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Thursday, September 01, 2011

Palmer Report: Israel and Turkey's responses

Israel's response to the Palmer Report (in an appendix):

As the Representative of Israel to this Panel, I join the Chairman and Vice Chairman in adopting this report. Israel appreciates the important work of the Panel and thanks Sir Geoffrey Palmer and Mr. Alvaro Uribe for their leadership.  Their efforts should send a message to the international community about the need to engage with all sides to a dispute and to avoid prejudging an incident before all of the facts are known.

Israel has reservations to a few aspects of the report, which are expressed below, but appreciates that the report concurs with Israel’s view that the “naval blockade was legal,” that it "was imposed as a legitimate security measure in order to prevent weapons from entering Gaza by sea,” that the blockade’s implementation “complied with the requirements of international law,” and that Israel had a “right to visit and search the vessel and to capture it if found in breach of a blockade”, including in international waters.  The Report rightly finding serious questions about “the conduct, true nature and objectives of the flotilla organizers, particularly IHH,” notes that they planned “in advance to violently resist any boarding attempt” and classifies the decision to breach the blockade of Gaza as a “dangerous and reckless act,” which “needlessly carried the potential for escalation.” Israel also notes the importance of the Panel’s support for Israel’s long-standing position that “all humanitarian missions wishing to assist the Gaza population should do so through established procedures and designated land crossings in consultation with the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority.”

At the same time, Israel does not concur with the Panel’s characterization of Israel’s decision to board the vessels in the manner it did as “excessive and unreasonable.”  The Panel was provided evidence of the repeated warnings it gave the vessels regarding its intent to board them.  Israel feels that the Panel gave insufficient consideration to the operational limitations which determined the manner and timing of the boarding of the vessels and to the operational need for a covert takeover in order to minimize the chances for resistance on board.

As to the actions of Israel’s soldiers, given the panel’s conclusions regarding the resistance that they encountered when boarding the Mavi Marmara, it is clear that the soldier’s lives were in immediate danger.  For example, the Panel notes that “Israeli Defense Forces personnel faced significant, organized and violent resistance from a group of passengers when they boarded the Mavi Marmara.” The Panel confirmed that video footage showed that passengers were wearing "bullet proof vests, and carrying metal bars, slingshots, chains and staves” and that this information “supports the accounts of violence given by IDF personnel to the Israeli investigation.”  The Panel further confirms that “two soldiers received gunshot wounds,” “three soldiers were captured, mistreated, and placed at risk” and that “seven soldiers were wounded by passengers, some seriously.”

Given these circumstances, Israel’s soldiers clearly acted in self-defense and responded reasonably, proportionally and with restraint, including the use of less-lethal weapons where feasible.  The Panel's characterization of the circumstances which led to the nine deaths on board the Mavi Marmara does not adequately take into account the complexities of what was clearly a chaotic combat situation. In such a situation, reconstructing the exact chains of events is extremely difficult, if not impossible. Given the close range combat that clearly took place aboard the vessel, wounds sustained at close range do not in themselves suggest wrongdoing by Israeli soldiers.

Israel’s treatment of the hundreds of participants following the takeover of the ships was reasonable and compatible with international standards. Reliance on some passenger statements presented in the Turkish National Report as evidence of wrongdoing was particularly problematic. Israel raised serious concerns regarding the veracity and credibility of some of these statements.

Still, Israel cherishes the shared history and centuries old ties of strong friendship and cooperation between the Jewish and Turkish peoples and hopes that the Panel's work over the past few months will assist Israel and Turkey in finding a path back to cooperation.

Turkey's response:

I hereby register my disagreement with the Chairmanship on the following issues contained in the report:

- The question of the legality of the blockade imposed on Gaza by Israel.
- The actions of the flotilla
- Naval blockades in general
- Appendix: The applicable International legal principles.

This, for the following reasons:

- On the legal aspect of the blockade, Turkey and Israel have submitted two opposing arguments.International legal authorities are divided on the matter since it is unprecedented, highly complex and the legal framework lacks codification. However, the Chairmanship and its report fully associated itself with Israel and categorically dismissed the views of the other, despite the fact that the legal arguments presented by Turkey have been supported by the vast majority of the international community. Common sense and conscience dictate that the blockade is unlawful.
- Also the UN Human Rights Council concluded that the blockade was unlawful. The Report of the Human Rights Council Fact Finding Mission received widespread approval from the member states.
- Freedom and safety of navigation on the high seas is a universally accepted rule of international law. There can be no exception from this long-standing principle unless there is a universal convergence of views.

- The intentions of the participants in the international humanitarian convoy were humanitarian,
reflecting the concerns of the vast majority of the international community. They came under attack in international waters. They resisted for their own protection. Nine civilians were killed and many others were injured by the Israeli soldiers. One of the victims is still in a coma. The evidence confirms that at least some of the victims had been killed deliberately.

- The wording in the report is not satisfactory in describing the actual extent of the atrocities that the victims have been subjected to. This includes the scope of the maltreatment suffered by the passengers in the hands of Israeli soldiers and officials.

In view of the above, I reject and dissociate myself from the relevant parts and paragraphs of the report, as reflected in paragraphs ii, iv, v, vii of the findings contained in the summary of the report and paragraphs ii, iv, v, vii, viii and ix of the recommendations contained in the same text.

Every one of Turkey's points - the legal justification, the law of a blockade on the high seas, the clear intent of the flotilla participants to make a political statement and not for humanitarian aid (in fact, the impossibility of bringing serious amounts of humanitarian aid to Gaza via boat altogether) was addressed and answered fully  in the Palmer report itself. The Turkish response, rather than addressing the report, instead restates what its own flawed internal report said.

Notice also that Israel's response is as polite as Turkey's is rude.