More reactions to the Turkel Commission

January 24, 2011


Turkel Commission Vindicates Israeli Massacre

Posted: 23 Jan 2011 10:58 PM PST

See also:

BBC report Israel inquiry finds Gaza aid flotilla raid ‘was legal’
Adalah, Press release, 23 January 2011

Perhaps only in Israel can even a dead man rise from the grave to sing his country’s praises (well OK, it could happen in a few other places too like North Korea, Belarus and perhaps Iran).  That’s what’s happened to poor Shabtai Rosenne, former Israeli foreign ministry official, appointed along with several other elderly cheerleaders to vindicate the Israeli massacre (called officially by the panel a “maritime incident”) aboard the Mavi Marmara.  No sooner was the man appointed than a picture appeared on the front page of an Israeli newspaper with him sitting in PJs next to his Filipino male nurse.  And then a few weeks later, just after the panel began its deliberations he was dead.

But his spirit lingers on.  They probably saved an empty chair for him during deliberations.  Kinda like Elijah.  So, contrary to the Ashrey prayers which proclaim that the “dead shall not praise God” (only the living do that), even the dead sing Israel’s praises.  In fact, one wonders why Bibi even bothered appointing anyone living to people this commission.  It would save trouble to have Rosenne appoint a few other dead Israeli leaders to join him and issue the report from heaven.  That might’ve offered the report a tad more credibility and authority than it’s currently enjoying.  Turkey has spat on the results as “lacking credibility.”  No one else in the world who’s a reasonable observer will feel any more fondly towards it.

In fact, the results beggar belief.  IDF naval commandos killed nine Turks, one of whom was also a U.S. citizen.  Their crime?  They were running the Israeli blockade of Gaza.  While the rest of the world and most experts in international law see the siege as illegal, Turkel and his as good as dead guys see both the siege and the attack on the Turkish ship as fully justified.  According to them, it’s perfectly acceptable to place 1.5 million civilians under siege for no valid military purpose whatsoever.

Returning to the weaknesses in the panel’s procedures…just for starters, it actually expected Turkish victims might testify.  Why?  Why would they come after the hospitality they were accorded following their kidnapping, in which they were imprisoned and all their gear of any value stolen?  Was the commission going to house them in the King David Hotel with a 24 hour security guard to ensure they wouldn’t be accorded the same treatment again?  Those who did testify who were any less than IDF boosters, such as Israeli human rights NGOs, were treated with barely concealed contempt.  Why would a Turkish victim subject him or herself to such hostility?

The fix was in.  The inquiry delivered the result expected.  Now Israel can say it did its duty and the rest of the world can laugh in disbelief.  Just the way Israel wants things apparently.  It would’ve been far too dangerous to have a genuinely independent panel.  Israel doesn’t allow such things when it cannot control the outcome.  It really doesn’t care what the world thinks about it.  For domestic political consumption it needs to be able to tell Israelis it did its best to comply with the world’s wishes, and that it’s not responsible if the world thinks it wasn’t good enough.  After all, that’s what the world always says about us now, doesn’t it (say Israel’s leaders)?

Oh, but wait.  The panel did actually make one tiny criticism.  Yes, you heard me right.  They actually found one little thing to criticize about Israel’s treatment of Gaza.  No you cynics, it wasn’t that the border isn’t sowed up tight enough.  It’s that the IDF should be more merciful in dealing with Gazans who need medical care outside the enclave.  It also said Israel should be more focussed in harming Hamas and not the civilians of Gaza.  It’s touching really.  And so humane and heartwarming of them.  But how, pray tell, when you’ve put a lid on an entire territory can you pinpoint the harm on one small group of people within it?  You can’t.  So thanks for all the concern, but give it a rest.  This is utter nonsense.

To read the whole report, see here.


On a related note, James Traub has an in depth profile of the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, in which the reporter claims that the only “failure” in Turkey’s foreign policy has been its supposedly over-the-top response to the Mavi Marmara assault.  Note the quotation from the “U.S. government official” cum Israeli booster who has got to be Dennis Ross or Dan Schapiro, Obama’s pro-Israel point men:

The net effect of Turkey’s vehement reaction to the flotilla, which by an unfortunate quirk of timing came two weeks after the nuclear deal with Iran and a week before the sanctions vote, was to wreck whatever remained of its relations with Israel and to seriously harm its standing in the U.S. “The hyperbolic and provocative rhetoric” in the aftermath of the Mavi Marmara incident, says a senior administration official, “has interfered with what has been a historic and hugely important, positive Turkish-Israeli relationship.” And it has done real damage in the court of public opinion, where Turkey looks like the enemy of the United States’ best friend in the Middle East as well as the friend of its worst enemy. After the Mavi Marmara incident, Thomas L. Friedman asserted in The Times, perhaps hyperbolically, that Turkey had joined “the Hamas-Hezbollah-Iran resistance front against Israel.”

The analysis contained in this passage is so off-key that it’s worth dwelling on it for a moment.  First, why would any American care how Turkey reacted to the Mavi Marmara?  None does.  Except of course those who are ardently pro-Israel like Aipac’s members and those Congress members who do as they’re told and whip out their “scold Turkey” cue card when necessary.  So it’s utter nonsense to say that Turkey has harmed relations with the U.S.  What this passage and those quoted in it really mean to claim is that because Turkey has harmed its relations with Israel (but didn’t Israel choose first to harm its own relations with Turkey by killing so many of its citizens?), and the U.S. is Israel’s bestest friend in the whole world, that Turkey better look out.  Because if you rile up Israel too much you’re gonna rile up the big guy too eventually.  And Turkey, according to this lopsided thinking, wouldn’t want to do that now, would it??

And why pray is the Turkey-Israel relationship “hugely important?”  And to whom?  Of course it’s hugely important to Israel as Turkey used to be the only major Muslim country which had any relations with it, good or bad.  So what precisely is Turkey losing by having this cold front blow in?  Again, the U.S. official quoted here is speaking entirely from Israel’s vantage point, which is why I think it’s a dead giveaway that Ross is the one speaking here.

Finally, we have the typically ludicrous Tom Terrific quote claiming that by defending its own national honor and putting Israel in the dock for killing its own citizens that Turkey, which single-handedly negotiated an end to the Syria-Israel conflict which Olmert then proceeded to completely screw up, has somehow joined the armed resistance along with Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran.  Stuff ‘n nonsense.

What I’d like to know is, what was Turkey supposed to do after the massacre?  Sit back and say to Israel: “That wasn’t quite hard enough.  Why don’t you hit me again?”  Is that the way nations conduct international diplomacy and protect their interests?  Do they turn the other cheek and say, I know you’re a good guy and didn’t mean it?  Or do they vigorously protect themselves and their citizens from such murderous acts as committed by Israel?


Israel inquiry finds Gaza aid flotilla raid ‘was legal’

23 January 2011 Last updated at 15:24

An Israeli inquiry has found the country’s navy acted legally in a deadly raid on a flotilla of aid ships trying to reach Gaza last May.

The raid, in which nine Turkish activists were killed, attracted widespread international condemnation.

Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the inquiry had neither value, nor credibility.

A separate UN inquiry last year said the navy had shown an “unacceptable level of brutality”.

The military operation severely strained relations with Ankara – a long-time ally of Israel’s.

The 300-page Turkel Committee report found the actions of the Israeli navy in the raid and Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza were both legal under international law.

The panel of inquiry – headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Jacob Turkel, with five Israeli members and two international observers – was set up in June.

One of the inquiry’s members died aged 93 during its hearings, and correspondents say the report will be dismissed by Israel’s critics as biased.

‘Banditry and piracy’

The Free Gaza Flotilla, which had more than 600 pro-Palestinian activists on board, was trying to break Israel’s blockade of the territory when it was intercepted by Israeli navy commandos on 31 May.

Israel says its commandos used live fire only after being attacked with clubs, knives and guns.

But activists on board the Turkish-owned Mavi Marmara say the commandos started shooting as soon as they boarded the vessel.

The Turkel Committee report said Israel’s actions had “the regrettable consequences of the loss of human life and physical injuries”.

“Nonetheless… the actions taken were found to be legal pursuant to the rules of international law.”

The report did offer some criticism of the planning of the operation, saying “the soldiers were placed in a situation they were not completely prepared for and had not anticipated”.

The inquiry heard testimony from high-ranking Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defence Minister Ehud Barak and army chief General Gabi Ashkenazi, as well as several Israeli-Arab lawmakers who were travelling with the flotilla.

None of the military personnel directly involved in the raid was authorised to provide testimony.

In August, Mr Netanyahu told the inquiry that Israel “acted under international law” when it intercepted the flotilla.

He said the Gaza blockade was legal and that Israeli troops only used force when their lives were in danger.

After its own inquiry, Turkey described the attack – which took place in international waters, about 130km (80 miles) from the Israeli coast – as a violation of international law, “tantamount to banditry and piracy”, and described the killings as “state-sponsored terrorism”.

Results of Turkish post-mortem examinations have suggested that a total of 30 bullets were found in the bodies of the nine dead activists, including one who had been shot four times in the head.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has asked for reports from both the Israeli and Turkish inquiries to be submitted as part of a wider UN inquiry to be held later this year.

Blockade eased

After criticism from its allies over the flotilla incident, Israel considerably eased its blockade of Gaza – allowing in more food and humanitarian goods.

Israel and Egypt imposed the blockade on the coastal territory when the Islamist militant group Hamas seized control of it in 2007.

Israel said it was intended to stop militants in Gaza from obtaining rockets to fire at Israel.

The restrictions were widely described as collective punishment of the population of Gaza, resulting in a humanitarian crisis.

But in the report released on Sunday, the Turkel Committee said: “The imposition and enforcement of the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip does not constitute ‘collective punishment’ of the population of the Gaza Strip.”

Analysis by Jon Donnison BBC News, Jerusalem

This report has been seven months in the making and it runs to some 300 pages. The raid was a disaster for Israel’s public relations and the government was hoping this inquiry would do something to amend that.

The problem Israel is going to face is that many of its critics will see it as a whitewash. This was an Israeli government-commissioned inquiry and people will say it simply wasn’t balanced.

The findings of this report were in stark contrast to the views of 600 pro-Palestinian activists aboard those ships. They also contrast with the findings of a UN report which said Israel’s commandos had shown an unacceptable level of brutality.

This is not the last we will hear on the flotilla raid. In the coming months the Turkel Committee will look into what intelligence Israel had in the lead-up to this operation. And there is another UN investigation, ordered by the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, which is expected to release its findings later in the year.

adalahPress Release, 23 January 2011

Turkel Committee’s Conclusions on the Gaza Blockade and Israel’s Attacks on the Freedom Flotilla Contradict International Law and the UN Fact-Finding Mission Report

(Haifa, Israel) Today, 23 January 2011, the Turkel Committee (the Public Commission to Examine the Maritime Incident of 31 May 2010) issued part one of its report. It is Adalah’s position that the conclusions reached by the Turkel Committee completely contradict international law and the findings released in September 2010 by the International Fact-Finding Mission to Investigate the Israeli attacks on the Flotilla, which was established by the UN Human Rights Council.

The main conclusions reached by the Turkel Committee were that:

  1. Israel’s ‘effective control’ of the Gaza Strip ended with the disengagement [in 2005];
  2. The purpose of Israel’s naval blockade on Gaza was primarily a military-security one and that it was imposed lawfully;
  3. Israel is complying with its humanitarian obligations towards the people of Gaza;
  4. The blockade does not constitute ‘collective punishment’;
  5. The Israeli military’s interception and capture of the Gaza Flotilla vessels in international waters was in conformity with international humanitarian law;
  6. The tactics and force used by the Israeli naval commandos to board the ships and against the civilians on board was consistent with international law.

The Turkel Committee’s finding concerning the purpose of the blockade – namely that it was established for “military-security” reasons – even contradicts statements made by the Attorney General before the Israeli Supreme Court in the al-Basyouni case. In this case, which involved cuts to fuel and electricity in Gaza, the Attorney General argued that the blockade is justified as an economic sanction taken against an enemy entity as part of “economic warfare” against the Hamas regime (see HCJ 9132/07, Jaber Al-Basyouni Ahmed v. The Prime Minister; decision delivered 30 January 2008).

The principal and ultimately devastating defect of the Turkel Committee is that it was not independent, impartial or transparent. The Committee’s members were appointed by the government after being carefully selected by the Prime Minister. Further, at least two committee members made statements prior to the Committee’s establishment that indicate their pro-Israeli political bias and raise serious questions about their impartiality toward the Israeli military’s attack on the flotilla.

In addition, the Committee’s powers and mandate were extremely circumscribed. Under Israeli law, official commissions of inquiry have the widest investigatory powers. However, even commissions of inquiry do not have the full powers granted to prosecutors or the police. The powers granted to the Turkel Committee were even less than those of an independent official commission of inquiry. Thus, for example, the Committee was expressly prohibited from interviewing Israeli soldiers and security officers, and consequently relied almost exclusively on the testimonies and reports of Israeli military and political leaders. Thus, it did not have the tools or the powers to open an investigation to collect evidence regarding Israel’s interception of and attack on the flotilla in international waters, which left nine Turkish citizens dead and dozens of other passengers injured. The Turkel Committee did not possess the authority to criminally indict or otherwise order the prosecution of any individual. Finally its conclusions and recommendations are not binding.

The members of the Turkel Committee are: Justice (Ret.) Jacob Turkel, Chairman; Ambassador Professor Shabtai Rosenne (deceased 21.9.10); General (Ret.) Amos Horev; Ambassador Reuven Merhav; Professor Miguel Deutch; Foreign Observers: Lord David Trimble (United Kingdom); and Brigadier General (Ret.) Kenneth Watkin, Q.C. (Canada).

To note, during the Flotilla events, Adalah together with Physicians for Human Rights-Israel and the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel filed an extraordinary petition for habeas corpus to the Israeli Supreme Court to demand the whereabouts and status of the Flotilla passengers. The organizations also met and took testimonies from tens of passengers who were detained at Ela Prison in Beer el-Sabe (Beer Sheva) and represented Muhammed Zeidan, Chair of the High Follow-up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel; Sheikh Raed Salah, Head of the Islamic Movement in Israel; and Sheikh Hamad Abu Daabes, Head of the Islamic Movement in Israel (southern branch), and Ms. Lubna Masarwa of the Free Gaza Movement following their arrest from the Mavi Marmara. Adalah has provided legal assistance to numerous passengers from the Flotilla in an attempt to secure the return of their personal possessions confiscated by Israel during the attack, and to gain compensation – and demand a criminal investigation – for one passenger whose credit card was used by a soldier without her authorization. Adalah and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel are also representing MK Haneen Zoabi in a petition before the Israeli Supreme Court challenging the Knesset’s decision to revoke several of MK Zoabi’s parliamentary privileges due to her participation in the flotilla. The hearing in this case is scheduled for 28 March 2011.

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