In the wee small hours of May 31st Israeli troops launched an assault on a Turkish humanitarian aid ship bound for Gaza in International waters. Sometime later, nine of the ‘activists’ on the ship were dead, several Israeli troops were wounded. The eyes of the world were on the scene and Israel has now announced that it will hold a ‘credible’ inquiry into the events of that night. Scriptonite looks at how Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu gets the only kind of inquiry he wants.
Fix the terms of the inquiry to avoid the big questions
The formal brief is to:
- examine the “security circumstances” of the naval blockade on Gaza and whether this conforms to international law
- decide if the actions of 31 May (the night of the action) conform to the principles of international law
- consider the actions of those who organised and took part in the flotilla “and their identities”
Firstly, the Israeli government has no problem with being found in contravention of international law. In 2004, the International Court of Justice in The Hague (the United Nations court for presiding over matters of international law) called for the apartheid wall to be removed. Israel has built 436 miles of 8 metre high walls through the occupied territories of Palestine. The wall cuts off villages, turning each Palestinian town into a Ghetto secured by an Israeli operated border control. The video below was shot by me at the Qalandia checkpoint in 2008. Please excuse the quality of the video, it was taken on mobile phone and not intended for public consumption.
In the queue:
A 2005 UN report states that:
“It is difficult to overstate the humanitarian impact of the Barrier. The route inside the West Bank severs communities, people’s access to services, livelihoods and religious and cultural amenities. In addition, plans for the Barrier’s exact route and crossing points through it are often not fully revealed until days before construction commences. This has led to considerable anxiety amongst Palestinians about how their future lives will be impacted…The land between the Barrier and the Green Line constitutes some of the most fertile in the West Bank. It is currently the home for 49,400 West Bank Palestinians living in 38 villages and towns.”
Israel didn’t even bother to attend court, preferring to simply submit 246 pages of testimony.
And this is not the first time Israel has simply ignored the voice of international law. The United Nations has tabled over 200 resolutions calling on Israel to respect various aspects of international law which it has transgressed since 1948. From the simple fact of being an illegal occupier in Palestinian territory, to ignoring the right of return for millions of Palestinian refugees, to the building of the apartheid wall, to attacks on Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Gaza and the West Bank….and Israel just ploughs on.
In this context, Bibi has fixed the terms of his inquiry exactly where he wants it. Any ruling on an international law issue will be refuted and ignored. He also gets to focus the only part of the inquiry that will be heard in Israel on the actions of the people on the ship. Cute.
Pick the Jury well – friends first, credible but incapable ‘foes’ second
A small number of folks are conducting the inquiry. In fact, it’s just three men. Three rather old men.
Yaakov Tirkel (Leader)
75 year old Yaakov is a former Israeli Supreme Court Judge. He is most notable for not actually believing in the inquiry which he is about to lead. Haaretz, hugely critical of Israel’s internal inquiry reports:
Netanyahu’s panel will have no powers, not even those of a government probe, and its proposed chairman does not believe in such a panel. In an interview to Army Radio, Tirkel said there is no choice but to establish a state committee of inquiry. He opposed bringing in foreign observers and made clear that he is not a devotee of drawing conclusions about individuals and dismissing those responsible for failures. When a Haaretz reporter confronted Tirkel about these remarks, the former justice evaded the question saying, “I don’t remember what I said.“
Amos Horev (Member)
86 year old Amos is a retired IDF Major General. He has a military record longer than my arm including commanding units in the battles for Jerusalem and the Negev in 1948, and is seen as the man who armed Israel to win Sinai in 1956 and the six day war of 1967 for his work in establishing and directing the IDF Department for Weapons Development. He is a red blooded military man. Difficult to see this lifelong IDF man as a credible critic of his friends and family in the forces.
If the inquiry was examining government culpability in deciding to board the boats and therefore putting IDF troops in this position then he may have been more helpful.
Shabtai Rosen (Member)
93 year old professor in International Law and former Israeli diplomat Shabtai was born in London, fought in WW2, was appointed to the Legal Secretariat of the Situation Committee (the body that established the state of Israel following the British Mandate), has won both the Israel Prize and the Hague International Law prize and has been a member of the Hague Academy of International Law since 2001. The man has some credentials….perhaps some balance to his counterparts? We shall see…
Don’t forget the ‘international observers’ to add a bit of legitimacy to proceedings
Oh and there will be two international observers. Yes, some foreign people to watch proceedings but who have zero powers of decision or veto. So…which two heavy hitting international witnesses will be in attendance?
David Trimble (Observer – Northern Ireland)
65 year old Lord Trimble (fresh faced Tory peer) is a household name in the UK where he was first minister for Northern Ireland, Ulster Unionist leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner. However, David is cofounder of Friends of Israel (launched the day after the Mavi Marmara was attacked), whose mission statement reads: This initiative
“Is promoted by people who are not Jewish and whose motivations are based on the deep conviction that Israel is part of the Western world. In fact, today Israel is a fundamental actor for the future of the West. Although the peace process is important, the members of Friends of Israel Initiative are more concerned about the onslaught of radical Islamism as well as the specter of a nuclear Iran since these are threats affecting not only Israel, but the entire world.
…The sponsors of this Initiative believe there is no West without Israel.”
Nice to have a good old fashioned impartial observer.
Ken Watkins (Observer – Canada)
Former brigadier-general in the Canadian army with a whole load of legal/inquiry experience. Distinguished, but for those expecting anything from Ken in terms of going up against the big guns in favour of the right of victims – I refer you to the Canadian Afghan Rights Issue which hit headlines in 2007. Canadian law professor Amir Attaran released to the press document he had been issued under an Access to Information request. The information revealed that three prisoners in Canadian Military custody were allowed to be tortured by Afghan interrogators. According to a report in the Toronto Star, while acting as the Judge Advocate General, Ken Watkin advised the Canadian Forces command that they could be “criminally negligent” for transferring detainees to a risk of torture in Afghan hands. Mr. Watkin refused to answer questions when called to testify in Canada’s House of Commons about whether he was directed to authorize the transfers or had knowledge of Canadian diplomatic reports of torture, and claimed that solicitor-client privilege owed to the Government of Canada prevented him answering the House’s questions ~ Wikipedia
Scare the Bejesus out of anyone thinking of raising their voices
You probably haven’t heard of Anat Kam. Anat Kam is a 23 year old Israeli journalist (pictured left) who has been under house arrest awaiting trial for treason since last year. Anat’s crime? To release top secret military documents to Uri Blau, a journalist on the Daily Haaretz, which proved that the IDF senior command planned and executed the assassinations of three alleged terrorist leaders, in violation of an earlier 2006 ruling of the Israeli Supreme Court limiting the circumstances in which such a tactic could be used. There is a well enforced gag order on this one, supported in part by Kam and her legal team who are convinced that the less we talk about it the more chance there is she will avoid a 14 year jail sentence. Having previously covered the treatment of Mordechai Vanunu in the article Good Nuke, Bad Nuke, this is yet another case of the enormous consequences which lay at the feet of those in Israel whom dare speak out with any real force against the IDF.
So….whose coming to the inquiry then?
All we are saying is give peace a chance
The key to ending the blockade against Gaza and the institution of a viable and peaceable two state solution is not going to come from this inquiry. It is going to come from the vast majorities of reasonable, peaceful men, women and children of Israel and Palestine who are right now buffeted and marginalised by a minority community of beneficiaries of constant war. Scriptonite casts a shining light on one such group today:
Libby and Len Traubman
This Californian couple have made it their business that there is peace in the world. Their work and energy knows no bounds. I have had the pleasure of receiving incredible support from Libby and Len when setting up a peace project in Israel-Palestine a couple of years ago. They are completely awesome people and you only need to be on their site for five minutes before you get a sense of the great unreported mass of great people working their socks off for peace. It’s just a matter of time folks.
Don’t get angry, get involved.