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FreeGaza Movement

Human rights group that sailed 5 times into port of Gaza.

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By Col. Ann Wright, Free Gaza Board Member

Representatives of the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH), the Turkish nongovernmental organization that coordinated the passengers on the ship Mavi Marmara that was part of the 2010 Gaza Freedom Flotilla, say that families of the nine passengers killed by Israeli commandos have rejected the country’s recent apology.

The eight Turkish citizens and one American were killed during a nonviolent mission to challenge the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza, and the families do not consider either an Israeli government apology or the offer of compensation for the death of their loved ones a fulfillment of their mission.

The IHH personnel also announced in the wake of the apology that an indictment filed in the Istanbul High Criminal Court on May 29, 2012, against four senior Israeli government military and intelligence officials will proceed. The four defendants—the former chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, the Israeli navy commander, the Israeli air force intelligence director and the head of the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate—face charges including willful killing, plundering and seizing maritime vessels.

A political apology by the Israeli government to the Turkish one cannot stop the legal process under way in the Turkish courts, IHH staffers say. Turkey’s president can’t order his nation’s courts to drop the case, and to do so would be a violation of its laws.

The first criminal complaint concerning the Israeli attack that left the nine dead was filed in October 2010 at the International Criminal Court. Although President Obama recently cajoled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to apologize to the Turkish government for the deaths of its citizens, he apparently did not ask for a public apology regarding the death of the U.S. one, 19-year-old Furkan Dogan. Nor did the president authorize a U.S. government investigation into the death of Dogan; instead, the Obama administration said in 2010 that it had confidence in the inquiry conducted by Israel, a probe that revealed nearly three years later that there were “operational mistakes” in the conduct of the raid on the six ships of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla.

Obama is alleged to have known that Dogan was executed at close range by Israeli commandos. Shortly after the Gaza flotilla raid, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan reportedly showed him photos taken in the Istanbul morgue of Dogan’s body with bullet wounds to the head. Israeli commandos are said to have shot Dogan five times at close range. Obama reportedly turned away from the photo that showed the bullet wound to Dogan’s face.

Now, nearly three years later, we know from a U.S. government document obtained by the Center for Constitutional Rights through a Freedom of Information Act request that the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv were in frequent contact with the Israeli government concerning the flotilla before, during and after the raid.

“Upon learning that American citizens (‘Amcits’) would participate in the May 2010 flotilla, several State Department officials expressed concerns that the Americans may be harmed or at least detained by Israeli forces. However, no records have been released reflecting any high level discussions that may have occurred on the need to protect the lives of participants or encouraging opening the flow of aid and commerce into Gaza,” the document says. “To the contrary, despite having been informed by organizers of the non-violent humanitarian purpose of their mission, released records point to a pattern of U.S. officials blaming flotilla participants for ‘putting themselves in danger’ rather than working to reduce the risk of such danger from an Israeli attack.”

In addition to the apology, Israel also offered compensation to the families of those killed in the attack. IHH representatives say Israel’s offer of compensation does not extend to those who were wounded by the commandos. One passenger, for example, has been in a coma for almost three years, while many other passengers who were seriously wounded continue to suffer from their injuries. Not all of the wounded are from Turkey, and, as the IHH pointed out, no Israeli apology has been made to them or their governments.

To some, an Israeli apology is remarkable as they believe the country has almost never said it was sorry for any of its actions. And they would say that an apology and an acknowledgement of “operational mistakes” are better than silence from the nation’s government.

However, passengers on the flotilla did not go on the voyage to Gaza for their own gratification: They went to bring attention to the plight of Palestinians. When Palestinians are routinely killed in the West Bank and Gaza by the IDF, when Palestinians are subjected to inhumane checkpoints and apartheid walls, when the blockade of Gaza continues and when Israel attacks Gaza as it did in 2009, leaving 1,400 Palestinians dead, and in 2012, killing more than 300 Palestinians, then something beyond an apology is required.

If it had been any other country in the world that had committed these acts, the U.S. would have withdrawn military and economic aid; instead, the Israeli government was pressured to issue an apology.

That’s not right, and nearly everyone else in the world, except the American government, knows it.

International citizen activists will continue to challenge the inhumane Israeli actions toward Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem.The next challenge of the naval blockade will be Gaza’s Ark, which will attempt to break the Israeli quarantine by carrying export products from Gaza out by boat.