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Dismay over Netanyahu & Barak’s testimony to flotilla inquiry

gisha_logoNetanyahu Testimony on Gaza Flotilla: PR over Human Rights and Security

Gisha mailing 12 August 2010

and see Haaretz editorial below

Even seasoned pundits could not help but express dismay this week at the televised testimony by senior Israeli officials, beginning with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, before the Turkel Commission charged with investigating the Israeli military’s May 31 interception of ships bound for Gaza. As the Israeli daily Haaretz pointed out in a scathing editorial [see below], Netanyahu readily acknowledged that Israel’s decisions on what to allow or prohibit into Gaza were based not on concern for the welfare of the population in Gaza but rather about Israel’s image in the international media:

“Even though there was not a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, I decided to gradually ease the limitations and the movement of goods through the land crossings. I did so because gradually these limitations turned into a diplomatic and public relations burden”.

If the limitations really were, as Netanyahu claimed, necessary “to prevent the entry of weapons and war materiel into Gaza”, easing them just in order to improve Israel’s public relations would seem grossly irresponsible. If they weren’t necessary for security – why were they imposed in the first place?

We also found puzzling Netanyahu’s claim that “Israel increased the number of trucks entering Gaza by approximately 30% over the five months preceding the flotilla incident”. According to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in the first five months of 2010, Israel actually decreased the volume of trucks permitted into Gaza by 9%, relative to 2009 (see the first and last pages of the MFA report, which show that the monthly average of trucks allowed into Gaza in 2009 was 2,576, compared with just 2,329 in the first five months of 2010).

The real change in the volume of trucks permitted into Gaza came only after the flotilla incident, when Israel was pressed to justify its policy blocking the movement of people and goods into and out of Gaza: Last week, Israel allowed Gaza residents to receive 1,126 truckloads of goods, approximately 45% of need, as compared to about 25% of need prior to the flotilla incident.

Export and the movement of people, critical for economic recovery and normal life in Gaza, are still blocked. Perhaps these restrictions do not constitute a sufficiently heavy “diplomatic and public relations burden”?

A frivolous government

The testimonies of Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak to the Turkel Committee reveal grave flaws about their judgment and discussions on the most sensitive diplomatic and security matters.
Haaretz Editorial, 11 August 2010

The testimonies by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak to the Turkel Committee arouse considerable concern. In describing the decision-making process before the takeover of the Turkish flotilla to the Gaza Strip, the two men revealed grave flaws about their judgment and discussions on the most sensitive diplomatic and security matters.

The suspicions that arose immediately after the operation were confirmed in all their gravity in the testimonies. Netanyahu testified that a decision by the defense minister had imposed the naval blockade on Gaza at the time of Operation Cast Lead; the defense minister had apparently informed the prime minister at the time, Ehud Olmert. According to Netanyahu, no discussion was held in any larger forum about the blockade and its implications. When threats about breaking through the blockade grew, the government tried to use diplomacy to thwart the flotilla, and when the diplomatic effort failed, it resorted to the bullying takeover of the ships.

According to Netanyahu, the main consideration guiding him in his decision later to open the gates of Gaza was Israel’s image in the international media. The Palestinian population’s suffering was not on his mind beyond the general statement that “there is no humanitarian crisis” in the Gaza Strip.

In the same spirit, the meeting of the forum of seven senior ministers before the takeover focused on the implications for “the media effect,” as Netanyahu said. He recalls a cursory discussion: “I received several ideas, issued a few instructions … but we didn’t get into a discussion of the operation’s details.”

Barak presented a completely different version, to the point that it’s hard to believe that the prime minister and the defense minister took part in the same discussion. According to the defense minister, the ministers and officials went into detail, asked serious questions and expressed concern about complications: “There wasn’t a situation of people not understanding the situation.” Barak praised the government and attributed the responsibility for the hitches to the military, just as Netanyahu had attributed the responsibility to the defense minister.

The Turkel Committee has done well not to be content with the narrow mandate it received from Netanyahu and Barak and in deciding to examine the nature of their decisions. The significant contradictions between the testimonies and the attempts by the prime minister and the defense minister to pass the buck on down show that something basic is creaking at the top. The committee must thoroughly examine the issues so we can learn lessons and reduce the risk of similar mishaps in the future.

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