High Court Open to Widening Scope of Gaza Flotilla Probe

The Turkel committee, which currently has a limited mandate, may be able to subpoena naval commanders and IDF officers who planned botched May 31 raid that left nine dead.

The High Court of Justice on Monday opened the door to expanding the authority of the Turkel Commission investigating Israel's botched raid of a Gaza-bound aid flotilla.

Turkel committee

The five-member panel was was appointed by the cabinet in June to investigate the naval raid - which resulted in the deaths of nine Turkish pro-Palestinian activists aboard the Mavi Marmara - and its adherence to international law.

The panel currently has a limited mandate. It is only supposed to determine whether Israel's efforts to stop the flotilla from reaching Gaza accorded with international law, and whether the soldiers' use of force was proportionate. It has no power to subpoena witnesses and cannot draw personal conclusions against those involved in the raid.

Turkel, however, wants to turn it into a full-fledged governmental inquiry committee with real teeth. That would allow it to subpoena witnesses and documents, warn those who testify before it that the panel's findings could harm them, and hire outside experts in relevant fields.

At the hearing Monday to address a petition against the committee's limited authority, the justices said the court would consider widening the panel's mandate if its members seek to probe persons or events outside of their jurisdiction, including Israel Defense Forces soldiers.

Uri Avnery, a veteran Israeli peace activist and founder of the Gush Shalom peace movement, which petitioned the High Court, called Monday's ruling a victory, as it opens the door to questioning military commanders of the raid.

Avnery said the ruling will allow the committee to at least probe Israel's naval commanders and the team responsible for planning the May 31 raid.

The Prime Minister's Office said in a press statement on June 29 that it sees no reason why Turkel's demand for greater investigative powers could not be met. But it stressed that these expanded powers would not include the right to question soldiers.