Turkey's report on Mavi Marmara raid refutes Israel's self-defense argument

January 24, 2011, Monday/ 17:17:00

An interim report prepared by Turkish officials rules out arguments by Israeli officials that its forces acted in self-defense during the naval raid on a Gaza aid flotilla, stating that there is no room for the Israeli side to justify a military attack in international waters targeting a civilian convoy carrying humanitarian assistance to a territory that is illegally blockaded.

Turkey's report, already submitted to the United Nations in September, puts Israel's ongoing occupation and blockade of Gaza under the spotlight, by using the UN Security Council Resolution 1860, which outlines support for sending humanitarian assistance to Gaza and removing the blockade on Gaza to help the socioeconomic reconstruction of the region, as a basis. The report apparently does so because the fundamental reason for the six-ship aid flotilla to sail off to Gaza was Israel's continued siege of the territory.

The report states that Israel is on thin ice with regard to international law when making claims of self-defense and also underlines that Gaza's blockade itself is illegal, as can be seen by UN Security Council Resolution 1860.

Israeli commandos killed a Turkish-American teenager and eight Turks on May 31 on one of the flotilla's six vessels, named Mavi Marmara and owned by a Turkish charity. Israel has said the soldiers acted in self-defense after being attacked as they boarded the Mavi Marmara in international waters off the eastern Mediterranean coast. Turkey, on the other hand, demands an apology from Israel and compensation for the families of the victims.

The UN announced its probe into the deadly raid in August. The investigation was led by former New Zealand PM Geoffrey Palmer and included an Israeli and a Turkish representative on the panel. Turkey presented its own report on the flotilla raid to the UN in September, while Israel delayed submitting its interim report a few times. Eight months after the raid and five months after the UN probe was launched, the first part of the interim report prepared by a committee led by retired Israeli Supreme Court judge Jacob Turkel was released on Sunday and was expected to be submitted to PM Benjamin Netanyahu later in the day.

The nearly 300-page report said the naval blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza, the decision to intercept the protest flotilla in international waters and the soldiers’ use of lethal force “were found to be legal pursuant to the rules of international law.”

“Even if the naval blockade … had been deemed not to meet the requirements of international law, individuals or groups do not have the right to take the law into their own hands and breach the blockade,” the report said, referring to pro-Palestinian activists behind the flotilla. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan swiftly dismissed the Israeli report on Sunday, saying its findings had “no value.”

“A blockade cannot be implemented for the collective punishment of a people, which is prohibited under the Geneva Conventions on the conduct of warfare and occupation and is against both legal and moral systems,” counters Turkey’s interim report Today’s Zaman obtained from sources involved in the drafting of the report.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry, in a written statement, reiterated on Sunday Ankara’s stance that both Israel’s siege of Gaza and the May 31 raid were in violation of international law. “Israel’s attack on the humanitarian aid convoy, which violated both wartime and peacetime international law, also trampled all international principles, rules and norms with the manner in which it was conducted,” the ministry said.

While sparking a world outcry, the Israeli raid also pushed Israel to ease restrictions on its Gaza blockade, which is aimed at preventing the territory’s Hamas government from increasing its arsenal, but also aggravates the privation of 1.5 million mostly aid-dependant Palestinians.

“Whether Israel accepts it or not, Gaza is still under de facto occupation. A country’s implementation of a blockade on a territory which it has already occupied is illegal according to UN Security Council resolutions. Since the blockade is illegal, Israel had no right to attack the flotilla. Since the blockade is illegal, the ships which pushed against the blockade were actually legal, again in line with UN Security Council Resolution 1860. Israel did not have the right to intervene on these ships,” the report explains.

All of the evidence, including bullet traces on the Mavi Marmara and several eyewitness statements, reveal that Israeli forces started the attack and that even before boarding the ship the forces had already killed and wounded people when targeting objects and people onboard.

“Anyone aboard the ship is automatically entitled to self-defense in the face of such an attack. Israel’s military cannot reasonably argue that they were defending themselves by attacking,” the report argues. “Thus, the Mavi Marmara raid cannot be defended in terms of legitimate defense. The killing of unarmed civilians cannot be justified. Furthermore, no Israeli soldier died during the raid and those soldiers who were wounded were treated by the passengers of the ship. ”

A United Nations Human Rights Council fact-finding mission already ruled in September that Israel had used “totally unnecessary violence” and an “unacceptable level of brutality” during its interception on the Gaza-bound flotilla. The soldiers’ conduct toward the passengers onboard was “disproportionate and excessive,” it said.

Israel has refused to cooperate with the mission appointed by the Human Rights Council, which it accuses of having a strong bias against it.

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