Court to State: Why Are There No Women on Gaza Probe Panel?

High Court hints it may order inclusion of a woman on the Turkel committee, even at the expense of a sitting panel member.

The High Court of Justice on Wednesday instructed the state to review its stance regarding the inclusion of a woman in a commission investigating the Israel Defense Forces raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla in May, and issued a deadline of several hours to explain why there are no women sitting on the panel.

Judges Miriam Naor, Uzi Vogelman and Salim Joubran also hinted that they may order the inclusion of a woman on the panel, even at the expense of one of the men that currently make up the commission.

Nine activists were killed in the May 31 raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla, when violence erupted as Israel Navy commandos boarded the ship. Both Israel and the United Nations are conducting investigations into the incident.

Last week, a Supreme Court judge ordered Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the state and the Turkel Commission to expand the panel of the public inquiry to include a representative of the female population, as required by law.

The order came in response to a petition last month by the organizations "Women Lawyers for Social Justice" and "Women Power," following a government decision to expand the commission to include another two men. Before submitting the petition, "Women Lawyers for Social Justice" had requested in vain for the panel to include a woman.

Two days ago, the state told court that before the makeup of the panel had been decided, it had invited three women who are experts in international law to join, but each had refused. The state also claimed that it had subsequently tried to recruit women panel members once the commission had been formed, but was equally frustrated.

On one occasion, the attorney general had rejected the candidacy of Colonel (ret.) Penina Sharvit Baruch, who headed the international law section of the military prosecutor's office, on the grounds that she had been head of the department while some of the decisions to be examined by the panel had been made.