Why NUPI director Egeland is wrong to compare Israel to North Korea

Did Israel, in enforcing the blockade of Hamas-run Gaza, violate international law?

Jan Egeland, the Director of the Norwegian institute of International Affairs, states to Verdens Gang today:  Only North Korea behaves in international waters in the same manner as Israel does. (Mr. Egeland also makes a number of equally interesting statements, which this blog sadly cannot afford to delve into at the present). Meanwhile Aftenposten‘s journalists Mari Torsdotter Hauge and Eirik Wallem Fossan interview Professor of maritime law Geir Ulfstein, whose legal interpretation of the matter supports Jan Egeland: Israel violates international law by  enforcing the blockade of Hamas-run Gaza in international waters. Ah, so it is then. Israel has once again proved itself to be a culprit state. Or has it?

According to Israeli Ambassador Dr. Robbie Sabel, the conclusion must be the opposite. Dr.Sabel received his law degree and PhD from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, joined the Israeli Foreign Ministry in 1972, served in the embassy in Washington, was the ministry’s legal adviser from 1985 to 1993, after which he served as deputy director-general for arms control.  He has written several international law books in English and Hebrew. His book on Procedure at International Conferences (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2nd ed., 2005) was awarded the coveted annual award of the American Society of International Law. Dr. Sabel teaches international law at the Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University, and the Interdisciplinary College at Herzliya. Dr.Robbie Sabel’s perspective is sketched out in the e-mail below:

International Law Expert Dr. Robbie Sabel: IDF action in international waters legal

Dr. Aaron Lerner                   Date: 31 May 2010

IMRA asked Hebrew University international law expert Dr. Robbie Sabel about
the legality of the IDF action in international waters.

Dr. Sabel  explained that a state, in a time of conflict, can impose an
embargo, and while it cannot carry out embargo activities in the territorial
waters of a third party, it can carry out embargo activities in
international waters.

Within this framework it is legal to detain a civilian vessel trying to
break an embargo and if in the course of detaining the vessel, force is used
against the forces carrying out the detention then that force has every
right to act in self defense.

Dr. Sabel noted that there is a long history of embargo activities in
international waters.

Dr. Aaron Lerner, Director IMRA (Independent Media Review & Analysis)
(Mail POB 982 Kfar Sava)

Nay-sayers will claim that Dr.Sabel’s interpretation of law is of no consequence. In Norway, they will say, the word of any fishmongering fool will weigh heavier than the word of the most well-educated Israeli Jew. This might well be. Yet Aftenposten’s editor Ole Erik Almlid has sent an aqaintance of this site a most gentlemanly e-mail, expressing his interest in the matter and stating that he has forwarded the information regarding Dr.Sabel’s interpretation to his colleagues. Nay-sayers will shake their heads at this. “Naive” they will say. “The Jerusalem Post was right when it claimed, in an op-ed in January, that Aftenposten is vehemently anti-Israel. Aftenposten will not give Israel a square go this time either”. Perhaps. But we can at least hope for something at least approximating a proper debate.

In Ole Erik Almlid we must trust, then.

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