By Uri Avnery, June 12, 2010
Who is Afraid of a real Inquiry?
If a real Commission of Inquiry had been set up (instead of the pathetic excuse for a commission), here are some of the questions it should have addressed:
1. What is the real aim of the Gaza Strip blockade?
2. If the aim is to prevent the flow of arms into the Strip, why are only 100 products allowed in (as compared to the more than 12 thousand products in an average Israeli supermarket)?
3. Why is it forbidden to bring in chocolate, toys, writing material, many kinds of fruits and vegetables (and why cinnamon but not coriander)?
4. What is the connection between the decision to forbid the import of construction materials for the replacement or repair of the thousands of buildings destroyed or damaged during the Cast Lead operation and the argument that they may serve Hamas for building bunkers – when more than enough materials for this purpose are brought into the Strip through the tunnels?
5. Is the real aim of the blockade to turn the lives of the 1.5 million human beings in the Strip into hell, in the hope of inducing them to overthrow the Hamas regime?
6. Since this has not happened, but – on the contrary – Hamas has become stronger during the three years of the blockade, did the government ever entertain second thoughts on this matter?
7. Has the blockade been imposed in the hope of freeing the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit?
8. If so, has the blockade contributed anything to the realization of this aim, or has it been counter-productive?
9. Why does the Israeli government refuse to exchange Shalit for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, when Hamas agrees to such a deal?
10. Is it true that the US government has imposed a veto on the exchange of prisoners, on the grounds that it would strengthen Hamas?
11. Has there been any discussion in our government about fulfilling its undertaking in the Oslo agreement - to enable and encourage the development of the Gaza port - in a way that would prevent the passage of arms?
12. Why does the Israeli government declare again and again that the territorial waters of the Gaza strip are part of Israel’s own territorial waters, and that ships entering them “infringe on Israeli sovereignty”, contrary to the fact that the Gaza Strip was never annexed to Israel and that Israel officially announced in 2006 that it had “separated” itself from it?
13. Why has the Attorney General’s office declared that the peace activists captured on the high seas, who had no intention whatsoever of entering Israel, had “tried to enter Israel illegally”, and brought them before a judge for the extension of their arrest under the law that concerns “illegal entry into Israel”?
14. Who is responsible for these contradictory legal claims, when the Israeli government argues one minute that Israel has “separated itself from the Gaza Strip” and that the “occupation there has come to an end” – and the next minute claims sovereignty over the coastal waters of the Strip?
Question concerning the decision to attack the flotilla:
15. When did the preparation for this flotilla become known to the Israeli intelligence services? (Evidence on this may be heard in camera.)
16. When was this brought to the attention of the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defense, the Cabinet, the Committee of Seven (in charge of security matters) and the IDF Chief of Staff? (ditto)
17. What were the deliberations of these officials and institutions? (ditto)
18. What intelligence was submitted to each of them? (ditto)
19. When, by whom and how was the decision taken to stop the flotilla by force?
20. Is it true that the secretary of the cabinet, Tzvi Hauser, warned of the severe consequences of such action and advised letting the flotilla sail to Gaza?
21. Were there others who also advised doing so?
22. Was the Foreign Ministry a full partner in all the discussions?
23. If so, did the Foreign Ministry warn of the impact of such an action on our relations with Turkey and other countries?
24. In light of the fact that, prior to the incident, the Turkish government informed the Israeli Foreign Ministry that the flotilla was organized by a private organization which is not under the control of the government and does not violate any Turkish law – did the Foreign Ministry consider approaching the organization in order to try to reach an agreement to avoid violence?
25. Was due consideration given to the alternative of stopping the flotilla in territorial waters, inspecting the cargo for arms and letting it sail on?
26. Was the impact of the action on international public opinion considered?
27. Was the impact of the action on our relations with the US considered?
28. Was it taken into consideration that the action may actually strengthen Hamas?
29. Was it taken into consideration that the action may make the continuation of the blockade more difficult?
Question concerning the planning of the action:
30. What intelligence was at the disposal of the planners? (Evidence may be heard in camera.)
31. Was it considered that the composition of the group of activists in this flotilla was different from that in earlier protest ships, because of the addition of the Turkish component?
32. Was it taken into consideration that contrary to the European peace activists, who believe in passive resistance, the Turkish activists may adopt a policy of active resistance to soldiers invading a Turkish ship?
33. Were alternative courses of action considered, such as blocking the progress of the flotilla with navy boats?
34. If so, what were the alternatives considered, and why were they rejected?
35. Who was responsible for the actual planning of the operation – the IDF Chief of Staff or the Commander of the Navy?
36. If it was the Navy Commander who decided on the method employed, was the decision approved by the Chief of Staff, the Minister of Defense and the Prime Minister?
37. How were the responsibilities for planning divided between these?
38. Why was the action undertaken outside of the territorial waters of Israel and the Gaza Strip?
39. Why was it executed in darkness?
40. Did anyone in the navy object to the idea of soldiers descending from helicopters onto the deck of the ship “Mavi Marmara”?
41. During the deliberations, did anyone bring up the similarity between the planned operation and the British action against the ship “Exodus 1947”, which ended in a political disaster for the British?
Questions concerning the action itself:
42. Why was the flotilla cut off from any contact with the world throughout the operation, if there was nothing to hide?
43. Did anyone protest that the soldiers were actually being sent into a trap?
44. Was it taken into consideration that the plan adopted would place the soldiers for several critical minutes in a dangerously inferior position?
45. When exactly did the soldiers start to shoot live ammunition?
46. Which of the soldiers was the first to fire?
47. Was the shooting – all or part of it – justified?
48 Is it true that the soldiers started firing even before descending onto the deck, as asserted by the passengers?
49. Is it true that the fire continued even after the captain of the ship and the activists announced several times over loudspeakers that the ship had surrendered, and after they had actually hoisted white flags?
50. Is it true that five of the nine people killed were shot in the back, indicating that they were trying to get away from the soldiers and thus could not be endangering their lives?
51. Why was the killed man Ibrahim Bilgen, 61 years old and father of six and a candidate for mayor in his home town, described as a terrorist?
52. Why was the killed man Cetin Topcoglu, 54 years old, trainer of the Turkish national taekwondo (Korean martial arts) team, whose wife was also on the ship, described as a terrorist?
53. Why was the killed man Cevdet Kiliclar, a 38 year old journalist, described as a terrorist?
54. Why was the killed man Ali Haydar Bengi, father of four, graduate of the al-Azhar school for literature in Cairo, described as a terrorist?
55. Why were the killed men Necdet Yaldirim, 32 years old, father of a daughter; Fahri Yaldiz, 43 years old, father of four; Cengiz Songur, 47 years old, father of seven; and Cengiz Akyuz, 41 years old, father of three, described as terrorists?
56. Is it a lie that the activists took a pistol from a soldier and shot him with it, as described by the IDF, or is it true that the activists did in fact throw the pistol into the sea without using it?
57. Is it true, as stated by Jamal Elshayyal, a British subject, that the soldiers prevented treatment for the Turkish wounded for three hours, during which time several of them died?
58.. Is it true, as stated by this journalist, that he was handcuffed behind his back and forced to kneel for three hours in the blazing sun, that he was not allowed to go and urinate and told to “piss in his pants”, that he remained handcuffed for 24 hours without water, that his British passport was taken from him and not returned; that his laptop computer, three cellular telephones and 1500 dollars in cash were taken from him and not returned?
59. Did the IDF cut off the passengers from the world for 48 hours and confiscate all the cameras, films and cell phones of the journalists on board in order to suppress any information that did not conform to the IDF story?
60. Is it a standing procedure to keep the Prime Minister (or his acting deputy, Moshe Yaalon in this case) in the picture during an operation, was this procedure implemented, and was it implemented in previous cases, such as the Entebbe operation or the boarding of the ship “Karin A”?
Questions concerning the behavior of the IDF Spokesman:
61. IS it true that the IDF Spokesman spread a series of fabrications during the first few hours, in order to justify the action in the eyes of both the Israeli and the international public?
62. Are the few minutes of film which have been shown hundreds of times on Israeli TV, from the first day on until now, a carefully edited clip, so that it is not seen what happened just before and just after?
63. What is the truth of the assertion that the soldiers who were taken by the activists into the interior of the ship were about to be “lynched”, when the photos clearly show that they were surrounded for a considerable time by dozens of activists without being harmed, and that a doctor or medic from among the activists even treated them?
64. What evidence is there for the assertion that the Turkish NGO called IHH has connections with al-Qaeda?
65. On what grounds was it stated again and again that it was a “terrorist organization”, though no evidence for this claim was offered?
66. Why was it asserted that the association was acting under the orders of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, when in fact it is close to an opposition party?
67. If it was in fact a terrorist organization known to the Israeli intelligence services, why was this not taken into account during the planning of the operation?
68. Why did the Israeli government not announce this before the attack on the flotilla?
69. Why were the words of one of the activists, who declared on his return that he wanted to be a “shahid”, translated by official propaganda in a manifestly dishonest manner, as if he had said that he wanted “to kill and be killed” (“shahid” means a person who sacrifices his life in order to testify to his belief in God, much like a Christian martyr)?
70. What is the source of the lie that the Turks called out “Go back to Auschwitz”?
71. Why were the Israeli doctors not called to inform the public at once about the character of the wounds of the injured soldiers, after it was announced that at least one of them was shot?
72. Who invented the story that there were arms on the ship, and that they had been thrown into the sea?
73. Who invented the story that the activists had brought with them deadly weapons – when the exhibition organized by the IDF Spokesman himself showed nothing but tools found on any ship, including binoculars, a blood infusion instrument, knives and axes, as well as decorative Arab daggers and kitchen knives that are to be found on every ship, even one not equipped for 1000 passengers?
74. Do all these items – coupled with the endless repetition of the word “terrorists” and the blocking of any contrary information – not constitute brainwashing?
Questions concerning the inquiry:
75. Why does the Israeli government refuse to take part in an international board of inquiry, composed of neutral personalities acceptable to them?
76. Why have the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense announced that they are ready to testify - but not to answer questions?
77. Where does the argument come from that soldiers must not be called to testify – when in all previous investigations senior officers, junior officers and enlisted men were indeed subjected to questioning?
78. Why does the government refuse to appoint a State Commission of Inquiry under the Israeli law that was enacted by the Knesset in 1966 for this very purpose, especially in view of the fact that such commissions were appointed after the Yom Kippur war, after the Sabra and Shatila massacre, after the podium of the al-Aqsa Mosque was set on fire by an insane Australian, as well as to investigate corruption in sport and the murder of the Zionist leader Chaim Arlosoroff (some fifty years after it occurred!)?
79. Does the government have something to fear from such a commission, whose members are appointed by the President of the Supreme Court, and which is empowered to summon witnesses and cross-examine them, demand the production of documents and determine the personal responsibility for mistakes and crimes?
80. Why was it decided in the end to appoint a pathetic committee, devoid of any legal powers, which will lack all credibility both in Israel and abroad?
And, finally, the question of questions:
81. What is our political and military leadership trying to hide?
A cover-up commission, toothless and powerless
The Gush Shalom movement intends to petition the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, challenging the validity of the Netanyahu Government's decision to establish the Tirkel Commission which is supposed to probe the lethal raid on the Gaza Flotilla two weeks ago. The commission's terms of reference exclude in advance all the main points which should be investigated.
It is no coincidence that the government refrained from taking the judicial highway which Israeli law makes available for exactly such cases: appointing a truly independent Commission of Inquiry whose members are appointed by the President of the Supreme Court and which is free of governmental interference. Such a commission may have uncovered facts, or come to conclusions, which would have proven uncomfortable to the government. Such a danger does not exist with the tame commission with which Netanyahu and his ministers came up.
The Tirkel Commission's terms of reference do not include looking into the decision-making process which led to bloodshed on the high seas, to the killing of nine people whose purpose had been to reach Gaza rather than clash with Israeli soldiers, to blackening Israel's image throughout the world and to the complete shattering of the alliance with Turkey which had been a cornerstone of Israeli foreign policy since the days of Ben Gurion. It is guaranteed in advance that those responsible for all this will not be touched, since the commission is not at all empowered to look into their doings.
Nor will the commission be able to look seriously into what actually happened on board the boats during these fateful moments. The commission is specifically and explicitly excluded from calling any soldier or officer to testify. It must place a blind trust in the army's own investigation of its own doings, which is carried on secretly and whose pre-selected results will be presented to the commission.
And it is highly unlikely that the commission would hear and seriously consider the eye-witness testimonies of the boat's Turkish, European and American passengers, whom the State of Israel already branded as "terrorists".
It is clear in advance that the Tirkel Commission would not conduct the investigation which needs to be undertaken. The commission was established primarily as a desperate attempt to placate international public opinion, but it is very difficult to believe that this goal would be achieved, or that a report clearing the government of Israel from all blame and fault would gain much credibility in the world.
To get a semblance of international respectability, two international observers were attached to the commission. It should be noted that one of them - David Trimble, Protestant Unionist leader from North Ireland – expressed his allegiance just two weeks ago by joining a "Friends of Israel" group established by Netanyahu loyalist Dore Gold. In addition, Trimble is a veteran member of the Henry Jackson Society, an international organization linked with the American "neo conservative" circles and which advocates the "spreading of democracy" by way of military incursions and invasions. At Trimble's side, this society's membership includes such people as Richard Perle, who under the Bush Administration was among the main initiators of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, as well as William Kristol who is the main neo-conservative ideologue.
The other international observer on the commission is Ken Watkin, retired Canadian Army general and until recently Judge Advocate General. Watkin's name is associated with a sensational affair in Canada, regarding cases of Canadian forces in Afghanistan transferring dozens of prisoners to the custody of the Afghan government's security service – where they were tortured and some extrajudicially executed. Watkin refused to testify to the Canadian Parliament regarding the advice he had given to the military commanders on this issue, arguing that there existed between him and the Canadian government a privileged attorney–client relationship. This behavior does not bode well for Watkin 's willingness or ability to participate in exposing facts which might prove embarassing to the Government of Israel.
In short, it is unlikely that the "kosher certificate" provided by these "international observers" to the commission would greatly enhance the credibility given to its conclusions.
Contact: Uri Avnery 0505-306440 or Adam Keller 054-2340749