Israel's Probe of Gaza Flotilla Is Preaching to the Choir

The Turkel Committee concluded that Israel acted in line with international law, but it is hard to believe the international community will accept it.

The events of 31 May 2010 are, at best, a foggy memory for most Israeli citizens. Today, nearly eight months after they took place, the Turkel committee dismissed all charges against the state on the international arena following the violent takeover of the Mavi Marmara. The committee met the expectations. The prime minister and the defense minister were careful, both in the selection of the members of the committee, and also in limiting the authority of the committee (it was not a public commission of inquiry).

Retired judge 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 encountered severe violence as they rappelled onto the ship, reacted proportionately to the life threatening situation they encountered. Essentially, what we wanted to prove in the first place.

Former Supreme Court justice Jacob Turkel
Emil Salman

This does not mean that Turkel is wrong in his conclusions. There is logic in Israel's argument that it has ceased being effectively in control in the Gaza Strip following the 2005 disengagement. There is also no dispute over the fact that Hamas had stepped up its attacks in Israel after the disengagement. So long as Israel was not trying to starve the population of Gaza, enforcing a naval blockade is a legitimate act considering the extensive efforts of the Palestinians to smuggle weapons into the coastal enclave.

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 the commandos had raided the ship in order to massacre the passengers on deck. The committee's conclusion that the use of force by the soldiers was justified in 127 or the 133 cases during the take over (in the remaining six it concluded that it lacked sufficient data) appears to be correct under the circumstances. But the Turkel Committee was established mostly for external use, and even if the UN gives some weight to the committee's findings, it is hard to believe that the international community will accept the probe's conclusion: We have probed ourselves, and it turns out we were excellent, just as we thought.

The first part of the report, which deals with the legal issue, does not address the policies of the Netanyahu and Olmert government in depth. Why, for example, if there was a need to implement such a tight siege on Gaza, did the government start easing the blockade only several weeks after the flotilla raid, lifting most restrictions on importing goods into the Strip?

Only toward the end did Turkel voice any criticism, during the presentation of the report, and that too was very moderate. He spoke of the lack of early intelligence on the violence resistance planned by the Turkish passengers on the ship, and indirectly on the planning that resulted from such lack of intelligence.

A report by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss on the same subject is due in a few months, and is expected to be a great deal more critical, but also to deal with different issues. The Comptroller will deal on the way the political and military leadership conducted themselves, and the performance of the public relations campaign.

Meanwhile, Turkel and Lindenstrauss have other, more urgent things to answer to. While Turkel was busy reading out the committee's conclusions, at the State Comptroller's office, the hearing of Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant was taking place. In this matter, on the conduct of the second Turkel Committee (which evaluated Galant's appointment to be the 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 appointments committee did not probe too far into. It may be that the respected judge is truly what in the generation of his grandchildren is known as a multi-tasker. Still, it seems that the load of assignments that Turkel had to deal with simultaneously left him too little time to deal with the second affair, which dragged Galant and the country into a last minute complication, which still endangers the appointment of the Chief of Staff in precisely three weeks.