On one of the boats, the scene got ugly and violent, and at least nine people died.
Israel says that its troops were acting in self-defense. According to CNN, "the Israel Defense Forces said its troops 'were met with premeditated violence, evident by the activists' use of clubs, metal rods, and knives, as well as the firing of two weapons stolen from the soldiers.' It said troops responded with 'defensive action on behalf of the forces who felt their lives were endangered.'"
But the human rights group Amnesty International (AI) suspects that the Israeli troops overreacted. "Israeli forces appear clearly to have used excessive force," said Malcolm Smart, AI's director for the Middle East and North Africa. "Israel says its forces acted in self-defense, alleging that they were attacked by protestors, but it begs credibility that the level of lethal force used by Israeli troops could have been justified. It appears to have been out of all proportion to any threat posed." So AI has called for an independent inquiry into the incident.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) agrees. "A prompt, credible, and impartial investigation is absolutely essential to determine whether the lethal force used by Israeli commandos was necessary to protect lives and whether it could have been avoided," said Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW's Middle East director.
And they are not alone.
On June 1, a coalition of more than 30 NGOs from around the world, who had gathered at an International Criminal Court (ICC) Review Conference in Uganda, signed a statement condemning the killing and injury of the civilians carrying humanitarian supplies to Gaza, and calling on the international community "to immediately take all appropriate measures in response to this unacceptable violence."
The statement urged the following:
" The illegal closure of the Gaza Strip to be immediately lifted;
" The ICC Prosecutor to make an urgent determination regarding the opening of an investigation into the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT);
" The UN Secretary General to urgently address the UN Security Council with respect to the ongoing impunity crisis in Israel and the OPT in order to engage all appropriate international mechanisms;
" The UN Security Council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court;
" All States Parties to the ICC to take all appropriate measure, at the diplomatic and legal levels, to uphold the rule of law in the OPT;
" The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to urgently visit the Gaza Strip; and
" Israel to comply with their international legal obligation and cooperate with investigative authority.
The statement was signed by the following organizations:
- Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR)