibetans and the Chechens, have not been allowed by FIFA to participate in the World Cup.)

For those interested, here is the unofficial Blog of the Palestinian National Football Team:




From an article in the West Bank publication “This Week in Palestine”:


“Palestine is the best-kept secret in the aid industry,” I am told by Emily Williams, an American project manager at a medical NGO. “People need field experience and Palestine sounds cool and dangerous because it can be described as a war zone, but in reality it’s quite safe and has all the comforts that internationals want. Quality of life here is so much higher than somewhere like Afghanistan, but we don’t tell anyone so that we are not replaced or reassigned.”

That quality of life is becoming rapidly more apparent in the “A” areas. In cities like Ramallah and Nablus, expensive restaurants and high-powered financial institutions are common now. Nightlife and entertainment is expanding to cater for international tastes.



The Hamas government in Gaza has begun enforcing a law banning men from cutting women’s hair. Several male hairdressers in Gaza have been arrested in recent days.

Hamas claims that Islamic law forbids men cutting women’s hair.

The fact that Hamas is now enforcing the law – which was introduced a year ago – is being interpreted as an attempt to bolster Hamas’s Islamic credentials against critics who say it has become too moderate.

Adnan Barakat, a hairdresser with 27 years experience in Gaza, said: “The women’s salon cannot function without me. This has been my work since 1984. I have no other profession. What can I do now?”

Hatem al-Ghoul, another Gaza hairdresser, said he was now living in fear after his salon was twice attacked with small bombs in the middle of the night. He said he had been serving female clients at his small salon in Gaza City for more than 25 years, after Israel allowed men to cut women’s hair (and vice versa) during the period of Israeli rule in Gaza.

Hamas has also tried to introduce new rules to oblige female lawyers to cover their hair in court and to make high-school girls wear long dresses. But they have been enforced patchily, with many Gazan women and girls refusing to obey.



The United Arab Emirates said on Monday that the pool of voters for this year’s election to the Federal National Council will be 50,000 greater than previously announced, and almost 20 times more than in the 2006 elections. A total of 129,274 Emiratis will be eligible to vote, up from 6,595 who qualified five years ago.

Anwar Gargash, the chairman of the UAE electoral committee, said the expansion of the electorate demonstrated “the commitment of the UAE and its leadership to further promoting political participation.”

The so called-Arab Spring has put the UAE, a federation of seven Gulf emirates, under pressure to increase freedoms, but until now the response has mostly been to crack down brutally on bloggers, intellectuals and other reformers.



The European Union has found that a recent deadly outbreak of E. coli infections in Germany and France originated in Egyptian fenugreek seeds and as a result the EU has imposed a ban on some of Egypt’s farm exports for the next four months.

The ban comes at a time when Egypt is struggling to earn the foreign currency it needs to pay for imports and provide employment to its people.

Egypt has already lost considerable foreign exchange earnings this year as a result of a sharp reduction in Western tourism.

In addition, Suez Canal workers have been on strike for the past three weeks, depriving the economy of toll fees, while yesterday a pipeline delivering Egyptian natural gas to Israel and Jordan was blown up for the fourth time this year, cutting off deliveries.


Yesterday’s attack came just after authorities had completed repairs from the previous strike. The repeated attacks have forced Israel to use other, more expensive fuels to power its generating plants while Jordan has been forced to ration electricity. Jordan depends on Egyptian gas to generate 80% of its electricity, while Israel gets 40% of its natural gas from its neighbor.

Shareholders of East Mediterranean Gas Co. said on Monday that they will take legal action against Egypt, seeking more than $8 billion in damages for interruptions in the natural gas supply from Egypt to Israel.



Despite the revolution that overthrew Egypt’s pro-Western regime earlier this year and the very real possibility that the new government to be elected this fall (autumn) will contain many members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Obama Administration has announced plans to move ahead with an arms deal with Egypt worth more than $1 billion. The deal includes 125 Abrams tanks, one of the leading fighting vehicles used by U.S. forces.

A Pentagon spokesperson said the deal would provide Egypt with “a modern tank fleet, enhancing its capacity to meet current and future threats.”

But many are wondering exactly what threat the Obama administration thinks Egypt faces. It is on friendly terms with all its Arab neighbors and has been at peace with Israel since the late 1970s.

With tourism to Egypt falling by more than 25% this year, resulting in billions of dollars of lost income, one also has to wonder why the Egyptian authorities want to spend yet more money on arms.


Among recent dispatches on Egypt, please see: Egypt: The Hangover begins (& Egypt Air wipes Israel off the map)



John Morton, the director of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement division, has apologized for the placing of Israel instead of North Korea on a new Homeland Security terror watch list they compiled. The list puts travelers from that country under suspicion of having terrorist ties.

“The U.S. does not and never has considered Israel to have links to terrorism, but rather they are a partner in our efforts to combat global terrorism. We are very sorry for the error,” Morton said.

The list of 36 nations does include a number of other U.S. allies, however, such as Bahrain, Morocco, Turkey and the Philippines.



Following the period of deadly protests that brought down dictator Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia is trying to regain its place as a favored Mediterranean tourist destination.

Over the past few weeks, billboards have appeared in Paris and London depicting a smiling, sultry and apparently naked woman, enjoying the benefits of a massage.

The caption on the advert reads: “They say that in Tunisia, some people receive heavy-handed treatment.”

Another advert shows ancient Roman ruins near to a sexy woman, with the words: “They say Tunisia is nothing but ruins.”

A director at the Tunis-based advertising agency behind the campaign said: “We identified the central problem for would-be tourists as the fear of violence and chaos in post-revolutionary Tunisia, so we decided to face the issue head on.”

Tunisia’s revenue from tourism has shrunk by 50% so far this year.

[All notes above by Tom Gross]


(Tom Gross adds: This Reuters article was published in June 2010, and I post it again now since several major international media continue to quote activists claiming that Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza is illegal without explaining that the vast majority of international lawyers say otherwise.)

Q&A: Is Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza legal?
Reuters news agency
June 2, 2010


LONDON (Reuters) - Israel has said it will continue a naval blockade of the Gaza Strip despite growing global pressure to lift the siege after a navy raid on a Turkish ferry carrying aid killed nine activists this week.

What is the legality of the blockade and did Israel’s intervention breach international law? Below are some questions and answers on the issue:


Yes it can, according to the law of blockade which was derived from customary international law and codified in the 1909 Declaration of London. It was updated in 1994 in a legally recognized document called the “San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea.”

Under some of the key rules, a blockade must be declared and notified to all belligerents and neutral states, access to neutral ports cannot be blocked, and an area can only be blockaded which is under enemy control.

“On the basis that Hamas is the ruling entity of Gaza and Israel is in the midst of an armed struggle against that ruling entity, the blockade is legal,” said Philip Roche, partner in the shipping disputes and risk management team with law firm Norton Rose.


Under the U.N. Convention of the Law of the Sea a coastal state has a “territorial sea” of 12 nautical miles from the coast over which it is sovereign. Ships of other states are allowed “innocent passage” through such waters.

There is a further 12 nautical mile zone called the “contiguous zone” over which a state may take action to protect itself or its laws.

“However, strictly beyond the 12 nautical miles limit the seas are the “high seas” or international waters,” Roche said.

The Israeli navy said on Monday the Gaza bound flotilla was intercepted 120 km (75 miles) west of Israel. The Turkish captain of one of the vessels told an Istanbul news conference after returning home from Israeli detention they were 68 miles outside Israeli territorial waters.

Under the law of a blockade, intercepting a vessel could apply globally so long as a ship is bound for a “belligerent” territory, legal experts say.


Under international law it can use force when boarding a ship.

“If force is disproportionate it would be a violation of the key tenets of the use of force,” said Commander James Kraska, professor of international law at the U.S. Naval War College.

Israeli authorities said marines who boarded the Turkish vessel Mavi Marmara opened fire in self-defense after activists clubbed and stabbed them and snatched some of their weapons.

Legal experts say proportional force does not mean that guns cannot be used by forces when being attacked with knives.

“But there has got to be a relationship between the threat and response,” Kraska said.

The use of force may also have other repercussions.

“While the full facts need to emerge from a credible and transparent investigation, from what is known now, it appears that Israel acted within its legal rights,” said J. Peter Pham, a strategic adviser to U.S. and European governments.

“However, not every operation that the law permits is necessarily prudent from the strategic point of view.”


No, as under international law it was considered a state action.

“Whether what Israel did is right or wrong, it is not an act of piracy. Piracy deals with private conduct particularly with a pecuniary or financial interest,” Kraska said.


None so far but the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), an association which represents 75 percent of the world’s merchant fleet, has expressed “deep concern” over the boarding by Israeli forces, arguing that merchant ships have a right to safe passage and freedom of navigation in international waters.

“These fundamental principles of international law must always be upheld by all of the world’s nations,” the ICS said.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.