PARIS - Most of the 33 British passengers on May's aid flotilla to Gaza have asked to give oral testimony to Turkel committee investigating the botched IDF raid on the ships, a lawyer acting on their behalf said yesterday. The group say they are resisting what they see as efforts by the commission to belittle their evidence by having them submit only very basic information about their experiences.
According to Daniel Machover, who is representing 29 of the passengers, the Foreign Ministry approached the British Foreign Office last Thursday and gave them a four day deadline, over the weekend, to gather very basic information on the passengers to be passed on to the commission.
Machover said the passengers see the rushed request as a "calculated snub ... not a genuine effort to welcome their evidence."
The passengers requested to give oral evidence to the commission - but only on several conditions that they laid out in a letter to the commission this week.
The conditions include that all those who wish to testify are able to do so, and that their testimony is public and, if done in Israel, that their travel, living and legal expenses are paid by Israel in full, among other demands.
If the commission refuses these conditions, Machover says "it will be clear that [they] have no real interest in receiving the evidence of the passengers and the sooner the International Criminal Court begins its investigations and considers bringing criminal charges ... the better."
A source close to the Turkel panel said yesterday that the commission is conducting an investigation with a clear mandate, and it will call on those it deems to have testimony useful to achieve its goals. The commission does not work on the basis that whomever wants to testify can, he stressed.
"We are not interested in simply providing the stage for people to sit on and say 'We have come to release Gaza.' This does not further our mission," he said.
According to the source, the commission received a letter from then-British ambassador to Israel Tom Phillips in July, saying that several of the British passengers wanted to give evidence and offering a list of those making the request.
This letter was filed, and the commission turned to the British Foreign Office to help it track down those passengers once the panel was ready to deal with them.
There was no deadline and no timetable set, the source said - the commission is simply gathering preliminary information.