Terkel panel begins flotilla probe

Both foreign observers arrive in Israel to monitor c'tee meetings.

June 28, 2010 04:48
3 minute read.
Flotilla Committee

Flotilla Committee 311. (photo credit: Moshe Milner)

The Terkel Committee, established to examine the events surrounding the takeover of an international flotilla carrying humanitarian goods to the Gaza Strip, is due on Monday to hold its first public meeting.

The session will be a technical one dealing with the agenda and legal procedures, committee spokesman Ofer Lefler told reporters.

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Both foreign observers appointed by Israel to monitor the meetings, David Trimble and Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Ken Watkin, have already arrived in the country.

The members of the committee are former Supreme Court justice Ya’acov Terkel, the committee chairman; military expert Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Amos Horev; and legal expert Prof. Shabtai Rosenne.

The committee, officially known as the independent Public Commission to Examine the Maritime Incident of May 31, 2010, was established by the cabinet on June 14.

Its mandate is to “examine the aspects… relating to the actions taken by the State of Israel to prevent vessels from reaching the coast of the Gaza Strip on May 31.” During the takeover of the largest vessel in the flotilla, the Mavi Marmara, nine Turkish passengers were killed and dozens wounded. Seven Israeli soldiers were also wounded.

The specific topics to be examined by the committee include the security circumstances leading to the imposition of the Israeli sea blockade on Gaza and the conformity of the blockade to the rules of international law. The committee will also investigate the legality of the actions taken by the navy on May 31 to prevent the flotilla from reaching Gaza and an investigation of the actions taken by the flotilla organizers.

Terkel and Trimble are due to make speeches at Monday’s opening public session.

According to Lefler, the meetings, which are to be held at the Yitzhak Rabin Guest House in Jerusalem’s Givat Ram neighborhood, are to be open to the public and the media.

Meanwhile, the government said that the main purpose for the establishment of the committee was “to examine claims and aspects that have arisen in the international sphere, primarily on the question of whether or not Israel upheld the rules of international law, and to prevent or render unnecessary the establishment of an international investigation committee under UN sponsorship.”

The statement came in response to a petition filed by Uri Avneri, head of the Gush Shalom organization, and its spokesman, Adam Keller. The petitioners maintained that the government should have established a state commission of inquiry in accordance with the State Commission of Inquiry Law, which would have empowered it to call up any witness, including soldiers involved in the operation, and enabled it to recommend punitive measures against anyone found responsible for the failures in the operation.

The state, represented by attorneys Osnat Mandel, head of the High Court Section of the State Attorney’s Office, and Dina Silver, wrote that Israel had consulted with other countries, including the US, before deciding on the type of commission it would establish.

The United States supported the establishment of an independent committee as proposed by Israel, wrote Mandel and Silver.

They quoted White House spokesman Robert Gibbs as saying on June 13, a day before the Terkel Committee was officially established, that “the military justice system in Israel fulfills international criteria and is capable of conducting a credible and serious investigation, and the structure of the committee proposed by the Israeli government, its prerogatives and terms of reference fulfill the requirements for the necessary investigation, that is speed, independence, credibility and transparency.”

The state also pointed out that in addition to the Terkel committee, the army has already established a military operations committee headed by Maj.-Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland, who also served as head of the National Security Council. The committee can question soldiers and will carry out investigative assignments on behalf of the Terkel committee.

Meanwhile, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstraus has also announced that he will investigate the government decision-making procedures regarding the flotilla seizure, Israel’s information campaign to explain the operation to the world, and Israeli intelligence for the operation.

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