Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Israel's Turkey Commitee Begins Its Work


According to Haaretz:


Israel's internal committee investigating Israel's [flotilla] raid - headed by retired Supreme Court justice Jacob Turkel - held its first meeting in Jerusalem on Monday.

One of the international observers, Lord David Trimble of Northern Ireland, said at the start of the meeting that the investigation would be serious and rigorous.

We have already noted in a previous blog entry that Trimble is hardly a neutral observer, having, on the very day of the flotilla raid, announced his joining the "Friends of Israel" group whose state goal is to prove to Europeans that Israel is their first line of defence against radical Islam. Well here he is - on the very first day of the committee's work - issuing the conclusion about exactly what he is supposed to be observing. He is not a there to do the committee's work, but to observe and report on exactly how serious and rigorous that work is. But he already knows the answer.

The article continues:

Turkel expressed hope that the committee would complete its duty fast, and that the prime minister, defense minister and the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff would shortly be summoned to testify before the committee.

So, as claimed by many, the committee chair wants to issue a quick - rather than a thourough - report. The point being to close the book with as little fuss as possible.

The committee members, including Shabtai Rosenne, a professor of international law, and Maj. Gen. (Res.) Amos Horev, met to create panel guidelines and a schedule for hearing witness testimony, and determine the extent to which the observers will participate in the hearings.

What!? The observers will only be allowed to observe parts of the committee's work - presumably the parts that will not embarrass anyone, or bring the committee's conclusions into doubt. What is the point of observers then? It seems that having hand picked apriori-sympathetic observers, the Israeli government - who gave the committee its very restrictive and detailed terms of reference - still does not completely trust Trimble and Watkins to tow the line.

The committee will also examine the security-related reasons for Israel's imposition of a naval blockade on the Gaza Strip, which the flotilla was launched to protest, and the conduct of Turkey and the flotilla organizers.

How they are going to do the latter, when there are no plans to interview anyone who was actually on the ships or organized them is a mystery.

Meanwhile, tomorrow, Wednesday June 30, the Israeli Supreme Court will hear an appeal to dismantle the Tirkel Committee and replace it with a Judicial Commission ofInquiry.

The following is a press release from the Israeli peace and reconcilliation group Gush Shalom. I agree with there argumenst almost entirely, and I hold out almost zero hope that the Supreme Court will rull in their favour

Uri Avnery: "Even if the United States government was convinced to agree to a powerless, meaningless investigation, we as Israeli citizen concerned for the future of our country absolutely don't agree."

Tomorrow, Wednesday June 30, at 9am Judges Naor, Meltzer and Dantziger of the Supreme Court in Jerusalem will hear the appeal of the Gush Shalom movement to dismantle the "Tirkel Committee" and replace it with a Judicial Commission of Inquiry, independent of the government and fully empowered to investigate the circumstances of the Israeli Navy takeover of the GazaFlotilla. The appeal is signed on behalf of Gush Shalom by former Knesset Member Uri Avnery, and the movement's spokesperson Adam Keller. It is represented by lawyers Gaby Laski, Lymor Goldstein and Neri Ramati.

The main argument in the state's answer, presented to the Supreme Court, is that the government has an unlimited power to decide whether or not to investigate a certain event at all, in whose hands to place theinvestigation and what powers to give the investigators, and that in the past the Supreme Court rejected appeals seeking to impose on the government the creation of a Judicial Commission of Inquiry.

The state also described to the court at great length the negotiations conducted between the government of Israel and the government of the U.S. Initially, the U.S. tended to support an International Commission of Inquiry under auspices of the U.N., but eventually came to endorse the creation of the "Tirkel Committee" in Israel. To underscore this point the State went as far as presenting to the Supreme Court in Jerusalem as an exhibit, the statement issued by the White House spokesperson on this subject, as well as the full text of a TV interview by the American Ambassador to the U.N.


"The State's answer exposes the main purpose for which the Tirkel Commission was formed: not the wish to investigate what really happened on the boat and how nine of its passengers came to be killed, but the intention to appease, at the cheapest price, the world governments and public opinion, and especially the government of the U.S." says Uri Avnery. "The U.S. government has its own considerations, having to do with worldwide strategic interests and possibly also with internal American considerations of elections due in November.

"We, as Israeli citizens who act to improve the society and the country in which we live, have a supreme interest of our own: to have a thorough and independent investigation into the circumstances of a grave political and military fiasco, which caused preventable bloodshed, which severely hurt Israel's position in the world and whose long-term implications might be felt in many years to come. Only a thorough and truly independent investigation has the chance to prevent similar fiascos from recurring - if not worse ones. With all due respect to the U.S. government, it has no authority to forgo on behalf of the citizens of Israel an investigation which is vital to ensure proper public norms in the State of Israel.

"The respectable people who have been gathered into the Tirkel Committee cannot carry out such a thorough investigation even if they want to, because the government has not given them the needed authority. I in no way share the absolute trust which the State representatives give to the internal investigation by the armed forces of their own deeds, whose results will be given ready-made to the Tirkel Committee without its members having any way of independently checking them. The rule which the State asks the Supreme Court Judges to endorse, that the investigation of soldiers about their acts in the field should be carried out solely through the debriefing carried out by the army itself and that statements made during debriefing should not atall be passed to anyone outside the armed forces, is a dangerous erosion of the principal of civilian control over the armed forces, a cornerstone of any democratic regime.

"In Article 16 of its answer to the court the State claims that only passengers of the Mavi Marmara were hurt by the takeover of the boats by Israeli troops. This assertion is in complete contradiction to many testimonies, published all over the world, about brutal behavior of the troops also to passengers of the other boats, though luckily not coming to the point of fatalities. Moreover, the very fact of the State already presenting factual assertions on a subject in which the Committee is supposed to investigate and present conclusions testifies to the State not taking seriously the investigation which is supposed to be conducted.

"The mandate given to the Tirkel Committee by the government included among other things the task of investigating and reporting on the identity and theactivities of the Flotilla organizers and participants. In practice, the Committee is active for more than a week already, and there is no mention of any intention to contact the Flotilla organizers and participants and heartheir testimonies. The Committee has not offered to Flotilla participants the option to come and testify in Israel while having immunity from arrest by the police - and indeed the Committee has no authority to offer such immunity. Nor did the Committee announce any intention to go abroad and there hear the testimonies of the Flotilla organizers and participants - and also here the Committee was not at all given the authority to go abroad and collect testimonies outside the boundaries of Israel. All this gives rise tothe strong suspicion that the Committee intends to discuss the identity andactivity of the Flotilla activists, reach conclusions and publish a report about them - without hearing a single testimony from the people concerned themselves. Such a procedure denies in advance any credibility to a report which the Committee would eventually publish on this subject.



Contact:

Uri Avnery +972-50-5396440
Adv. Gaby Lasky +972-54-4418988
Adam Keller +972-54-2340749

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