Flotilla: Inquiry panel tough on NGO representatives, easy on IDF generals

Posted: November 23rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, the US and us, war | Tags: , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

A critical review of the protocols of the Turkel Committee, assigned to investigate the raid on the Mavi Marmara which left 9 dead, reveals a deep pro-IDF and government bias by committee members

One of the great favors the Obama administration did Benjamin Netanyahu last year (another one for which it received very little credit) was its support for an Israeli-led inquiry on the flotilla incident.

The Turkel committee – led by a former Israeli Supreme Court justice Jacob Turkel and joined by two international observers – was meant to prevent another Goldstone-style report. When the committee was formed, American and Israeli officials assured the world that “Israeli democracy is well capable of investigating itself,” and therefore, no international inquiry is necessary.

Perhaps it’s time to revisit these statements.

A critical review of the Turkel Committee protocols by the Israeli blogger Tom reveals some disturbing elements in the Committee’s work, and especially its treatment of the different witnesses who appeared before it.

The Turkel Committee heard only two of more than 600 passengers on board the Mavi Marmara.  Both of them weren’t involved in the actual battle. At the same time, the committee heard at least ten senior Israel officials, including PM Benjamin Netanyahu, defense minister Ehud Barak, chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi (twice) and several other senior generals (the committee is not allowed access to soldiers and officers who took part in the raid, so it had to settle for the official IDF report).

Apparently, there were striking differences in the ways the Turkel committee treated Israeli officials and generals, passengers, and Israeli human rights activists. The latter were not involved in the raid itself, and were only called to provide background on the situation in Gaza, yet it seems that for some committee members, they represented the real enemy. A Mavi Marmara passenger and Israeli activists who testified before the committee were subjected to hostile interrogations; Army Generals and senior officials, on the other hand, were met with praises and flattery by committee members.

“I want to praise (the army) for the (investigative) work it did,” one committee member told IDF chief of staff Ashkenazy during his testimony. “The efforts you took (in presenting the committee with a full picture on the situation in Gaza) were inhuman,” said a committee member to another general. “The work you did deserves much appreciation,” a committee member told the Foreign Office’s director general. An official statement by the committee spokesperson refers to another general’s testimony as “impressive” and “thorough.”

At the same time, NGO representatives were met with anger and hostility by committee members. “You are bothering us by coming here,” says committee member General (ret.) Amos Horev to Jessica Montel of B’Tselem, “stick (in your testimony) to humanitarian issues.”

Tom counted the words on the Turkel protocols, and then compared the proportional space given to the testimonies of IDF and government officials to that allowed to representatives of human rights organizations. The results are striking: the generals were allowed to speak with little or no interruptions, while the human rights representatives were stopped and questioned frequently.

Here are Tom’s findings for 13 protocols that were posted on the committee’s Hebrew website:

Witness   |   percentage of witness’ account during testimony   |    percentage of committee members’ interruptions

PM Banjamin Netanyahu     85.5            14.5
DM Ehud Barak                        92.1            7.9
MK Tzipi Livni                          82.8            17.2

IDF Generals
Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazy
(First testimony)                    86.8        13.2
(Second testimony)               84.9        15.1
Army Prosecutor Avichay Mandelblit    83.2        16.8
Maj. Gen. Eitan Dangot          83.3        16.7

Yossi Gal (Foreign Office)            66        34
Yossi Edelstein (Interior Office)        71        29
Benni Kniak (Prisons Commander)        82.1        17.9

human rights representatives
B’Tselem                                                 57        43
Physicians for Human Rights        64.4        35.6
Gisha (free passage to Gaza)          53.8        46.2

Tom notes (my translation):

The amazing thing here is the remarkable consistency of the figures. Heaps of texts (the protocol of the testimony of IDF Prosecutor Avichai Mandelblit, for example, has more than 30,000 words), different witnesses with different positions, no less than seven committee members (…) that may raise questions, and still, a clear pattern regarding the treatment of witnesses emerges: at the top are the senior politicians, who get to speak virtually nonstop; in fact it’s not a testimony but more like a speech (…) slightly below them are senior military personnel – they also get to speak almost without interruption, with each receiving more than 83 percent of the total testimony time (…). Senior bureaucrats, especially the foreign ministry director general, are interrupted more often, but they also don’t have too much to complain about. And who got the harshest treatment? Representatives of human rights organizations – B’Tselem, Physicians for Human Rights, Gisha. B’Tselem and Gisha representatives got (to speak during) just a little over half the time of their testimony (…).

This is worth some more pondering. After all, it is the political and the military leadership that should be the center of the committee’s work. It’s their decisions which are studied. Human rights organizations were invited to the committee to give general background on the humanitarian situation in Gaza. They were not under investigation there (…). The actual state of affairs should have been exactly the opposite: Turkel Committee representatives were to intervene much more during the testimonies of the generals and politicians: to ask them to clarify, explain and elaborate. The testimonies of representatives of human rights organizations were to be used only for general background, not as a basis for cross-examination.

So, what do you think the Turkel report will look like?

English translation of the new anti human rights organizations Knesset bill

Posted: June 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Israeli legislators increase their efforts to put limits the work of human rights organizations, and even ban them altogether. Last month I reported here on a new Knesset bill which, if passes, will enable the state to shut down any association or organization which provides information that is used in prosecutions outside Israel against IDF officers. In other words, all watchdog groups which deal with Israel’s security forces – from Amnesty to The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel -  are in danger.

The bill was introduced after the extreme right-wing group Im Tirzu launched a smear campaign against the New Israel Fund, falsely claiming that the NIF is responsible for most of the anti-Israeli evidences in the Goldstone report.

Ironically, it was announced this week that a former IDF infantry soldier might be charged with manslaughter during operation Cast Lead. The soldier shot at a group of Palestinian civilians carrying white flags, killing two women. B’Tselem, an NIF sponsored human rights organization, conducted an independent investigation that led to the charges in this case, which was also cited on the Goldstone report. The Israeli army ceased to conduct its own investigations into the killing of Palestinian civilians, unless a clear evidence of wrongdoing is brought before it.

If the new bill is passed, B’Tselem won’t be able to investigate such cases anymore, as the evidences it collects might be used to prosecute Israeli generals and government ministers.

Here are the two changes that will be put into the law concerning associations in Israel if the new bill is passed, followed by the introduction to the bill, as it was submitted to the Knesset not long ago.

I thank Dena Shunra of Shunra Media, Inc. for translating the bill from Hebrew.

First: “No association will be formed if the Registrar has been persuaded that the association will be involved with or will convey to foreign elements information on the subject of law suits proceeding in instances operating outside of the Stated of Israel, against senior persosn in Israel or military officers, due to war crimes.”

Second [an addition to the close on shutting down associations]: “The association was involved in or will convey to foreign elements information in the subject of law suits being heard in instances operating outside of the State of Israel, against senior persons in Israel or military officers, due to war crimes.”


As it stands today, the act prohibits the registration and activity of an association which denies the existence of the State of Israel or its democratic nature. Additionally, the association cannot be registered or would be stricken by force of an order by a District Court to the extent that its activity is unlawful.

In recent years the State of Israel has undergone upheaval which has not been easy, neither in terms of security nor in terms of statesmanship. Israel’s propaganda [hasbara] ability has been gravely damaged in light of the fierce and anti-Zionist opposition abroad to the defense actions by the state.

Palestinian propaganda has been influential in the public at large, and especially with youngsters and students at many academic institutes throughout Europe and the United States. Israel’s activity in the [occupied] territories, even if it is within the framework of a defensive military operation following attack and firing of missiles toward our state is perceived as not being legitimate.

The controversial and uni-dimensional United Nations report by Justice Goldstone about the actions of the Israel Defense Forces in Gaza in the course of Operation Cast Lead has brought Israel to an unprecedented nadir, in terms of propaganda.
In many countries, such as Britain, calls are growing stronger for the arrest of senior figures in the Israeli government and officers of the Israel Defense Forces, due to war crimes carried out against Palestinians.

The best leaders and officers find themselves anxious lest they be arrested in a foreign country, for crimes that did not occur and which are ascribed to them.

It is most regretful that especially in this era, when we ought to be united against those groundless accusations, we witness Israeli associations and organizations which act against Israel, below the surface.

These organizations provide assistance of one form or another to foreign organizations which wish to issue arrest warrants and indictments against senior Israeli figures. [punctuation sic] Be it by conveying information (which is mostly erroneous and also untruthful) to foreign elements who are our enemies, or be it by publicly agreeing or affirming that Israel is guilty of war crimes. They sometimes even provide substantial legal assistance in establishing the arguments.

The foundation for this proposed law is that this activity or any hint thereof must be outlawed (especially with regard to associations which receive much funding and some of which are also supported by the State), as they are in fact undermining the State and harming it, as though they had denied its existence.

For this reason, the proposed legislation proposes that the registration of an association about which there are reasonable grounds to suspect that it will act in a judiciary manner against senior figures in the government or in the Israel Defense Forces, in cooperation with foreign elements.

Additionally, it is proposed that any association whose activity is directed against senior figures in the government or in the Israel Defense Forces be dissolved. The dissolution will be in the manner set forth in the Associations Act 5740-1980, by way of expanding the causes of dissolving an association by court order, which would be filed by the Registrar of Associations or by the Attorney General.”

Last week, 20 lawmakers introduced another bill, that would  make it illegal for Israelis to take part in calls to boycott Israeli products or institutions. Both bills, whose intention is to limit the possibility to protest or fight government policy, received support from most Knesset parties, including members of dovish opposition party Kadima.