Turkey resumes Gaza flotilla trial for ex-IDF heads

Israel says trial in absentia against Ashkenazi, other retired senior IDF commanders is politically motivated.

Marmara (photo credit: REUTERS/Osman Orsa)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Osman Orsa)
The trial in absentia, at an Istanbul court, of a group of former Israeli military commanders including former chief of staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi, regarding the May 2010 flotilla from Turkey resumed on Thursday. The focus was on the circumstances of the IDF’s taking over the Mavi Marmara and the alleged mistreatment of the passengers.
The officers are being charged with the deaths of nine Turks aboard one of the ships in the 2010 flotilla attempt to break the Gaza blockade, and a number of other crimes.
The trial of the four senior retired commanders, started in November with three consecutive days of hearings, but then recessed until Thursday.
It has been dismissed by Israel as a politically motivated “show trial” and threatens to further strain already fraught relations.
A top government legal official recently implied to The Jerusalem Post that the trial was even less objective than the Goldstone Report on the 2008-2009 Gaza War.
Ties between Jerusalem and what was once its only Muslim ally crumbled after the incident in which some of the soldiers who tried to forcibly commandeer the ship were injured in clashes with those on board, leaving nine of the passengers dead.
Whereas the first three days of the trial focused on the murder allegations, Thursday’s hearing focused on allegations of mistreatment, such as physical harm short of death, sexual harassment, theft of property and violations of freedom of the press.
According to media and Twitter accounts of the case, the first witness on Thursday was a crew member of the Mavi Marmara who testified that the IDF perpetrated an inhumane attack which caused him permanent health problems.
The crew member testified that he was forced to enter Israel at gun point, was interrogated for hours and was treated as a terrorist.
The ship’s assistant captain said, “I was handcuffed for 16 hours after they took over the deck.”
Other passengers complained that they were sexually harassed, that private belongings were taken and never returned, and media passengers complained that their right to freedom of the press was violated by their broadcasts being cut off.
Passengers also testified that there was no warning prior to the attack.
The issue of the IDF’s warnings has been hotly debated.
The UN-sponsored Palmer Report, which generally exonerated Israel’s positions on the issues in dispute said that regardless of earlier warnings to the ships, the IDF failed to issue a warning right before commandeering the vessels.
The Turkel Commission noted that the IDF gave four warnings to the ships earlier on, which the ships alternately ignored, or responded with taunts, such as “Shut up, go back to Auschwitz.”
In November, reports indicated that the witnesses included statements from the families of the nine dead passengers and people from other ships in the flotilla, as well as surviving activists from the Mavi Marmara.
Ahmed Dogan, father of 19- year-old Furkan Dogan, the youngest of the dead passengers, said he had seen evidence 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 soldiers’ conduct vis-a-vis firing paintballs and tossing stun grenades. According to the reports, Wright said she believed that such a force could only have been meant to attack.
Neither Thursday’s nor November’s reports could be confirmed and no Israeli officials were present at the trial to make objections or cross-examine the witnesses.
It has also been difficult to decipher what aspects of the testimony were part of the overall narratives of alleged mistreatment and what were actual allegations of crimes, as claims of “torture” were combined with passengers’ complaints of having their hands tied behind their back or being otherwise physically restrained in what they say was a rough manner.
The 144-page indictment is seeking multiple life sentences totaling over 18,000 years for each of the defendants – Ashkenazi, former navy head V.-Adm. (res.) Eliezer Marom, former Military Intelligence head Maj.- Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin and former head of air force intelligence Brig.-Gen. (res.) Avishay Levi. It lists “inciting murder through cruelty or torture,” and “inciting injury with firearms,” among the charges.
Media reports indicated that the Istanbul Bar Association had appointed lawyers to defend the former IDF commanders, but no details were provided on their identities, or on any actions they took on behalf of the defendants.
Israel has dismissed the case as “political theater,” saying the accused had not even been notified of the charges.
Turkey expelled Israel’s ambassador and froze military cooperation after the UNsponsored Palmer Commission report into the 2010 incident released last September largely exonerated Israel by calling the Gaza blockade legal under international law.