Turkel Committee due to release first report

Part one of findings will address: Whether blockade of Gaza is legal, IDF's enforcement of blockade, examination of flotilla participants.

Flotilla Committee 311 (photo credit: Moshe Milner)
Flotilla Committee 311
(photo credit: Moshe Milner)
The Public Commission for Examining the Naval Incident of May 31, 2010, otherwise known as the Turkel Commission, is due on Sunday to release the first part of its report on the Israeli naval commando interception of the Turkish vessel Mavi Marmara, in which nine Turkish citizens were killed.
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According to the commission's spokesman, part one of the report will address the following issues put to it by the government:
·Whether or not the naval blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip by Israel conformed with the rules of international law
·An assessment of the actions taken by the IDF to enforce the naval blockade
·An examination of the actions taken by the organizers of the flotilla and its participants and their identity
The Turkel Commission was established in accordance with a government decision on June 14, 2010.
The decision came in response to world-wide demands for an international investigation into the May 31 incident and the events leading up to it. In order to deflect these demands, Israel, with US agreement, agreed to conduct its own, government-appointed probe.
Retired Supreme Court Justice Yaakov Turkel was appointed to head the panel. The other members were international law expert Shabtai Rosenne and Maj.-Gen. (Ret.) Amos Horev. The government also appointed two international observers, Lord David Trimble of Ireland and Brig.-Gen. (Ret.) Kenneth Watkin of Canada. They had permission to fully participate in the proceedings of the commission but were not given the right to vote.
Later, at Turkel's insistence, two more members were appointed to the panel, Tel Aviv University law professor Miguel Deutch and retired Foreign Ministry director-general Reuven Merhav.
Rosenne, who was 93 years old, died on September 21, 2010 in the middle of the hearings and was not replaced.
Soon after the commission was established, Turkel demanded the right to subpoena witnesses to appear before it. The government granted it that power. However, it was understood that the commission would not question any soldiers involved in the operation. For the purposes of the investigation, the soldiers were represented by Chief-of-General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and Maj.-Gen. Giora Eiland, who conducted a probe of the military aspects of the operation.
The members of the commission were permitted to submit questions to individual soldiers who participated in the operation to a military committee which was empowered to approach the soldiers directly.
The commission held most of its hearings in public, but frequently continued questioning the witnesses behind closed doors after the open session ended.
The list of witnesses who testified before it included Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Ashkenazi, Military Advocate-General Avihai Mandelblitt, Foreign Ministry director-general Yossi Gal, representatives of human rights organizations including Physicians for Human Rights and Gisha Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, MK Haneen Zoabi (National Democratic Assembly Party), who was a passenger on the Mavi Marmara, and Muhammad Zeidan, head of the southern branch of the Islamic Movement, who was also on board the vessel.
It is almost certain that the committee will uphold the legality of Israel's naval blockade and its right to board the vessel in order to prevent it from reaching the Gaza Strip. At least two of the committee members, Horev and Merhav, openly defended Israel's actions during its questioning of some of witnesses, particularly the Israeli Arabs and the human rights representatives.
It is possible, however, that the committee will be more critical of the decision-making process in the government and the IDF, and, perhaps the conduct of the operation itself which led to so many casualties.
The committee will issue a second report at a later, unspecified date. According to the government's original instructions, this report will deal with the question of "whether the mechanism for examining and investigating complaints and claims raised in relation to violations of the laws of armed conflict, as conducted in Israel generally and as implemented with regard to the present incident, conform with the obligations of the State of Israel under the rules of international law."
At least two other international investigations of the flotilla affair were established by UN agencies. Israel rejected the report by the UN Human Rights Council which, not surprisingly, condemned Israel for the blockade and the naval interception. The second was established by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and included an Israeli representative, Joseph Ciechanover.