Editorial: Nothing to hide

Israel has good reason to be wary of int'l probes.

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.
Instead, the 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.
Then, the 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.
Skepticism regarding 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.
Additional doubts 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 expanded.
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 vice-chairman.
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.
Now 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.
“Israel will 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 Monday.
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 and nervousness.
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.
Jerusalem’s own defensiveness and perception that the world is hopelessly against Israel is destructive and self-defeating, and only compounds outsiders’ distorted judgment. The fact is that Israel is doing its best to protect itself, and morally so, in the face of daunting terrorist challenges that face no other western democracy.
The prime minister noted, “Israel has nothing to hide. The opposite is true.” That conviction should guide him.