George Jonas Jul 6, 2011 – 8:00 AM ET | Last Updated: Jul 5, 2011 6:30 PM ET
Adam Shapiro, a board member of the Free Gaza Movement that sponsors the floating insult to human intelligence its organizers call Freedom Flotilla, was addressing supporters in New Jersey. As quoted by the British commentator Melanie Philips, Shapiro felt no need to mince words.
“Free Gaza is but one tactic of a larger strategy,” he explained, “to transform this conflict from one between Israel and the Palestinians … to one between the rest of the world and Israel.”
While it’s hardly news that the flotilla’s purpose is to de-legitimize Israel, rather than to relieve human suffering, it’s nice to have it confirmed by Mr. Shapiro. A flotilla is not required to bring food or medicine to Gaza. The blockade, in place since 2007, is to keep out things that go bump in the night. Israel is trying to reduce the flow of war material: the stuff of which rockets, mortars, bombs and underground tunnels are made.
The Free Gaza Movement is misnamed, unless it wants to free Gaza from Hamas. The strip’s inhabitants need to be liberated only from corrupt and dysfunctional fanatics who mask their own inability to govern with stubborn efforts to wipe Israel off the map, or goad it into acts of self-defence that make its bad press worse and increase its isolation.
Israel has limited options. Not protecting its population from periodic attacks launched from adjacent territories wouldn’t be a viable option for any country, and all governments would view attempts to run a blockade as an act of belligerency. Vessels trying to do so would be boarded, captured, confiscated or scuttled. Minimally, they would get their humanitarian tushes waxed, according to the old rules of naval gunnery: One long, one short, and where would you like the third one, skipper?
Except Israel has to be very, very careful. It’s the one country that isn’t quite entitled to defend itself. Never mind bad press. Israel could get in trouble with Judge Richard Goldstone or one of his brethren. Its defenders could face war crime charges faster than you can say International Criminal Court.
Israel’s dilemma is a bit like a homeowner who is confronted by a home invader in a country like Canada. If the homeowner does nothing, the intruder gets his silver; if he pulls a gun, the police get him for improper storage of a firearm — or worse. “You chambered a round, sir? You keep your ammunition in the same room as your weapon?”
This is how civilization ends up protecting barbarity. But if the law is a genie, ready to serve anybody who lets it out of the bottle, it occurred to a bright group of Israeli lawyers that they can rub a bottle as well as the next guy. They founded Shurat HaDin (Israeli Law Centre) whose motto is “bankrupting terrorism — one lawsuit at a time.” In a world where defending yourself against home invaders can make you a criminal, and defending your country against terrorists a war criminal, switching from warfare to lawfare may be the solution.
Accordingly, in a Manhattan court two weeks ago, a suit was launched by an American victim of a Palestinian suicide bomber to confiscate 14 seafaring vessels, which were allegedly outfitted by funds illegally raised in the United States, contrary to 18 U.S.C. section 962. What’s that section? Never mind. The legal jungle is littered with bottles, and any one may contain a genie.
One of the plaintiff’s attorneys, the founder of Shurat HaDin, described the case as the first of its kind. “We intend to seize the Gaza Flotilla ships and turn them over to a victim of Palestinian terrorism,” Nitsana Darshan-Leitner was quoted as saying.
I wouldn’t hazard a guess on the legal merits of either this suit, or the law under which it was launched. But Shurat HaDin has been warning maritime insurers since May that if they insure flotilla ships, they may be liable for terrorist acts perpetrated by Hamas. Then, on June 6, the U.S.-based global satellite company Inmarsat was put on notice that it may be liable for “massive damages and criminal prosecution,” if it provided communication services to the blockade runners.
Shurat HaDin’s lawyers were rubbing the bottles and, lo and behold, genies started emerging. Some insurers bowed out. Greek authorities stopped ships from setting sail to the Gaza Strip last Sunday. While a few aspiring blockade runners may yet get away this week, the number of vessels has been dwindling along with the number of participants. Only about 300-400 hard-core activists remain from the 1,500 (or so) “humanitarians” originally expected to challenge the blockade.
Our times are savagery plus paperwork. We set out for hostile shores as readily as Viking raiders, except the style of Erik the Red wouldn’t be cramped by his inability to obtain insurance, and ours might be. Lawfare is clever, but before we applaud dressing politics in judicial robes, we should remember that, just like warfare, it’s a game two can play.
Living by the law carries the same caveat as living by the sword. One must be prepared to perish by it.