Two days away from the restart of Turkey’s trial on Thursday in absentia of top Israeli military commanders regarding the May 2010 Marvi Marmara flotilla incident, The Jerusalem Post recently spoke to a top government legal official who said that the entire process is “political, not really judicial. It looks judicial, but it’s really not.”

The first set of hearings for the trial of four former Israeli military commanders, charged with the deaths of nine Turks aboard the Mavi Marmara, started in November 2012, but recessed after a few days.

The commanders charged are former chief of staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi, former OC Navy V.-Adm. (res.) Eliezer Marom, former OC Military Intelligence Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin and former Air Force Intelligence chief Brig.-Gen. (res.) Avishai Levy.

The 144-page indictment in the case seeks more than 18,000 years of life sentences in a trial expecting around 490 witnesses.

Speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue, the official asked, “What does Turkey want with this? Maybe they’re waiting to [see] what the next government looks like.”

The government to date has boycotted the proceedings, referring to the trial as a “kangaroo court.” But Israel has faced biased audiences before and has found ways to indirectly present its point of view, such as when former Israeli government officials presented what would have been many of Israel’s arguments to the UN’s Goldstone Commission that investigated the 2008-2009 Gaza War, even though the government itself boycotted the hearings.

Asked if any similar behind the scenes efforts were under way, the official demurred, saying “this is nothing like Goldstone. The case is not against a state, it’s against four individuals,” implying that it was not even clear what kind of standing Israel as a country would have had to appear before the Turkish court.

The official said that the decision not to attempt even behind the scenes presenting of Israel’s position was made in light of an estimation that “I don’t think the Turkish judge will go against the Turkish government’s” agenda of harming Israel’s image – “there is no chance,” he said.

He also said, “I don’t think any legal arguments could impact the process, because it is not a judicial process at all. The trial is being used for cynical political processes.”

What objective factors brought the official to these conclusions? The official said the court was completely ignoring the neutral and authoritative UN-sponsored Palmer Report on the incident, which held that Israel’s blockade was legal under international law and that to the extent that there were Israeli violations of the law of armed conflict in the altercations on the vessel, their severity was mitigated by the context of the Israel Navy sailors being under attack.

The “judge can look at the Palmer Report which is not like the actions discussed in the trial,” the official said.

He said unlike the Turkish trial, the Palmer Report makes no mention of “murder” allegations, at most describing certain actions as “mistakes” and problematic “planning issues in the context of self-defense.”

The official said that Israel was not afraid of defending itself in cases in countries where it believed it had a shot at a fair trial and that to date “no universal jurisdiction case has gotten past the first round of procedures” to go to trial.

Ties between Jerusalem and what was once its only Muslim ally crumbled after the incident, in which some of the sailors who tried to commandeer the ship were wounded in clashes with those on board that left nine of the passengers dead.

Turkish media reports and various Twitter accounts of the case in November indicated that the witnesses included statements from the families of the nine dead passengers and people from other ships in the protest flotilla as well as surviving activists from the Mavi Marmara.

Ahmed Dogan – the father of 19- year-old Furkan Dogan, the youngest of the dead passengers – said he saw evidence showing that his son had been “shot in the face,” according to the reports.

Mary Ann Wright, a 65-year-old former US Army colonel who was aboard the nearby Challenger 1 ship, testified about the scale of the military force involved in stopping the flotilla as well as the sailors’ conduct vis-a-vis the firing of paintballs and tossing of stun grenades.

According to the reports, Wright said she believed that such a force could only have been meant to attack.

The reports could not be confirmed and no Israeli officials are present at the trial to make objections or cross-examine the witnesses.

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