Officials deny excessive force against flotilla passengers

Yossi Edelstein tells Turkel Commission: “There is no truth to these claims” of passengers being abused by personnel.

311_commando raid (photo credit: Associated Press)
311_commando raid
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Israel did not apply serious force against any of the passengers aboard the international flotilla, which tried to break the naval blockade on the Gaza Strip, when they were questioned and asked to sign documents by Interior Ministry officials, Yossi Edelstein, Interior Ministry director of Enforcement and Foreign Nationals told the Turkel Commission on Tuesday.
The commission, which is examining the events surrounding the flotilla incident on May 31, heard testimony from Edelstein and Prison Service head Benny Kaniak on the treatment of the passengers while under their authority. Most of the passengers were held in Israel from May 31 until June 2.
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There have been allegations that some of the passengers were beaten or tortured during those three days.
“There is no truth to these claims,” Edelstein told the commission in response to a question by panel member Prof. Miguel Deutch regarding allegations that Interior Ministry personnel had forced the passengers to sign a form waiving their right to appeal against the expulsion orders issued to them.
He explained that there was no need for the authorities to apply force because all they had to do was wait 72 hours and then they could automatically implement the expulsion orders.
The Canadian observer to the committee, Ken Watkin, peppered Edelstein with questions regarding the treatment of the passengers.
“Were they handcuffed?” asked Watkin.
Edelstein: “Most weren’t, some were. The provocateurs were. Once they were seated for the hearing, however, their handcuffs were removed.”
Watkin: “There were claims that some of the passengers were strip-searched.”
Edelstein: “No one was strip-searched. [Furthermore,] women examined women and men examined men.”
Watkin later said he had heard that “a couple dozen” passengers had been handled physically.
“I said earlier that there was a group of passengers who behaved provocatively,” replied Edelstein. “They cursed and lay down on the floor. I said they were handled in a dignified manner.”
Watkin: “Were any forced to get up?”
Edelstein: “One or two.”
Kaniak told the committee that a total of 697 passengers from 40 different countries took part in the flotilla. Seven of them were Israeli. Forty-five passengers were immediately expelled from Israel. Almost all the others, aside from the Israelis, those who had medical problems and special cases, such as a mother and her child who was a minor, were sent to Ela prison, near Beersheba.
Kaniak said repeatedly that the prison guards treated them “humanely, rationally and professionally” and added that there were only one or two minor confrontations while the IPS was in charge of the passengers.
Kaniak was asked whether any of the passengers were taken out of their cells and interrogated during their three-day incarceration. He said that there were such instances but that the police had not been involved and that he preferred to tell the committee behind closed doors who had interrogated them.
Wednesday promises to be an especially interesting day of testimony because two of the Israeli Arabs who were aboard the flotilla will testify in the afternoon at 3 p.m. Earlier in the day, three human rights organizations will testify to the hardships to the Palestinian civilian population in Gaza created by Israel’s closure policy.