YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Deadly commando raid on Gaza flotilla did not violate law, Israeli panel says

The government-appointed commission says in a report that the protesters aboard the ship trying to deliver humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip instigated the violence. Activists discount the findings: 'It's a whitewash.'

January 24, 2011|By Edmund Sanders, Los Angeles Times
  • An Israeli commando, in an image taken from video, is lowered from a helicopter onto the Gaza-bound ship Mavi Marmara.
An Israeli commando, in an image taken from video, is lowered from a helicopter… (Israel Defense Forces )

Reporting from Jerusalem — A commission appointed by Israel's government concluded Sunday that the country's military did not violate international law in carrying out a deadly commando raid last spring against a protest ship that was attempting to deliver humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip in defiance of Israel's naval blockade.

The panel blamed activists on board the ship for instigating the violence, which ended in the shooting deaths of nine Turkish passengers, including one with dual U.S. citizenship.

Critics dismissed the panel's findings, saying its members were incapable of conducting an objective inquiry.

"It's a whitewash, just as we expected," said Audrey Bomse, attorney for the Free Gaza Movement, one of the organizers of the May 2010 flotilla. "You don't ask a criminal to investigate his own criminality."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that the committee's 280-page report proved Israel's response was justified. "Soldiers were defending our country and defending themselves," he said.

The Turkel Commission, named after retired Israeli Supreme Court Justice Jacob Turkel, was formed in June amid international criticism that Israel's military used excessive force during the early-morning raid of the Mavi Marmara as it sailed with other protest boats in international waters off Israel's coast.

Among other things, the commission found that the Israel Defense Forces were justified in using firearms against a group of activists that had overwhelmed the commandos with iron bars, slingshots and knives. It rejected as inconclusive the military's claim that some activists had brought weapons on board but found evidence that a few activists seized guns from commandos and used them against Israeli forces.

"Overall the IDF personnel acted professionally in the face of extensive and unanticipated violence," the commission wrote in its report.

Video footage of the raid showed commandos rappelling from helicopters and being quickly overcome by passengers. Some commandos were taken below deck while others jumped overboard to escape or were thrown off the upper deck. Nine Israelis were wounded.

The raid severely strained diplomatic relations with Turkey, which is historically Israel's strongest ally in the region. The Turks have been demanding that Israel apologize and compensate the victims.

On Sunday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters in Ankara, the Turkish capital, that the panel's report had "no value or credibility."

In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum condemned the panel's report.

The Israeli panel found that activists on board had "no right of self-defense" because Israel was within its rights to board the vessel. The panel concluded that Israel's naval blockade of Gaza is legal under international law and does not constitute "collective punishment" of Gaza's inhabitants.

But Sari Bashi, executive director of the Israeli human rights group Gisha, disputed the panel's finding that Israel's land and sea restrictions around Gaza are justified by security concerns. Israel has argued that it needs to isolate Hamas, a militant group that controls Gaza and has been receiving arms from Iran and others.

"We don't understand how preventing the entry of coriander, paper and industrial margarine could be seen as a legitimate military goal," Bashi said, referring to import restrictions that were in place at the time of the incident.

After the raid, Israel's government bowed to international pressure and announced it would loosen the rules to permit food and humanitarian supplies that previously had been banned. Construction goods and the movement of people are still restricted.

Another inquiry into the raid, commissioned by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, has yet to release its findings.

Special correspondent Ahmed Aldabba in Gaza City contributed to this report.

Los Angeles Times Articles