Israel to release part 2 of Gaza flotilla probe

Part I of Turkel Commission inquiry focused on 2010 Gaza flotilla raid, finding Israel acted in accordance with international law.

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February 6, 2013 05:34
3 minute read.
Livni testifies before the Turkel Commission, Mon.

Livni Turkel testimony 311. (photo credit: Kadima spokesperson)

Israel is set to release the second part of an internal commission to investigate the events of a military raid on a flotilla of ships heading to Gaza from Turkey in May 2010. Nine people were killed in the raid when an IDF attempt to board the Mavi Mamara ship took a violent turn. The findings due to be released Wednesday will focus on the state mechanism for looking into potential war crimes. It will address how effectively Israel can investigate itself for alleged war crimes, and could have a major impact on the way the country’s critics and allies look back on its investigation into Operation Cast Lead of winter 2008-9,  as well as on future investigations.

The first part of the commission’s report, published on January 23, 2011, found that Israel’s actions in enforcing the Gaza blockade associated with the May 31, 2010 Mavi Marmara flotilla incident had been in accordance with international law. It is usually referred to simply as the Turkel Report, named for the commission’s chairman, former Supreme Court justice Jacob Turkel.

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The commission’s official name is the Public Commission to Examine the Maritime Incident of May 31, 2010. Its original mandate is from June 14, 2010.

The second part of the report reflects an addition made to the mandate on July 4, 2010, at a time when Israel was still facing intense criticism over alleged war crimes during Operation Cast Lead, which took place in the Gaza Strip from December 2008 to January 2009.

The commission heard testimony from a plethora of top officials in Israel’s legal system, as well as from top human rights figures and academics.

Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein and Deputy State Attorney Shai Nitzan testified on behalf of the Justice Ministry, stating that Israel vigorously investigates itself when there are accusations of wrongdoing, including war crimes.

They added that the unusually easy access to the High Court of Justice by any Israeli citizen or Palestinian resident of the West Bank shows the “determination of the Israeli legal system to maintain basic values and human rights even under complex and sensitive circumstances from public and security aspects.”

Yuval Diskin testified when he headed the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), as did Maj.- Gen. (res.) Avichai Mandelblit when he was military advocate- general, and Col. Haim Sasson, at the time commander of the Military Police Investigations Unit.

Mandelblit spoke about the difficulties – for Israel and any country – inherent in investigating alleged crimes committed in the framework of combat where, without help from outside groups, the IDF often cannot locate alleged victims.

He contrasted these difficulties with a standard criminal investigation where the victim comes forward and provides authorities with information to perform an investigation.

Diskin and Sasson testified in closed-door hearings.

Top figures in the human rights community, including Michael Sfard from Yesh Din, Dan Yakir from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, and Jessica Montell from B’Tselem, also testified, mostly claiming fundamental shortcomings in Israel’s ability to investigate itself.

Sfard, for example, emphasized his belief that Israel fell short on the principles of international law regarding transparency, effectiveness, impartiality, independence and promptness, noting that “complaints regarding ostensible violations of international law by soldiers face severe obstacles, so that it needs a miracle to reach the last stage” of an investigation by which one can determine that internal legal standards are met.

Hebrew University Law School head Yuval Shany suggested changes to the investigative system, including a multi-tiered mechanism that employs different approaches depending on the rank of the officer who ordered a military action. The purpose is to ensure that the investigator is always someone who was outside the chain of command regarding the specific action.

While rejected by such countries as Turkey and a number of human rights groups, the first part of the report gained high recognition, not only from traditional allies like the US, but from a number of UN officials and panels.


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