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?