The Public Commission for Examining the Naval Incident of May 31, 2010, otherwise known as the Turkel Commission, is due on Sunday to release the first part of its report on the Israeli naval commando interception of the Turkish vessel Mavi Marmara, in which nine Turkish citizens were killed.
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According to the commission's spokesman, part one of the report will address the following issues put to it by the government:
·Whether or not the naval blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip by Israel conformed with the rules of international law
·An assessment of the actions taken by the IDF to enforce the naval blockade
·An examination of the actions taken by the organizers of the flotilla and its participants and their identity
The Turkel Commission was established in accordance with a government decision on June 14, 2010.
The decision came in response to world-wide demands for an international
investigation into the May 31 incident and the events leading up to it.
In order to deflect these demands, Israel, with US agreement, agreed to
conduct its own, government-appointed probe.
Retired Supreme Court Justice Yaakov Turkel was appointed to head the
panel. The other members were international law expert Shabtai Rosenne
and Maj.-Gen. (Ret.) Amos Horev. The government also appointed two
international observers, Lord David Trimble of Ireland and Brig.-Gen.
(Ret.) Kenneth Watkin of Canada. They had permission to fully
participate in the proceedings of the commission but were not given the
right to vote.
Later, at Turkel's insistence, two more members were appointed to the
panel, Tel Aviv University law professor Miguel Deutch and retired
Foreign Ministry director-general Reuven Merhav.
Rosenne, who was 93 years old, died on September 21, 2010 in the middle of the hearings and was not replaced.
Soon after the commission was established, Turkel demanded the right to
subpoena witnesses to appear before it. The government granted it that
power. However, it was understood that the commission would not question
any soldiers involved in the operation. For the purposes of the
investigation, the soldiers were represented by Chief-of-General Staff
Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and Maj.-Gen. Giora Eiland, who conducted a
probe of the military aspects of the operation.
The members of the commission were permitted to submit questions to
individual soldiers who participated in the operation to a military
committee which was empowered to approach the soldiers directly.
The commission held most of its hearings in public, but frequently
continued questioning the witnesses behind closed doors after the open
The list of witnesses who testified before it included Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Ashkenazi, Military
Advocate-General Avihai Mandelblitt, Foreign Ministry director-general
Yossi Gal, representatives of human rights organizations including
Physicians for Human Rights and Gisha Legal Center for Freedom of
Movement, MK Haneen Zoabi (National Democratic Assembly Party), who was a
passenger on the Mavi Marmara
, and Muhammad Zeidan, head of the southern branch of the Islamic Movement, who was also on board the vessel.
It is almost certain that the committee will uphold the legality of
Israel's naval blockade and its right to board the vessel in order to
prevent it from reaching the Gaza Strip. At least two of the committee
members, Horev and Merhav, openly defended Israel's actions during its
questioning of some of witnesses, particularly the Israeli Arabs and the
human rights representatives.
It is possible, however, that the committee will be more critical of the
decision-making process in the government and the IDF, and, perhaps the
conduct of the operation itself which led to so many casualties.
The committee will issue a second report at a later, unspecified date.
According to the government's original instructions, this report will
deal with the question of "whether the mechanism for examining and
investigating complaints and claims raised in relation to violations of
the laws of armed conflict, as conducted in Israel generally and as
implemented with regard to the present incident, conform with the
obligations of the State of Israel under the rules of international
At least two other international investigations of the flotilla affair
were established by UN agencies. Israel rejected the report by the UN
Human Rights Council which, not surprisingly, condemned Israel for the
blockade and the naval interception. The second was established by the
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and included an Israeli representative,