Turkey releases report on flotilla incident, accusing Israel
Turkey publicizes its internal report on the flotilla debacle in response to Israel's Turkel Commission investigation report on Sunday.
Eight Turks and an American citizen of Turkish descent were killed during the 4:26 a.m. raid on the humanitarian aid flotilla, which was cruising 72 miles off the coast in international waters on its way to break Israel's Gaza blockade.
The Turkish report found that Israeli units shot dead two people from their helicopters before fast-roping onto the deck, where they battled passengers armed with sticks, clubs, and knives mostly drawn from the ship’s eight kitchens.
What Turkey found
Turkey’s report on the incident was submitted to a United Nations investigation last September, but is now being made public after Israel on Sunday published its own report, which cleared the Israeli military and government of any wrongdoing.
“The attacker can’t claim that he is defending himself,” a senior Turkish foreign ministry official said Tuesday. “Our aim was not to demonize Israel or the Israeli people [or] to tarnish the Israeli nation…. But Israel has not come to terms with their injustice.”
The report of Israel’s Turkel Commission – which is to be the basis of Israel’s findings for the UN investigation – affirms Israel’s official declarations that its units killed in self-defense. Turkish officials have dismissed it as “flawed” and a “whitewash.”
Outrage in Turkey over the incident has deeply damaged Israel’s relations with one-time close ally Turkey, which has demanded an apology and reparations.
The Turkish report said that Israel mounted a “full-fledged and pre-meditated attack” by heavily armed soldiers with live ammunition that used “excessive, indiscriminate and disproportionate force … against the civilians on board,” the Turkish report said.
Once the Israelis took over the vessel they “continued to brutalize and terrorize the passengers, abusing them physically and psychologically,” the report found. During interrogation that lasted days in Israel, all passengers were “forced to sign incriminatory statements” in Hebrew, while “evidence of critical importance to shed light on the attack was destroyed, tampered with or despoiled.”
Some findings of the Turkish report echo those from the UN Human Rights Council, whose fact-finding mission last September concluded “a series of violations of international law … were committed by the Israeli forces during the interception of the flotilla.”
What Israel found
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the Israeli commission findings, which stated that Israeli soldiers acted appropriately on the ship after they “encountered a real resistance force, armed with clubs, iron rods, chairs, etc.”
The report stated that the “largest group” among the 600 on board was made up of “peace activists,” and that an order went out over the Mavi Marmara’s public address system telling all passengers to return to their seats.
The commission stated that passengers who were “direct participants in hostilities” could legally be considered combatants.
It also found that Israeli soldiers “acted professionally and in a measured manner,” though their actions “had the regrettable consequences of the loss of human life and physical injuries.”
"I hope all those who rushed to judgment against Israel and its soldiers will read these reports,” Mr. Netanyahu said. “The truth is that our soldiers were defending our country and defending their very lives. This is not only their right; it is their duty.”
Loopholes and whitewash?
The Israeli position has prompted fury in Turkey, where President Abdullah Gul said Israel’s report “isn’t worth the paper it is printed on – it has no credibility, legitimacy, or plausibility.”
“It’s full of legal loopholes, it’s distorting facts, and unfortunately it whitewashes the Israeli military,” said the senior Turkish official in Istanbul. “Our conclusion is it’s shielding those people who are responsible … from international prosecution in the future.”
Turkey’s report confirmed initial autopsies, noting that “most suffered from multiple shots at close range.” Witnesses reported shortly after the event that Israelis used laser sights on their guns in some cases; one of the dead was shot between the eyes.
The Turkish report also details what it called efforts by Israel to complicate any Turkish forensic examination. Bodies had been washed and “gunshot residues were removed” before being repatriated to Turkey.
The ship itself had been held in the Israeli port of Ashdod for 66 days, and when handed back to Turkey had been “scrubbed down thoroughly, blood stains completely washed off, bullet holes painted over; ship records, Captain’s log, computer hardware, ship documents seized, CCTV cameras smashed, all photographic footage seized and presumably destroyed or withheld.”
“If you try so hard to hide evidence, it means that psychologically you are under pressure, that you committed something,” said the senior ministry official.
He also echoed the conclusion of the Turkish report, that Israeli forces had a number of nonlethal ways of stopping the Mavi Marmara, but chose not to use them.
“Israel prepared for a combat operation and refused to deviate from this strategy," the Turkish report stated. “The tragic truth is that civilian casualty [sic] could have been avoided if Israel had sought [an] alternative non-violent plan of action.”