The Truth about Mavi Marmara

Friday, 28 January 2011

In recent months, I have been preoccupied with efforts to resolve a very thorny international dispute, the killing of nine Turkish nationals (one o them also an American citizen) on their way to bring aid to children of Gaza. Following the Israeli attack to the Gaza Humanitarian Convoy, the UN Security Council adopted a Presidential Statement, calling for a “prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation, conforming to international standards.”

To this end the UN Secretary – General established the UN Panel of Inquiry with the participation of Israel and Turkey. The Panel is chaired by former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Sir Geoffrey Palmer and the Vice-Chair is the former President of Colombia, Mr. Alvaro Uribe.

The Panel was required to receive both interim and final reports from Turkey and Israel about the outcome of their national investigations in order to examine and identify the facts, circumstances and context of the incident.

In accordance with this requirement, Turkey submitted its interim report to the Panel on 1 September. The Israeli side insisted on confidentiality and we honored this principle, did not want to humiliate Israel right away with multiple eye-witness accounts of brutality and needless violence.

However, the Israelis delayed their report and officially submitted it to the Panel only on 22 January but when doing so they made it public through an aggressive PR campaign.

It asserts that  Israel was entirely within its rights, under international law, when it sent Israeli warships in the dead of night to attack unarmed civilian vessels laden with crayons and medicine, 72 nautical miles out at sea.

Needless to say, also Turkish National report which is solely based on the forensic evidence and the first hand witness accounts also gives an entirely different picture from the Israeli one.

For there are deep flaws in the Israeli report. The first error is the claim that the Gaza blockade is legal. This claim is supported in the world by no country but Israel. The reason is simple: The Gaza blockade inflicts disproportionate damage on the civilian population   and is a form of collective punishment. It is enforced in and arbitrary, selective manner, with no clear principles or a specific time frame, and effective Israeli control of Gaza continues. The UN Security Council in its Resolution 1860, makes it clear that the “blockade on Gaza” is neither acceptable nor legal.

If the blockade is illegal, then all ensuing claims and arguments are meaningless. Peace time sea law and the principle of freedom of the high seas must apply.
Israel claims that it is in an international armed conflict with Hamas. This is surprising. Then Israel must treat all Gazan prisoners not as terrorists but as prisoners of war entitled to the protection of the Geneva Conventions.

The Israeli report more or less ignores the loss of nine lives–the main reason why the investigation is happening. However, we know how the nine died. Nine bodies received more than 30 bullets, mostly in the head. Autopsy reports show that several of them were executed.

The Israeli side cannot validly invoke self-defense. The humanitarian aid convoy sailing to Gaza did not attack the Israeli warships; Law clearly states that if an individual or a party provokes an attack in order to use force and then claims self-defense, the claim will be dismissed.

In any case international law stipulates that self-defense must only be exercised in a way proportionate to the degree of danger to the person.

The weakest link of all is the evidence. Israel’s report relies on anonymous statements from soldiers who were not even cross-examined.

The Israeli navy committed an illegal act when it attacked the convoy. The manner of the attack and the number of the people killed and wounded exacerbate this illegality which continued until the last flotilla passengers left Israel.

International law is clear. Israel should apologize and pay compensation. This is still our expectation. We hope that Israel will display vision and do so.

An opportunity for peace in the Middle East is slipping away. Reviving Turkish-Israeli relations will be even harder. The problem behind the Mavi Marmara confrontation, the appalling suffering of the people of Gaza continues unabated.

Friday, 28 January 2011

The Truth about Mavi Marmara.

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