Israel’s independent investigation into the May 31, 2010 interception of a Turkish-backed flotilla trying to break the maritime blockade of the Gaza Strip concluded on Sunday that both Israel’s action against the flotilla and the blockade itself were legal under international law.
Headed by retired Supreme Court judge Jacob Turkel, the investigative committee found that “the naval blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip – in view of the security circumstances and Israel’s efforts to comply with its humanitarian obligations – was legal pursuant to the rules of international law.”
As such, Israel had the right to enforce that naval blockade, just as other nations have imposed naval blockades in international waters in the past (think Britain during World War II and the US during the Cuban missile crisis).
In line with its legal rights, the Israeli navy intercepted a flotilla of six vessels sailing under the banner of the Free Gaza Movement on May 31 of last year as it neared the Gaza Strip, ostensibly to deliver humanitarian aid. Organizers later admitted that the real purpose was as a publicity stunt to further smear Israel.
While the other vessels all surrendered peacefully to the Israeli boarding parties, the passengers aboard the largest ship, the Mavi Marmara, ambushed and violently attacked the Israelis. Three soldiers were actually abducted and held below deck for a period of time.
The Israelis responded with non-lethal and live small arms fire, ultimately killing nine of their attackers, all of them members of the IHH, a terrorist-linked Turkish organization that had sponsored the flotilla.
Regarding the response by the Israeli commandoes, the Turkel Committee concluded that “the actions taken were found to be legal pursuant to the rules of international law.”
The committee even noted that the Israelis repeated switched between non-lethal and lethal force depending on the level of threat to themselves, proving that they were not determined to kill the activists, as Israel’s detractors have claimed.
Predictably, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the findings, insisting that they had “no value or credibility.” Erdogan has led the international charge against Israel in the wake of the flotilla raid (just as he did following the most recent Gaza war) and accused Israel of piracy on the high seas.
But Erdogan was left looking rather foolish when the highly respected international observers who were deeply involved in the investigation gave their stamp of approval to its methods and findings.
“We are satisfied that we had access to all the material before the Commission and we were fully involved by the Commission in all its work,” wrote former First Minister of Northern Ireland and Nobel laureate David Trimble and retired Canadian general Kenneth Watkin.
Trimble and Watkin further noted “that the Commission made repeated efforts to hear both sides,” and that they “have no doubt that the Commission is independent.”
The Turkel Committee took over seven months to meticulously collect and process testimony and other data. By comparison, Erdogan commissioned a Turkish investigation into the incident that took a mere three weeks and concluded by accusing Israel of state terrorism.
Also by way of comparison, the Turkel Committee investigation was completely transparent, having set up a public website where all milestones and findings were published and by holding regular press conferences. The Turkish investigation was held behind closed doors.
Israel now waits to see if UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will accept the findings of the Turkel Committee.