The Freedom Flotilla represents civil society’s solidarity with the people of Gaza. The US must insist Israel let it in!

WE SAIL UNTIL GAZA IS FREE! This is the slogan of the Freedom Flotilla (FF) whose civilian ships were brutally attacked in international waters by Israel in 2010, killing 10 passengers and wounding many others. In the coming days, the Flotilla will soon sail again — this time, amid the ongoing genocide against the Palestinian people in Gaza being carried out by the Israeli regime.

The National Lawyers Guild stands in solidarity with the 2024 Freedom Flotilla Coalition (FCC) and demands that the US Government require assurances from Israel, its client state, that it will comply with the recent provisional measures ordered by the International Court of Justice and permit the ships of the Freedom Flotilla to deliver desperately needed humanitarian aid and support to the people of Gaza who are being bombed and starved.

The Freedom Flotilla Coalition (FFC) is a civilian initiative whose ships will be carrying 5,500 tons of humanitarian aid and hundreds of international humanitarian observers to the besieged Gaza Strip. Many U.S. citizens will be on board, including Suzanne Adely, the president of the National Lawyers Guild. The FFC’s demands are: an immediate, unconditional and permanent ceasefire; unrestricted access to humanitarian aid; and an end to the illegal Israeli blockade.

The FFC rejects Israel’s illegal control over the entry of humanitarian aid and blockade and therefore will not allow Israeli occupation forces to intercept or inspect its cargo. The unwillingness or inability of the international community, including the UN Security Council, the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court, to end the genocide taking place in Gaza and to deliver adequate medical and food supplies to a population being deliberately starved necessitates the Freedom Flotilla’s urgent voyage.

International humanitarian law clearly supports the Flotilla’s mission. A humanitarian catastrophe exists in Gaza today: Israel’s blockade of the Strip, which was illegal before the current genocide due to conditions the UN has described as “uninhabitable,” now necessitates immediate intervention by civil society. The Flotilla is a material manifestation of international support for the ongoing Palestinian struggle for liberation and sovereignty, as well as the internationally recognized right to receive humanitarian aid without interference or hindrance, especially under the current conditions of ongoing genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, including purposefully induced famine.

Interference with and aggression against the 2024 Flotilla, as in the past, would qualify as piracy. Any government that allows or permits such interference, particularly the United States, in which the House of Representatives just voted to send an additional $26 billion in military aid to the Israeli occupation regime, should be considered complicit with Israel’s crimes, establishing a clear basis for legal culpability and actionable international responsibility.

Gaza Blockade and International Humanitarian Law 

Since 2007, Israel has imposed a blockade on Gaza, significantly restricting the movement of people, goods, and services into and out of the territory. Of course, the blockade and the assault on Gaza did not begin in 2007; the population of Gaza are over 70% Palestinian refugees forced from their homes and lands during the 1947-1948 Nakba and denied their right to return ever since by the Israeli regime. Since 1967, the Gaza Strip has been held under Israeli occupation, including after the 2005 “redeployment” of occupation forces and removal of settlers. The seas and skies of Gaza have been subjected to blockade, surveillance, and control by the occupying power, with the siege on Gaza a mechanism of control used by the Israeli regime to undermine and block Palestinian sovereignty and resistance on any part of Palestinian land.

This blockade is a form of collective punishment, affecting the entire population of Gaza and severely impacting their quality of life and access to essential services. It has been used to maintain occupation and control of the skies and seas of Gaza as well as in an attempt to impose “regime change” and undermine the democratic will of the Palestinian people. In 2018, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the occupied Palestinian territory declared Gaza ‘unliveable.’ Today, amidst the humanitarian catastrophe it has caused, Israel’s blockade is unconscionably interfering with the delivery of vital necessities, such as food, clean water, and medical supplies.

Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits collective punishment of citizens under occupation.

In 2010, the United Nations General Assembly’s Human Rights Council dispatched a fact-finding mission “to investigate violations of international law” resulting from Israel’s attack on the 2010 Freedom Flotilla. The Mission found the blockade illegal due to the “disproportionate damage” it inflicted upon Gaza’s civilian population. The Mission noted there was “no doubt” that Israel’s actions “amount to collective punishment as defined by international law.”  The UN Special Rapporteur  likewise referred to the blockade as a “regime of collective punishment.”

The Mission concluded that because the blockade is illegal, “no case can be made for the legality of the interception and the Mission therefore finds that the interception was illegal.”

International Humanitarian Law and the duty to provide aid 

Under international humanitarian law and the Geneva Conventions, Israel has a duty to protect the civilian populations of territory it occupies, including ensuring that they receive necessary humanitarian aid.

Outrageously, Israel has failed to comply with the provisional measures ordered by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in South Africa v. Israel. These measures ordered the occupation regime to stop blocking the entry of humanitarian aid. Once again, Israel is actively committing a genocide while failing to comply with its responsibilities as an occupying power to ensure the health and well-being of Palestinians.

Rather than meeting this obligation, Israel has done the opposite. During a visit to the Rafah crossing, the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres observed “[a] long line of blocked relief trucks on one side of the gates, the long shadow of starvation on the other.” A recent report from Refugees International, entitled “Siege and Starvation: How Israel Obstructs Aid to Gaza,” notes that while 500 trucks including both aid and commercial vehicles used to enter Gaza daily, figures now range between 50 and 100 per day: “a massive loss of capacity and nowhere near what is necessary to save lives.” The consequences have been devastating: the Global Nutrition Cluster reports that one out of six children in Gaza are “acutely malnourished, with an estimated 3% facing the most severe form of wasting and requiring immediate treatment.” Let us be clear: this is not simply a ‘humanitarian tragedy’. This is the use of starvation as a weapon in an ongoing genocidal war being waged against a population under occupation and colonization by the occupying and colonizing power, with weapons and funding from the United States government.

Convention on Genocide and the duty not to be complicit 

Article 6 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court defines genocide as acts committed “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”, including “killing members of the group”; “serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group”; and “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”.  In January 2024, the International Court of Justice found plausible South Africa’s claim that Israel is commiting genocide in Gaza and ordered Israel to take immediate and effective measures to enable the provision of humanitarian relief to Gaza. Israel has failed to do so. In March 2024, the International Court of Justice found that ““the catastrophic living conditions of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have deteriorated further,” and ordered that Israel take all necessary measures to provide Palestinians with “urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance” including food, water, and medical care. Israel has made no attempt to comply with this order.

The 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide imposes a clear obligation on states not only to refrain from committing acts classified as genocide but also to actively prevent and not be complicit in such acts. Thus the international community has a duty not to be complicit through silence or inaction. On the contrary, there must be active international engagement and intervention to prevent any actions that could lead to or constitute genocide.

The role of civil society in preventing genocide 

Active international engagement involves a multifaceted approach, including diplomatic efforts, legal sanctions, direct intervention by international bodies such as the United Nations and its various agencies, as well as significant contributions from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), advocates, and international humanitarian institutions. Moreover, international intervention involves supporting peace initiatives and conflict resolution measures that address the root causes of tension and potential conflict.

NGOs, advocates, and humanitarian organizations can and should play a crucial role in focusing international attention on circumstances that may lead to genocide. They are often on the front lines, not only providing humanitarian aid but also documenting and reporting human rights abuses. These organizations can also serve as watchdogs, holding states accountable to international human rights standards and calling attention to any actions that might contravene these obligations.

The Court’s judgment demands that everyone do their part to stop the ongoing genocide in Gaza.  Given the failure of our governments to take the lead in the urgently needed humanitarian response to the Israeli genocide, people of conscience and grassroots organizations must act to stop the genocide, provide immediate assistance and undermine Israel’s inhumane blockade.  When our and other governments fail, the Freedom Flotilla must sail – and the least our government can do is to assure its safety.

Freedom of navigation in International Waters

International Law generally holds that the high seas are open to all states and no state may subject any part of them to its sovereignty. Freedom of navigation is a fundamental principle enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The interception of a civilian vessel under the guise of a blockade without clear provocation or threat can be considered a violation of this principle, highlighting the aggressive posture against Palestinian rights to free access and assistance.

As long as the conduct of the ship while sailing on the high seas is peaceful and does not carry on activities interfering with other merchant vessels, the ship shares in the freedom of navigation. Interference with or aggression against the 2024 flotilla carrying out its peaceful mission constitutes piracy.

Preventing violations of international law as evidenced by Israel’s actions in attacking the 2010 Freedom Flotilla

Israel’s attack on the 2010 Freedom Flotilla was an act of state terrorism, a violent offense to international law that cannot be measured or described in its severity, especially because it was an attack on a peace mission carrying nationals from over 50 countries. If the U.S. allows Israel to interfere with the 2024 flotilla, civilians, including U.S. citizens, face similar dangers.

In September 2010, the UN Human Rights Council Fact-Finding Mission’s report said Israel’s military broke international laws in attacking the 2010 Freedom Flotilla, and that the action by Israeli occupation soldiers, which left nine dead, was “disproportionate” and “betrayed an unacceptable level of brutality”. In September 2011, the UN Secretary General’s Panel concluded in a repeatedly delayed report that the loss of life and injuries resulting from the use of force by Israeli troops was “unacceptable”. “Israel’s decision to board the vessels with such substantial force at a great distance from the blockade zone and with no final warning immediately prior to the boarding was excessive and unreasonable,” it said. In November 2014, a preliminary examination by the International Criminal Court’s Chief Prosecutor concluded that it should not take further action despite a “reasonable basis to believe that war crimes… were committed” by Israel because it had to prioritise war crimes of a larger scale.

The Freedom Flotilla participants, seeking to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and taking action to address the causes creating the crisis (i.e., the illegal Israeli blockade) are engaging in what the UN Fact-Finding Mission called “humanitarianism.” The FFM called  for recognition  of  an agreed form of intervention by civil society in humanitarian crises, especially long-standing humanitarian crises where the international community is unwilling to take positive action. That is exactly what the Flotilla passengers are doing and they not only should not be prevented from doing so but should be aided and assisted in their course of action by all responsible parties. It is ordinary people like this, willing to risk their lives for justice, who create a new sense of possibility, liberating all of us from hopelessness and despair.

Israel’s genocidal campaign in Gaza has been possible because of years of unconditional funding from the U.S. The least the U.S. Government can do now is exert its influence to insist on safe passage for this humanitarian mission.

Together with the Freedom Flotilla, we demand:




We further reiterate our condemnation of the House of Representatives’ vote to approve an additional $26 billion in US weaponry to aid and support Israel’s genocide against the Palestinian people, and express our strongest support for protests, direct actions and mobilizations to bring an end to this genocide. To this aim, we — and our local chapters and members nationwide — are committed to providing legal support, observation and aid to those taking action to end the genocide, as epitomized by the Freedom Flotilla.


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