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Rabin Says Israel Will Bar Ship of Deportees from Its Waters

February 10, 1988
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Israel is expected to act within its rights under international law to bar from its territorial waters a ship that may be carrying several hundred Palestinian deportees and their sympathizers.

The vessel is scheduled to sail Wednesday from Piraeus, the port of Athens, and to reach Israeli waters over the weekend, according to the Palestine Liberation Organization, the voyage sponsor.

Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin said Tuesday that the ship would not be allowed to enter Israeli waters, but he refused to say what would be done should the vessel attempt to enter.

Israelis are sharply divided over how to counteract what appears to be a clever, well-timed international propaganda ploy by the PLO. Whatever transpires with the ship, it is feared here that the Palestinians will gain worldwide sympathy at a time when the Israel Defense Force is engaged in almost daily violent confrontations with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Premier Yitzhak Shamir denounced the planned voyage as an “insulting affront….a hostile and dangerous act which endangered Israel.” But there has been little support for a proposal by one of Shamir’s closest aides, media adviser Avi Pazner, to meet the PLO ship at sea with an Israeli ship carrying the families of victims of Palestinian terrorist attacks.

The newspaper Haaretz warned that this would be “to play the PLO’s game, with no chance of beating them at it.” The Foreign Ministry also opposes the plan.

But it is not certain the ship will sail. PLO representatives, at a hastily called news conference at their office in Athens, were long on rhetoric but short on details. Apart from announcing that the ship will be named “The Return,” they refused to say which nation’s flag it would fly or its registered name.

The PLO claimed in Athens last week that it had chartered the 8,000-ton Greek car ferry Silver Paloma. The Greek government informed Israel that since the vessel met all safety and other requirements, nothing could be done to prevent its sailing.

But the owner of the Silver Paloma, the Afroessa Line, which operates a regular service between Piraeus and Haifa, said the charter had not been signed and the voyage was cancelled. There were no reports that the PLO obtained another ship.


Meanwhile, Professor Yehuda Blum an authority on international law, said Tuesday that if Israel announced officially it would deny the ship access to its territorial waters, the ship’s master should take that as a warning and act accordingly.

Blum, a former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations and a member of the Hebrew University law faculty, told Israel Radio that a ship which seeks to enter a nation’s territorial water in less than good faith can legally be prevented from doing.

“In this particular case, the passage would not be innocent because it is prejudicial to the good order of the coastal state and is an act of propaganda aimed at affecting the security of the coastal state,” Blum said.

(JTA correspondents David Landan in Jerusalem. Jean Cohen in Athens and Hugh Orgel in Tel Aviv contributed to this story.)

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