Netanyahu Turkel panel 58.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
The Turkel Commission proceedings should have been an opportunity to show the
world, through a transparent, objective investigation, that the fatal
consequences of the May 31 interception of the Gazabound Mavi Marmara were
entirely the reverse of the nonviolent interdiction Israel had in mind. If
anything, indeed, they were the result of an underestimation of the propensity
for violence that could be displayed by “peace” activists.
initial sessions of the Turkel probe have been marred by testimony suggesting
that Israel has something to hide.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was
forced to backtrack Monday on comments made during public testimony that were
interpreted as an attempt to shirk responsibility.
He also refrained,
during the public part of his appearance, from answering various questions in
detail, and lacked basic data.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, meanwhile,
was rebuked at the beginning of his testimony Tuesday for the failure of his
ministry to promptly provide requested documents.
In fact, the message
that Israel has something to hide has been conveyed from the outset of the Mavi
Marmara imbroglio. First, on the fateful day itself, there was a long delay in
releasing footage of what had occurred on board the vessel, footage that showed
the commandos coming under attack as they hit the deck.
Netanyahu government was reluctant to appoint an inquiry commission of any kind
that would include foreigners. Eventually, after much foot-dragging and
international pressure, the Israeli-led Turkel Commission was put together, with
the presence of two foreign observers considered relatively sympathetic to
Israel – Northern Ireland politician and Nobel Peace Prize laureate David
Trimble, and Kenneth Watkin, a former chief military prosecutor from Canada.
Neither would be allowed to vote on the final conclusions and both might be
denied access to certain documents and testimony.
the potential rigor of the inquiry mounted both in Israel and abroad when the
commission’s mandate was limited to investigating the legal basis for the
interception and for Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza.
were voiced after it became known that the average age of the three Israeli
members was 85, and a picture of the oldest member, 93-year-old Shabtai Rosenne,
dressed in his pajamas with an inquiry dossier on his lap and his full-time
care-giver at his side, made the rounds. Even former Supreme Court justice Jacob
Turkel, the commission head, threatened to resign unless his powers were
It soon became clear that the Turkel Commission would not
satisfy international demands. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon continued to
push for an international inquiry panel, to be led by two men considered
evenhanded towards Israel: former New Zealand prime minister Geoffrey Palmer as
panel head and outgoing Colombian president Alvaro Uribe as
After refusing to cooperate with Ban’s initiative,
Netanyahu about-faced at the beginning of this month, tapping Joseph
Ciechanover, an international law expert, to represent Israel. The international
probe had become a matter of “national interest,” Netanyahu said.
Israel is once again threatening not to participate in Palmer’s panel after Ban
announced that, contrary to the prime minister’s understanding, there had been
no agreement to exempt Israeli soldiers from questioning.
not cooperate with and will not take part in any panel that seeks to interrogate
Israeli soldiers,” a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said on
ISRAEL HAS good reason to be wary of international inquiries into
its military operations. The skewed Goldstone report into Operation Cast Lead is
an obvious case in point.
But while Israel has no control over the
discriminatory actions of others, it can direct its own policies in a way that
can build international confidence and convey a message of openness and
willingness to cooperate. Instead, the Netanyahu government is signaling fear
Cooperation from the outset with the Palmer panel, based
on coordination with the US and others to ensure a fair process, would have made
the Turkel Commission unnecessary and likely stymied yet another inquiry, from
the Israel-obsessed UN Human Rights Council.
defensiveness and perception that the world is hopelessly against Israel
destructive and self-defeating, and only compounds outsiders’ distorted
judgment. The fact is that Israel is doing its best to protect itself,
morally so, in the face of daunting terrorist challenges that face no
The prime minister noted, “Israel has nothing to hide.
The opposite is true.” That conviction should guide him.