Israel's Gaza Flotilla Probe: IDF Soldiers Acted in Self-defense

First part of Turkel Commission report finds that Israel's naval blockade of Gaza does not break international law.

Israeli soldiers who took part in a raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla last May which resulted in the deaths of nine people had acted in self-defense, according to the first part of a report by an Israeli panel of inquiry into the incident, which was released Sunday.

Turkel - Tomer Appelbaum - 23.1.2011
Tomer Appelbaum

The Turkel Commission also determined that Israel's three-and-a-half year blockade of the Gaza Strip does not break international law.

The first part of the report focuses on the legality of the blockade on Gaza and of Israeli efforts to enforce the it, including the raid on the six-ship flotilla. It will also analyze the identity and goals of the flotilla's organizers and passengers.

Israeli naval commanders boarded the Mavi Marmara, the flagship of the Turkish-sponsored Gaza-bound aid flotilla, on May 31, 2010. The activists on board the boat resisted, and nine people were killed. The commission determined that the incident did not constitute an offence against international law as there were clear indications that the flotilla intended to break the naval blockade.

The report also determined that Israel had been in compliance with the formal conditions of enforcing a naval blockade on the Gaza Strip, adding that Israel had also complied with the humanitarian conditions for such a blockade.

Gaza flotilla - AP - 31.5.2010

However, the report was critical of Israel's land blockade of the coastal enclave, calling  on Israel to "examine of the medical needs of the people of Gaza in order to find ways to improve the current situation."

The commission also urged the Israeli government to examine ways to "focus its sanctions on Hamas while avoiding harm against the civilian population."

During the time of the panel's work, the report says, many Turkish witnesses were asked to speak before the commission, including the crew of the Mavi Marmara, and IHH leader Bolent Yeldrom. None of the panel's invitations were answered, the panel said.

In one case, the report went on to say, U.K. citizens who had taken part of the flotilla expressed their interest to testify before the commission. An arrangement was then made, through the British government, that those individuals testify through video conference, but the U.K. civilians refused the offer.

The panel's two foreign observers, Brig. Gen. Ken Watkin of Canada and Lord David Trimble of Northern Ireland, have both signed off on the report's conclusions.

Simultaneously, an English translation of the 300-page document will be submitted to the UN panel that is probing the incident. That panel, chaired by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer, includes both Israeli and Turkish representatives.

The report's second part, to be submitted in another few months, will discuss Israel's mechanisms for investigating suspected violations of international law, as well as the government decision-making process ahead of the raid.

Turkey has already submitted its report on the raid to the UN panel, blaming the incident, entirely on Israel. Israel has long argued that its soldiers fired in self-defense after being brutally attacked by the passengers, but the UN panel has been awaiting the Turkel Committee's report before drawing any conclusions of its own.