turkey - Reuters - December 27 2010
Pro-Palestinian activists welcoming the Mavi Marmara to Istanbul yesterday with Turkish and Palestinian flags. Photo by Reuters
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The Israel Defense Forces should no longer be the only body to investigate its own conduct when it is charged with ostensible war crimes or various human rights violations, especially against Palestinians. That is expected to be the main conclusion of the Turkel Committee, which is likely to recommend significantly augmenting civilian review of IDF probes.

The committee was formed to investigate Israel's actions in intercepting the flotilla to Gaza in May 2010. The report, the second part of the Turkel Committee's recommendations, is to be submitted to the prime minister and made public in the coming weeks.

Its main recommendation is that the attorney general should more closely supervise the Military Advocate General and the Shin Bet security service regarding investigations of complaints.

The report is expected to be precedent-setting and garner major interest both in Israel and abroad.

On May 31, 2010, Israeli naval commandos took over a Turkish flotilla making its way to the Gaza Strip. Nine Turkish civilians were killed by commando fire during the takeover of the Mavi Marmara. The nine were members of the IHH, the Humanitarian Relief Foundation, a Turkish Islamic NGO.

Part 1 of the Turkel Committee's report, submitted on January 23, 2011, determined that Israel's takeover of the flotilla had been legal in terms of international law, but criticized the IDF's preparation in advance of the arrival of flotilla as well as the operation itself.

Over the past 18 months, the committee has labored over Part 2 of its report. The dry title: "Examination of the Israeli mechanisms for examining and investigating allegations of violations of the laws of armed conflict - 'the investigation policy,'" hides scathing criticism of the conduct of the IDF, the Shin Bet, the police and the Israel Prison Service, and recommends overhauling the way in which investigations of these bodies are conducted.

The committee heard testimony by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, the previous military advocate general Maj. Gen. Avichai Mandelblit, former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin, the Shin Bet's legal adviser, as well as academic legal experts such as Prof. Eyal Benvenisti, Michael Sfard of the human rights group Yesh Din and other human rights groups.

The Turkel Committee is expected to recommend significantly augmenting civilian review of IDF probes with regard to Palestinian complaints. The committee discussed the establishment of a department of international law in the Justice Ministry that would answer to the attorney general and supervise both the Military Advocate General and the Military Police. The Turkel Committee is to recommend that the attorney general be granted the power to change decisions by the Military Advocate General with regard to complaints by Palestinians. One chapter of the report, compiled with the assistance of international legal experts, will summarize the way international law deals with investigations of war crimes in order to determine in principle when criminal investigations should be launched in such cases.

The report will also review how investigations are currently handled of ostensible war crimes by the IDF, the Shin Bet, the police and the Prison Service. To do so, the committee sought information on more than 60 cases in which Palestinian non-combatants were injured or killed, as well as complaints filed after the 2010 flotilla.

"The security establishment is taking the report very seriously. Even while the work was underway, we saw changes in methods and procedures in the Military Advocate General and the Shin Bet," the committee's coordinator, attorney Hoshea Gottlieb, said.

Another chapter scrutinizes the IDF's investigation of the 2010 flotilla. That probe, which was headed by Maj. Gen. Giora Eiland, found fault with the conduct of the navy, intelligence and the General Staff before and during the flotilla's arrival. The Turkel probe is expected to criticize Eiland's report and IDF investigations in general.

Despite the harsh criticisms and recommendations of the report, which will be read with great interest by legal and human rights experts in Israel and abroad, the government and the security establishment are expected to accept it. Not to do so would mean serious damage to the credibility of enforcement agencies and to Israel in general.