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Israel’s whitewash report into the Mavi Marmara massacre

By Richard Lightbown

February 9, 2011

Richard Lightbown examines the flawed evidence considered by the Turkel Commission, the phoney inquiry set up by the Israeli government to investigate the Gaza flotilla raid and the blockade of Gaza, which exonerated the Israeli military of the murder of nine humanitarian aid workers aboard the Gaza-bound Turkish aid ship Mavi Marmara.

Computer programmers talk of garbage in, garbage out. While perhaps not precisely the right word for the data given and used by the  Turkel Commission, the analogy holds reasonably well.

Turkel has heard from some of the great and the bad of Israel and looked at documents from Israeli sources but has only listened to two persons who were actually at the raid; both were passengers on the Mavi Marmara. True, there have been submissions from 38 soldiers who were interviewed by a go-between, while another 58 provided written evidence. But none has dared to appear before the commission in public nor were any identified by name, lest a future trip to Europe or even South America is cut short by the long arm of international law. (Only the BBC "Panorama" programme presenter Jane Corbin has met any of these soldiers so far. Going down to the docks after dark she met Lieutenant A, Sergeant Y and Captain R. Hiding from the daylight and the truth like pimps or drug dealers on the run, they represent the true face of the most shameful army in the world, skulking with the rats in the docklands.)

The Turkel Commission "heard only two first-hand accounts, and has relied on all-Israeli hearsay evidence and second-hand testimony along with official Israeli documents in order to conclude that 'overall the actions undertaken were lawful and in conformity with international law’."

Turkel has complained that no other witnesses from the flotilla would appear, but omitted to explain why it was 11 weeks before the captain of the Mavi Marmara had been asked to attend, and three-and-a-half months before the Turkish embassy was asked to help provide witnesses. British nationals were asked only on 21 October to provide a synopsis in order that the commission might consider whether to call them as witnesses. They were given four days in which to do this, after Turkel had taken more than 16 weeks to make the demand. Their lawyer described it as a calculated snub … not a genuine effort to welcome their evidence. Nationals from other countries appear to have been ignored altogether. Arab-Israeli Member of the Knesset HaninZoabi has said she was also not given the opportunity to testify, telling Ynet News on 23 January: "The commission purposely and intentionally failed to summon the civilian and the only witness to see what happened out of fear her testimony would damage the harmony of the report."

Turkel Commission vs UN fact-finding mission

There are now two reports on the subject. The first by the  UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) Fact-Finding Mission which was not allowed to meet any Israeli nor permitted access to any Israeli documents that were not in the public domain. However, it did interview 112 witnesses from the flotilla and received written statements from others. On 27 September it reported that grave violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law had been committed by Israeli personnel. In contrast the Israeli commission has heard only two first-hand accounts, and has relied on all-Israeli hearsay evidence and second-hand testimony along with official Israeli documents in order to conclude that "overall the actions undertaken were lawful and in conformity with international law"’

One can try to make excuses for Turkel. Perhaps the commission made a mistake when it wrote that the cargo ship Tali had weapons on board when it tried to reach Gaza in February 2009. (A contemporary account in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz quoted an Israeli military spokesperson saying there were no weapons on board.) Perhaps they were naïve to believe the Military Attorney-General’s perjurious story that the MV Dignity was in accidental collision with an Israeli gunboat (instead of the cruiser being rammed at speed three times). Maybe they had seen only the current Ministry of Foreign Affairs graph of missiles fired from the Gaza Strip and not the previous one which had accurately shown that only 12 rockets were fired from the Strip for the four months between the beginning of July and 4 November 2008.(Nevertheless, they blamed Gazan militants for the breakdown of the ceasefire in December 2008, ignoring reports by Amnesty International that the ceasefire effectively ended when Israeli forces killed six Palestinian militants on 4 November.)

Ignoring expert testimony

But one can no longer suspend disbelief when Turkel refuses to believe its own ears. On 13 October three delegates from Physicians for Human Rights-Israel with experience of working in Gaza appeared before the commission. From among these detailed personal testimonies the commission heard that:

  • CT and MRI machines for oncology have been denied entry as dual-use technology despite not being connected to any source of radioactive isotopes.
  • A broken MRI scanner in Shifna hospital cannot be sent away to be repaired.
  • The crossings policy is causing grave damage to the provision of a minimally adequate medical response to the Gazan population.
  • It is not correct to say that medications entered Gaza freely before the flotilla.
  • It is not correct to say that beyond the dual-use items there was entry for essential medical equipment.
  • Dr Mustapha Yassin said that he is no longer allowed to take kneecaps into Gaza for orthopaedic surgery (as he has done previously) and that in consequence these operations are no longer possible.

Ran Yaron also told the commission:

Since September 2007, as a result of the Israeli cabinet’s declaration of Gaza as a hostile entity, we have been witness to a worsening of the crossings policy and to a deterioration in the functioning of the health system in Gaza.

Nonetheless, Turkel’s report states in section 82, p.87:

No evidence was presented before the commission to the effect that Israel prevents the passage of medical supplies apart from those included in the list of materials whose entry into the Gaza Strip is prohibited for security reasons.

Footnote 303 adds:

Civilian Policy Regarding Gaza Strip – Regarding the Claims of Human Rights Organizations, Dated 31.10.2010, supra note 217, Appendix A; More accurately, the restrictions stem from three sources – the instructions of the Israeli Ministry of Health, the instructions of the Israeli Ministry of Industry and Commerce, and the supervisory orders on defence export.

There was not much hope then that the commission would look at data from other independent organizations concerned about the state of Gaza’s economy and infrastructure. For example, Gisha, an Israeli organization that challenges restrictions on Palestinian movement, has reported power outages of up to 12 hours a day, and six hours a day on average; the freezing of thousands of spare parts for the electricity and water networks in Israeli and West bank warehouses; and the lack of desalination for drinking water contaminated by seawater and a sewage system near to collapse. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told the UNHRC Mission that "Abject poverty" among refugees has tripled since the imposition of the blockade from 100,000 to 300,000 and 61 per cent of households are food insecure. The International Commission for the Red Cross has written of the dire situation in Gaza in which the population suffers from unemployment, poverty and warfare while the quality of the health care system has reached an all-time low.

A myopicTurkel Commission merely reported:

...considerable evidence was presented to the commission to show that Israel allows the passage of objects essential for the survival of the civilian population and that it provides humanitarian aid as required by the rules of international humanitarian law in those areas that human rights organizations identify as a source of concern.

"Turkel it would seem needs to update its knowledge to accommodate developments in international law over the last 60 years."

Basically it would have us believe that the blockade is not responsible for any of Gaza’s problems, although it does quote Professor Shabtai Rosenne (who was a member of the commission until his death in September) that crippling an enemy’s external trade was a legitimate objective of armed conflict. The professor was, however, writing in 1946. Three years later, in 1949, the  Fourth Geneva Convention was adopted and such policies were outlawed. Turkel it would seem needs to update its knowledge to accommodate developments in international law over the last 60 years.

The rationale continues that the blockade is a legal means of safeguarding Israel’s security since it has not caused starvation or prevented the passage of objects essential to survival or the passage of medical supplies. In this respect, Turkel finds it regrettable that the Israeli legal system is not recognized internationally as the instrument for satisfying the rule of law. This, of course, is the same system whose Supreme Court declared in 2005 that the opinion of the International Court of Justice (with regard to the apartheid wall) was not legally binding in Israel.

In concluding this section, Turkel considered Israeli announcements for easing the blockade but declared itself unable to assess the effects. However, a scathing report published jointly by 25 charities on 30 November 2010 –  Dashed Hopes: Continuation of the Gaza Blockade – had no such misgivings. It described how there had been a failure to accelerate imports of construction materials which had prevented reconstruction projects and impacted severely on education within the Strip. The easing had also had no effect on exports or on movement for Palestinians through the Israeli crossings. The report called for an immediate unconditional and complete lifting of the blockade.

Section B of the Turkel Commission’s report covers the raid, overstating the violence encountered by the commandos while denying any wrongdoing on their part. It is true that Turkish militants prepared for a fight and cut bars from the ships railings against the orders of the captain. Nor has it been disputed that soldiers were badly roughed up, pushed over the side of the upper deck and taken captive. The reasons have never been given. Turkel has suggested it may have been a deliberate attempt to capture the soldiers, and that this amounted to an act of combat. What happened afterwards is difficult to discern. The soldiers’ accounts, which are exaggerated and unreliable, say that they were frequently beaten and only had minimal medical attention. The reporter Şefik Dinç confirms that they were beaten while in custody.

Other photographs clearly show that Murat Akinan, having helped to subdue one of the soldiers, then led him downstairs to the doctor and remonstrated with a photographer trying to film him. The medical team had very little equipment and the doctor was unable to stitch up the soldier’s cut on his head because he did not have a needle and thread. The level of violence versus  the level of protection that the soldiers were subject to is difficult to assess. It appears there may have been some mistreatment, but that genuine attempts were also made to treat them well. Many of those who later suffered in Israeli custody have told of much worse treatment.

Turkel’s report is Israel’s submission to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s Panel of Inquiry, which is due to resume its deliberations in New York by the middle of February. It was supposed to have been submitted in September at the same time as one from Turkey. The Turkish submission was presented on time but Turkey agreed to keep the report suppressed while the Israeli report was still in preparation. In the meantime, a copy was made available to Israel. Israel’s report was also supposed to have remained confidential but instead has been released with much publicity but without the courtesy of giving the Turks an advance copy.

Turkish report

"The report describes the shooting of two passengers from the first helicopter before any commando attempted to exit the helicopter, along with the deaths of nine people, most of whom suffered multiple gunshot wounds."

Naturally angered, Turkey has released interim copies of their report, which have not been widely reported in the Western media. The three parts of it can be accessed here:

The report describes the shooting of two passengers from the first helicopter before any commando attempted to exit the helicopter, along with the deaths of nine people, most of whom suffered multiple gunshot wounds. It also refers to the humiliation, abuse and torture of the passengers during their detention on the ship and at Ashdod. Property was unlawfully seized and evidence tampered with or destroyed. Israel had also cleaned the bodies of those killed and cleaned up the Mavi Marmara in order to hamper meaningful forensic investigations. The report considers that the blockade violates international law and that the ships carrying humanitarian cargo should have been exempt from attack under international law. It concludes by calling for reparations from Israel for its violations of{{ its international obligations.
There will be much for the UN Panel to consider and they are likely to be severely hampered by a lack of expertise in international law. They may conclude that the actions of some of the Turkish charity IHH personnel were provocative but it is to be hoped that that they will be able to distinguish between the facts of the severe hardship suffered in Gaza that Turkish nationals went to alleviate and the fabrications that have been regurgitated by Turkel.

:: Article nr. 74813 sent on 10-feb-2011 06:37 ECT


Link: www.redress.cc/palestine/rlightbown20110209

:: The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website.

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