This being the UN, it couldn’t bring itself to completely exonerate Israel otherwise heads would explode, and that makes a mess on the carpet.
(See UPDATE on Turkey’s reaction at the end of this post.
That being so, this is still an unusual UN document as far as Israel is concerned both for not condemning Israel – which is usually taken as a given where the UN is concerned – but also for actually agreeing with Israel that its blockade on Gaza is legal (see pages 76-103) The report also found in the IDF’s favour that it was well within its rights for its soldiers to defend themselves when under attack after boarding the flotilla, although they call the soldiers’ actions “excessive”.
Let’s go to the full report (be warned, it’s 105 pages), obtained in a sneak preview and written up in typically slanted terms by the New York Times. (A separate question to be answered: who in the UN is leaking news reports to the NYT?)
The main findings are issued in the summary, some of which I quote below. I have highlighted the points which exonerate Israel:
The Panel finds:
i. The events of 31 May 2010 should never have taken place as they did and strenuous efforts should be made to prevent the occurrence of such incidents in the future.
ii. The fundamental principle of the freedom of navigation on the high seas is subject to only certain limited exceptions under international law. Israel faces a real threat to its security from militant groups in Gaza. The naval blockade was imposed as a legitimate security measure in order to prevent weapons from entering Gaza by sea and its implementation complied with the requirements of international law.
iii. The flotilla was a non-governmental endeavour, involving vessels and participants from a number of countries.
iv. Although people are entitled to express their political views, the flotilla acted recklessly in attempting to breach the naval blockade. The majority of the flotilla participants had no violent intentions, but there exist serious questions about the conduct, true nature and objectives of the flotilla organizers, particularly IHH. The actions of the flotilla needlessly carried the potential for escalation.
v. The incident and its outcomes were not intended by either Turkey or Israel. Both States took steps in an attempt to ensure that events did not occur in a manner that endangered individuals’ lives and international peace and security. Turkish officials also approached the organizers of the flotilla with the intention of persuading them to change course if necessary and avoid an encounter with Israeli forces. But more could have been done to warn the flotilla participants of the potential risks involved and to dissuade them from their actions.
The following points irritate me because they do not accurately reflect the events, as reported by the Israeli investigation:
vi. Israel’s decision to board the vessels with such substantial force at a great distance from the blockade zone and with no final warning immediately prior to the boarding was excessive and unreasonable:
a. Non-violent options should have been used in the first instance. In particular, clear prior warning that the vessels were to be boarded and a demonstration of dissuading force should have been given to avoid the type of confrontation that occurred;
b. The operation should have reassessed its options when the resistance to the initial boarding attempt became apparent.
How can this panel say that Israel gave no prior warning? There are videos publicly available showing the IDF broadcasting warnings from loudspeakers. The soldiers rappelled down from helicopters. Wouldn’t the sound of a helicopter overhead be some sort of warning?
For a reminder of what happened in that raid, watch this video:
As to non-violent options being used initially, did the panel not see the videos and read the Israeli reports that the soldiers were equipped with paintball guns? Or are paintball guns considered lethal in the hands of IDF soldiers?
Regarding the operation having to reassess its options, that is exactly what the soldiers did, when they had to take recourse to real guns after being violently attacked.
The report then goes on to contradict itself somewhat, coming back to exonerate the soldiers, and yet once again, in the same breath condemning the IDF’s use of lethal actions in self-defence. Do these people have no knowledge of how an army works? Do they not understand that soldiers are trained to kill? And certainly when their lives are in danger. What did they think would happen when non-lethal means did not help, as they themselves report?
vii. Israeli Defense Forces personnel faced significant, organized and violent resistance from a group of passengers when they boarded the Mavi Marmara requiring them to use force for their own protection. Three soldiers were captured, mistreated, and placed at risk by those passengers. Several others were wounded.
viii. The loss of life and injuries resulting from the use of force by Israeli forces during the take-over of the Mavi Marmara was unacceptable. Nine passengers were killed and many others seriously wounded by Israeli forces. No satisfactory explanation has been provided to the Panel by Israel for any of the nine deaths. Forensic evidence showing that most of the deceased were shot multiple times, including in the back, or at close range has not been adequately accounted for in the material presented by Israel.
The last paragraph is pure comedy. Not one passenger was tortured, beaten, or imprisoned without charge. What timely consular assistance was supposed to be provided on the high seas? Read for yourselves:
ix. There was significant mistreatment of passengers by Israeli authorities after the take-over of the vessels had been completed through until their deportation. This included physical mistreatment, harassment and intimidation, unjustified confiscation of belongings and the denial of timely consular assistance.
The report also recommends (not demands) (page 74-75) that Israel apologize to Turkey and pay compensation:
The Panel recommends that:
An appropriate statement of regret should be made by Israel in respect of the incident in light of its consequences.
Israel should offer payment for the benefit of the deceased and injured victims and their families, to be administered by the two governments through a joint trust fund of a sufficient amount to be decided by them.
Turkey and Israel should resume full diplomatic relations, repairing their relationship in the interests of stability in the Middle East and international peace and security. The establishment of a political roundtable as a forum for exchanging views could assist to this end.
It must be noted that Israel has already offered to express regret to Turkey and offered compensation, but this generous offer was rejected outright by Turkey with a threatening ultimatum that Israel apologize “or else”.
At the time, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said it would be impossible for Turkish-Israeli ties to improve without an apology. Minister Davutoglu also addressed the issue in an earlier news conference, saying that “if the Palmer Report does not contain an apology, both sides and the United States know what we will do.”
Turkish officials already referred to “Plan B” and possible sanctions against Israel in the past, yet did not detail the measures they may adopt. However, according to information accumulated in Jerusalem, the Turkish plan may include the following steps:
- Downgrading Turkey’s diplomatic mission in Tel Aviv
- Rejection of the appointment of a new Israeli ambassador to Turkey
- An Erdogan visit to the Gaza Strip in September
- Full Turkish support for the Palestinian UN statehood bid, coupled with an effort to form a lobby and attempts to isolate Israel at all frameworks
- Granting legal assistance to the families of Turkish fatalities and the filing of lawsuits against Israel, including ones submitted to the International Criminal Court at The Hague
- Terminating the defense cooperation with Israel, a move that would include the annulment of joint exercises and defense industry projects
- Imposition of economic sanctions and the cutting back of investments in Israel. While Israeli businesspeople will be allowed to operate in Turkey, Ankara would refrain from taking steps to promote trade.
- Turkish newspaper Hurriyet recently reported that Ankara may adopt another step: Suspending all political and economic ties between the states. The same threat was voiced last year by Turkey’s ambassador to the United States
If Turkey intends to sever diplomatic relations, that is practically the situation reigning at the moment so I don’t see that much will change. This will also hurt Turkey at least as much as it hurts Israel. As to taking IDF soldiers to the ICC, since the Palmer report has largely exonerated Israel, I’m not sure what legal leg they would have to stand on.
An event signifying the shaky legal basis of a lawsuit against Israel has already occurred with Kuwait dropping a lawsuit against Israel for its actions against Kuwaiti members of the flotilla:
Kuwait has recently withdrawn a plan to file a lawsuit against Israel with the International Court of Justice over the arrest of Kuwaiti parliament members on board the Mavi Marmara last year, Yedioth Ahronoth reported Thursday.
The original lawsuit was filed in Kuwaiti by parliament member Dr. Waleed AlـTabtabaie who was among the passengers on board the Marmara. He sued the Israeli government for assault and humiliation by IDF troops who raided the ship.
According to Kuwaiti press reports, a legal opinion warned the justice ministry that Israel stands to win such a suit as the Mavi Marmara broke international law by entering Israel’s territorial waters without authorization.
Kuwait feared that losing the trial would result in her paying billions of dollars in compensation to Israel and therefore decided to scrap the lawsuit.
Thankfully PM Binyamin Netanyahu is standing strong and absolutely refusing to apologize to Turkey – which is exactly how it should be.
While Israel is aware of the implications of its decision to refrain from issuing an apology, “we cannot conduct ourselves based on ultimatums,” the official said.
Another senior official estimated in a talk with Ynet that while the Turkish government may take steps against Israel and not return its ambassador to Tel Aviv, Ankara will not be severing its ties with Jerusalem.
“The severing of ties goes against Turkey’s strategic interests,” he said. “They wish to engage in a policy of mediating between everyone.”
Ynet gets it pretty accurately when it titles its article “Palmer report fails in its objective to resolve Israel’s and Turkey’s differences”.
They also have an interesting little quote hidden all the way at the bottom:
Members of the Turkel Committee that was named by the government to probe the events of the raid, were overall satisfied with the Palmer Report, which they said concurred with most of their findings.
The committee, the sources added, would like to see the Israeli media “apologize for portraying us as a group of senile old men whose report was a rubber stamp. The media should say it’s sorry.”
I would add that the international media owes Israel a front-page double spread 6 inch high splash headline apologizing to Israel for their outrageous slanted slanderous reports on the deadly flotilla, accusing Israel of everything from human rights abuses to war crimes and everything in between.
I shall not hold my breath though because blue is not a colour that suits my face.
UDPATE: Well, that was fast. Turkey has expelled Israel’s Ambassador (its own ambassador to Israel was withdrawn after the flotilla raid) although it is not severing diplomatic ties with Israel.