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A United Nations Human Rights Council investigation concluded that the Israeli military broke international laws during a raid on a Turkish ship that was part of an aid flotilla trying to deliver humanitarian supplies to Gaza.
The council’s report, announced Wednesday, was met positively by Turkey but dismissed by Israel as “biased." The report is separate from a UN flotilla inquiry backed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, which includes both an Israeli and a Turkish representative and is seen as carrying more weight than the UNHRC's investigation – but has not yet concluded its work.
In a 56-page report (pdf), the UNHCR's three-member panel wrote that Israeli commandos had committed war crimes during their May 31 raid of the aid ship the MV Mavi Marmara that left nine pro-Palestinian activists dead. Although Israel contends that its soldiers acted in self-defense, the council found that their response was “disproportionate” and that soldiers exercised an “unacceptable level of brutality.”
“There is clear evidence to support prosecutions of the following crimes within the terms of article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention: willful killing; torture or inhuman treatment; wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health,” wrote the report's authors.
The council also found that Israel’s blockade of Gaza is “unlawful” because of the humanitarian crisis, reports the BBC.
The three-member council consisted of Karl T. Hudson-Phillips, a retired judge of the International Criminal Court; Desmond de Silva, former chief prosecutor of the United Nations-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone; and Mary Shanthi Dairiam of Malaysia, a former member of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.
In Turkey, where relations with Israel have been immensely tense following the raid, most politicians welcomed the news and praised the objectivity of the panel. Turkey is Israel’s only Muslim ally and it has demanded that Israel officially apologize, compensate the victims’ families, and lift the blockade on Gaza, reports Press TV.
“We appreciate [the report]…. It meets our expectations. I hope the Israeli side will ... from now on act within international law," said Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister. “Our aim is not to cause any political crisis, but to make sure that everyone respects international law and that no country sees itself above the law.”
Israel, which refused to work with the UNHCR investigators, rejected the findings and accused the council of a “biased, politicized, and extremist approach,” reports Israel’s Haaretz. The council, whose members are elected to three-year terms, has drawn criticism beyond Israel for including countries with dubious human rights records such as Cuba and Kyrgyzstan.
Israeli officials contend that their soldiers came under attack when they boarded the boat and had to defend themselves. The Israeli Foreign Ministry said that the UNHCR already blamed Israel before the investigation, so the results were “no surprise.”
“Israel is a democratic and law abiding country that carefully observes international law and, when need be, knows how to investigate itself,” Israel’s Foreign Ministry said in an official statement on Wednesday night. “That is how Israel has always acted, and that is the way in which investigations were conducted following Operation Cast Lead, launched to protect the inhabitants of southern Israel from rockets and terror attacks carried out by Hamas from Gaza.”
The Foreign Ministry statement added that though they would “read and study” the UNHCR report, they would abide by their own investigation currently being carried out by the Turkel commission with independent, international observers.
Days after the lethal raid on the Turkish-led "Freedom Flotilla," The Christian Science Monitor reported how international law was being wielded as a means of either justifying the operation or calling it outright piracy.
On one side, a Turkish draft resolution at the UN Security Council described the attack as a violation of international law. On the other, Israel’s Foreign Ministry insisted that international maritime law prohibited boats from entering an area subject to a maritime blockade and that vessels attempting to violate this may be captured or even attacked.
Not all Israelis have criticized the report, however. Haneen Zoabi, an Israeli Arab member of the Knesset who was on board the MV Mavi Marmara during the raid, has praised the results of the latest inquiry. She is encouraging the government to act upon the findings and press charges against the Israelis responsible for the raid.
“We must not settle for declarations of condemnation but we must work to put the criminals to justice, those who ordered and those who carried out the orders,” she was quoted saying in The Jerusalem Post.
Editor's note: Of the nine people killed in the raid on the Mavi Marmara, eight were Turkish citizens and one was a US-born Turkish-American.