They're accused of ordering the May 31, 2010 Mavi Marmara massacre. Israeli commandos attacked the ship with orders to assassinate targeted victims.
Nine Turkish nationals were killed. Dozens more were wounded. Everyone on board was terrorized. Nonviolent humanitarian activists were attacked in international waters. They were trying to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza.
Turkish/Israeli relations became strained. Ankara demanded an apology and compensation for families of victims.
Israel never says it's sorry. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned diplomatic relations might be severed unless Israel apologized, consented to an independent international investigation, and ended its Gaza siege.
Israel refused and stonewalled. Frayed relations followed. In fact, they began deteriorating earlier despite years of close military, economic, political, technological, cultural, academic, and practical ties.
After the second Intifada erupted in September 2000, then Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit criticized Israel harshly. The 2003 Iraq caused friction. Each country differed on policy.
Israel wanted regime change. Turkey urged status quo. Ankara opposed partitioning Iraq and establishing a de facto Kurdistan on its border.
Israel's preemptive 2006 Lebanon heightened more tensions. So did Cast Lead. Gaza's siege has been a festering issue since imposed in mid-2006.
Prime Minister Erdogan bluntly accuses Israel of repeated crimes of war and against humanity. He said Netanyahu's government threatens global peace.
At the 2009 World Economic Forum, he walked off the platform after a heated exchange with Israeli President Shimon Peres.
At issue also is jockeying for Middle East influence and dominance. Turkey wants to be an indispensable regional player. At the same time, it tries to balance East/West ties.
Months earlier, Foreign Minister Affairs Ahmet Davutoglu said:
"The new global order must be more inclusive and participatory....Turkey will be among those active and influential actors who sit around the table to solve problems rather than" let them fester.
Nonetheless, Turkish/Israeli tensions escalated. Ankara cancelled earlier joint military exercises. Mavi Marmara killings remain unresolved.
In late May, arrest warrants were issued for four ex-IDF commanders. They include Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, military intelligence head Amos Yadlin, naval commander Eliezer Marom, and air force intelligence head Avishai Levi.
On June 4, Today's Zaman headlined "First Mavi Marmara court hearing scheduled for November 6," saying:
Trial proceedings will begin. Istanbul Prosecutor Mehmet Akif Ekinci seeks 10 "consecutive life sentences." It's for nine deaths plus another victim still in coma.
Charges include voluntary manslaughter, attempted voluntary manslaughter, intentional injury, incitement to assault with a deadly weapon, robbery, abduction or confiscation of maritime vessels, property damage, false arrest, and mistreatment of prisoners.
"A court proceedings report accepted by the Istanbul 7th High Criminal Court says one copy of the indictment will be sent to the Israeli authorities after being translated into English."
"The report also added that the court will also instruct the Istanbul Bar Directorate to appoint lawyers for the suspects."
Initial hearings will proceed from November 6 - 9. Weeks more will follow. Hundreds of complainants will be invited to testify.
Conclusions from an internal Turkish investigation accused Israel of "banditry," "piracy," and "state-sponsored terrorism."
Israel held its own inquiry. It whitewashed truth and absolved culpable commanders. Turkish investigators said they were "surprised, appalled and dismayed that the national inquiry process in Israel has resulted in the exoneration of the Israeli armed forces."
Israel's ambassador was expelled. Military agreements were suspended. Differences between the two nations remain unresolved. Prosecuting former Israeli commanders will heighten tensions further.
Defendants won't appear in court. Reports are they'll be arrested if enter Turkish territory. Proceedings will be held in absentia. Ankara's Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu expressed resolve to "defend the rights of Turkish citizens."
New York Times Fronts for Israel
On June 4, The NYT headlined, "Turkey Presses Case Against Israeli Officers in Raid," saying:
Turkey wants "to keep the issue in the spotlight as it presses Israel for an apology and compensation."
"The ship was part of a flotilla headed for Gaza in defiance of the naval blockade that Israel imposed on the territory."
Under international law, Gaza's siege is illegal. As an occupying power, Fourth Geneva provisions are inviolable. Israel must protect residents it controls. Violating its obligations is an international crime.
Moreover, blockades are acts of war. They're defined as:
- surrounding a nation or objective with hostile forces;
- measures to isolate an enemy;
- encirclement and besieging;
- preventing the passage in or out of supplies, military forces, or aid in time of or as an act of war; and
- an act of naval warfare to block access to an enemy's coastline and deny entry to all vessels and aircraft.
Interntional water interdictions constitute piracy. Under Article 101 of the 1958 Geneva Convention on the High Seas and 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), maritime piracy includes:
"any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation...against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any State (and) any act of inciting or of intentionally facilitating (such) an act."
Free, unimpeded humanitarian relief can't be blocked. Even under conditions of armed conflict, the San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflict at Sea (June 1994), states:
"If the civilian population of the blockaded territory is inadequately provided with food and other objects essential for its survival, the blockading party must provide for free passage of such foodstuffs and other essential supplies."
According to The Times, "(a) United Nations report concluded last September that Israel had been within its legal rights but had used excessive force in the action." Israel also claimed "its commandos acted in self-defense during the raid, opening fire to save their own lives after they encountered tough resistance on the ship's deck."
Israel's attack was premeditated. Activists on board were unarmed and nonviolent. In September 2010, the UN Human Rights Council’s fact-finding mission held Israel entirely culpable.
It called its assault brutal and disproportionate. Based on eye witness testimonies, forensic evidence, video footage, and other photographic material, it:
- "concluded that a series of violations of international law, including international humanitarian and human rights law, were committed by the Israeli forces during the interception of the flotilla and during the detention of passengers in Israel prior to deportation."
- "The preponderance of evidence from impeccable sources is far too overwhelming to come to a contrary opinion."
HRC criticized Israel's "outrageous attack on aid ships attempting to breach a blockade on the Gaza Strip."
It called doing so "piracy, (an) act of aggression, (a) brutal massacre, (an) act of terrorism, (a) war crime, (a) crime against humanity - unprovoked, unwarranted, atrocious, (and) brutal."
"It described activists onboard as "peaceful, innocent, noble, unarmed, (and) defenseless."
The so-called UN report The Times mentioned whitewashed indisputable facts the Human Rights Council (HRC) and independent observers revealed.
Headed by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer, it included former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.
His resume reads like a police rap sheet. It includes corruption, scandal, links to his country's drug cartels, involvement with paramilitary death squads, ties to US imperialism, and other high crimes against humanity.
Including him on a human rights panel was the equivalent of a jury of serial killers impanelled to judge one of their own.
In response to Turkey's indictment, Netanyahu stood defiant, saying:
"I would like to say clearly to the soldiers and commanders of the Israel Defense Forces: the state of Israel will always stand beside you, wherever you are and in any situation. You defended us; we will protect you."
As head of state, Netanyahu controls Israel's military. Chain of command authority is similar to America's. Israel's Minister of Defense is the equivalent of Washington's Secretary of Defense. Military commanders report to them. They serve under chief executives.
In both countries, heads of state appoint top officials. Netanuahu bears full responsibility for Israeli crimes of war and against humanity. They include Mavi Marmara assassinations.
Indicting him for high crimes is warranted. Perhaps testimonies in November will cite him. Hopefully complainants will demand prosecuting him and others in his chain of command.
At issue is accountability under inviolable international law. No one stands above it, especially heads of state empowered to enforce it.
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|William T. Hathaway|