FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, January 24, 2011
The Free Gaza Movement thanks the Turkel Commission for its report, which proves that Israel cannot conduct a credible investigation into the attack on the Freedom Flotilla, and therefore opens options to bring the issue to the International Criminal Court. Contrary to the objective findings of the UN Human Rights Council Fact-Finding Mission Report on the attack, the Israeli investigation found the medieval blockade Israel has imposed on Gaza legal and the deadly Israeli military attack on a civilian aid convoy justified.
"None of this is surprising" said Huwaida Arraf, chair of Free Gaza and one of the passengers on board the Challenger 1, herself the victim of a vicious beating by the commandos on that tragic morning. "You don’t ask criminals to investigate themselves and expect a fair outcome."
The whitewash was a foregone conclusion, as the Commission was not independent or impartial. The members of the committee were appointed by the Israeli government after being carefully selected by the Prime Minister; the two international observers to the committee are on record with statements that indicate their pro-Israeli political bias; and two members, retired Major General Amos Horev and retired Foreign Ministry director-general Reuven Merhav, openly defended Israel's actions during questioning of the Palestinian witnesses and Israeli human rights organizations.
Furthermore, the Commission did not have the mandate or power to conduct a full investigation. It was not permitted to question any of the soldiers involved in the operation. Their information came from military commanders, represented by Chief-of-General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and Maj.-Gen. Giora Eiland, who had already conducted their own whitewash of the military aspects of the operation. Passengers, who were asked to submit written testimony, refused to participate in this charade, with the exception of the Palestinian citizens or Israel, who had no choice and were forced to testify. The Freedom Flotilla was a legal and moral response to Israel's illegal blockade. Israel's blockade of Gaza is illegal for a number of reasons:
• it is collective punishment of a civilian population in violation of article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and the domestic laws of most nations;
• Gaza remains occupied territory as Israel controls its land, sea and air routes, and as the occupying power, Israel is obliged under International Humanitarian Law to ensure - not prevent – delivery of food, medicine, hospital supplies and other items necessary to meet the needs of the Palestinian population of Gaza;
• it inflicts a disproportionate effect on the civilian population;
• a blockade is an act of war and an occupier cannot declare war on territory that it occupies.
The Turkel Commission’s claim that there is no evidence Israel was trying to deny Gazans from receiving foodstuffs is directly contradicted by government information made public by the Israeli NGO Gisha. Documents Israel was forced to release show that Israeli officials determine the amount of humanitarian aid allowed into Gaza by criteria that have little to do with security, less to do with the need in Gaza and everything to do with public relations and trying to manipulate the captive population. The information revealed a "policy of deliberate reduction” and denial of “luxury” items which included chocolate, paper and thousands of other items. A recent Wikileaks cable proved that the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is calculated: “Israeli officials confirmed to US embassy economic officers on multiple occasions that they intend to keep the Gaza economy on the brink of collapse…"
As confirmed by the UN Report, the Freedom Flotilla did not present an imminent threat to Israel, and therefore intercepting it could not be justified as self-defense and was illegal. The Commission’s finding that “IHH members used firearms against the soldiers during the incident" is entirely unsubstantiated and an outright lie.
The Turkel Commission’s report flies in the face of the demand by the United Nations, the International Red Cross (ICRC), the European Union and all major human rights organizations, all of whom have called for Israel to end the siege. It ignores evidence that a number of the civilians killed were shot execution style, and it attempts to make international law subservient to Israeli military diktats to absolve Israel of any responsibility for its actions.
In light of Israel’s ongoing crimes and impunity, civil society must step into action pursuing civil and legal actions to hold Israel accountable. Free Gaza will sail again this spring, bigger, better and stronger, with the participation of groups from Ireland, Norway, Belgium, Switzerland, Greece, Sweden, the U.S., Canada, Turkey, and many other countries and organizations around the world.
Huwaida Arraf, +1-202-294-8813
Greta Berlin +1-310-422-7242
Audrey Bomse +44- 786 156 0932