The events of May 31, 2010 are, at best, a foggy memory for most Israelis. Yesterday, nearly eight months since the violent takeover of the Mavi Marmara, the Turkel committee dismissed all charges against the state in the international arena. The committee met expectations. The prime minister and defense minister were careful both in selecting the committee's members and in limiting the committee's authority. (It was not a state commission of inquiry. )
Retired judge Jacob Turkel offered three main conclusions: The naval blockade on the Gaza Strip is legitimate; the use of naval commandos to stop the aid flotilla in open seas was in line with international law; and the soldiers, who faced severe violence as they rappelled onto the ship, reacted in proportion to the threat to their lives. Basically, it's what we wanted to prove in the first place.
This doesn't mean Turkel is wrong in his conclusions. There is logic in Israel's argument that it has lost effective control over Gaza since the 2005 disengagement. There is also no disputing that Hamas stepped up its attacks on the Negev after the pullout. As long as Israel was not trying to starve the population of Gaza, enforcing a naval blockade was a legitimate act considering the Palestinians' extensive efforts to smuggle in weapons.
The problem is that the committee, despite including two respected foreign observers, will convince mostly those who are already convinced. After all, very few Israelis suspected that the commandos had raided the ship to massacre the passengers. The committee's conclusion that the use of force was justified in 127 of the 133 cases during the takeover (in the remaining six it cited a lack of sufficient data ) appears to be correct under the circumstances.
But the Turkel committee was established mostly for external consumption, and even if the United Nations gives some weight to the panel's findings, it's hard to believe that the international community will accept them as is.
The first part of the report, which deals with legal aspects, does not address in depth the policies of the Netanyahu and Olmert governments. Why, for example, if there was a need for such a tight siege on Gaza, did the government go back and forth and several weeks after the flotilla lift most restrictions on importing goods into the Strip?
Only toward the end of his presentation of the report did Turkel voice any criticism, and that was very moderate. He spoke about a lack of early intelligence on the violent resistance planned by the Turkish passengers, and indirectly about the planning that stemmed from such a lack of intelligence.
A report by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss on the same subject is due out in a few months and is expected to be much more critical. But it will deal with different issues. The comptroller will address the political and military leaders' conduct and the performance of the public relations campaign.
Meanwhile, Turkel and Lindenstrauss have more urgent things to do. While Turkel was busy reading out the committee's conclusions, Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant's hearing was taking place at the State Comptroller's Office. In this matter, the second Turkel Committee, which is evaluating Galant's appointment as next chief of staff, no medals will be handed out.
The state comptroller's report on Galant's land affair at Moshav Amikam stemmed from a complaint by MK Michael Eitan (Likud ), who looked into things the appointment committee did not probe in much depth. It may be that the respected judge is truly what his grandchildren's generation calls a multitasker.
Still, it seems Turkel's load of assignments left him too little time to worry about the second affair, which dragged Galant and the country into a last-minute complication that still threatens the chief of staff's appointment, due in exactly three weeks.
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