Israeli forces approaching Gaza flotilla
Israel Navy forces approaching one of six ships of an aid flotilla bound for Gaza, May 31, 2010. Photo by Reuters
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If former Supreme Court justice Jacob Turkel indeed resigns from the panel he heads, which is investigating the raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla, he will be taking a step necessitated by both the committee's lack of investigatory powers to conduct a serious probe and its limited mandate. As things stand now, the committee is barred from examining the government's preparations for the flotilla's arrival.

Turkel is an honest, decent man who took the assignment in the belief that he would be allowed to do what needed to be done. But he quickly discovered what he should have known in advance: A panel with a limited mandate and no authority to subpoena witnesses, which is at the mercy of officials' willingness to appear before it, cannot do its job properly.

In his rulings, Turkel repeatedly stressed the need for "our camp to be pure." But the restrictions the government imposed on his panel does not attest to a genuine desire to get to the bottom of what happened.

Turkel presumably knows that other prominent retired Supreme Court justices like Meir Shamgar and Aharon Barak would have refused to head a panel without authority. By agreeing to head the committee even in its present format, he excluded himself from the prestigious club of other former justices who were not willing to serve as fig leaves for the government.

In 1982, the government proposed that then-president of the Supreme Court Yitzhak Kahan head an investigatory panel with no real power into a massacre of Palestinians by Lebanese Christian militiamen in two Beirut refugee camps during Israel's invasion of Lebanon. Kahan refused. And the government, under pressure of both this decision and public demonstrations, was forced to set up a state commission of inquiry with full investigative powers, including the power to subpoena witnesses and documents. Kahan then headed that commission.

And when then-prime minister Ehud Olmert opted for a governmental inquiry committee into the Second Lebanon War rather than a state commission of inquiry, he nevertheless gave it the same investigatory powers that a state commission enjoys.

Turkel wants his panel to be reconstituted as a governmental inquiry committee like the one into the Second Lebanon War, with full investigative powers. That would also be an opportunity to add members with expertise in relevant fields.

Currently, the Turkel Committee is crippled, dependent entirely on the government's goodwill. Such a panel does no honor to its members.