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?

7 Comments on “Flotilla: Inquiry panel tough on NGO representatives, easy on IDF generals”

  1. 1 maayan said at 3:24 pm on November 25th, 2010:

    That may be because unlike Goldstone and people who are predisposed to believe the worst about Israel (read Bernstein’s attack on HRW, the organization he founded, in the Jerusalem Post), apparently these committee members don’t buy the human rights organization’s attacks. Just because an organization calls itself a “human rights organization” there is no reason to accept that they are indeed even-handed. B’Tselem’s former chairperson, for example, is a strong believer in a single state “solution.” It follows that B’Tselem probably has a strong bias in its presentation and one that doesn’t get an automatic pass from this committee.

    I’m even wondering why the three human rights organizations listed in Tom’s list were invited to speak to this committee. What could they possibly contribute since they weren’t there?

    Also, didn’t I read somewhere that Turkey refused to let its people talk to this committee? So who should they be talking to, the organizers who wanted to create a media spectacle?

  2. 2 noam said at 8:42 pm on November 25th, 2010:

    “I’m even wondering why the three human rights organizations listed in Tom’s list were invited to speak to this committee. What could they possibly contribute since they weren’t there?

    that’s exactly the point: If you don’t believe them to begin with, why inviting them? having them testify but not listening to them shows the nature of this panel.

    as for the fact that the NGO representatives weren’t on the ship – I would like to take it a step further: beside the two Palestinians, all the other witnesses weren’t on the ship as well. this panel is not speaking to passengers and not allowed to speak to soldiers, so how are they hoping to learn what happened?

  3. 3 maayan said at 12:17 am on November 26th, 2010:

    The committee doesn’t just have the Israeli members, it also has two international member observers. You know as well as I that Turkel sought and got more powers that he was initially allotted by the government. Suggesting that somehow there is a conspiracy here doesn’t ring true, I’m sorry.

    The fact that Ashkenazi and Netanyahu weren’t on the ship doesn’t change the fact they were directly connected to the incident. They should have been interviewed. The NGOs have no connection whatsoever. They were interviewed because they are supposedly experts on the situation in Gaza and the necessity of the flotilla. That alone should tell you why they received much harsher questioning, if that assertion is even true. The articles describing the Ashkenazi interview with the committee suggest they were hard on him and argumentative.

    The fact they are not speaking to soldiers is unfortunate precisely because it allows people like you and Tom to be critical of the committee’s work. With respect to passengers, take a look at this:


    Why should Israel provide a platform for these people? They didn’t get enough of one with the phony ship event?

    Read this and watch the video. http://israelmatzav.blogspot.com/2010/10/whore-you-gonna-believe-me-or-your-lyin.html Why should the Committee waste their time on more lies? So you won’t be able to say “just 2 of 600 passengers were interviewed?”

  4. 4 noam said at 9:07 am on November 26th, 2010:

    first, you seem to avoid the question: why invite people who you don’t believe? I think it reveals the real motive behind the committee’s work – Hasbara.

    second, I know that you belive everything the army/political leaders say and thing the Palestinians always lie, but even from a pro-IDF perspective, there is the possibility the the army is covering up a mess it did. it happened before.

    I ask again: if Israel has nothing to hide, why confiscate all the footage? why not explain how the people died? all we got to see in the clips the IDF released with the first few seconds. we don’t know what really happened there.

  5. 5 maayan said at 2:19 pm on November 26th, 2010:

    Come on, Noam, when have I shown you the kind of naivete or rah-rah support that suggests I believe everything the army or political leaders say?

    As for the Palestinians always lying, why don’t you discuss that with me another time when I’m not trying to digest how ten years after Arafat killed peace over his statement that the Temple was never in Jerusalem, now his buddy Abu Mazen, has made the same claim.

    I think this event was a terrible mistake by the IDF. Simply idiotic. I think whatever committee investigates the event should have access to everything and the key people should be punished for the event. I suspect, for example, that Barak is probably the key culprit here. His career should end over a mistake like this.

    However, this was a set-up and an obvious one. The entire flotilla was a PR campaign that succeeded beyond any Turkish leader’s wildest dreams. I know you know this was nothing but propaganda. I know you know that Gaza needed what was aboard these ships about as much as they need sand. I know you know that the IDF wouldn’t send people in there with guns blazing, this isn’t the wild west and the Israelis are more disciplined than that, especially the Shayetet. I know you know the blockade is critical and that even with the blockade, Hamas is accumulating serious weaponry which will only get worse if ships are able to come to that shore. This isn’t Exodus. This is a war and real rockets are launched at Israelis by a regime that explicitly wants to kill Israelis and Jews while evicting them from their – your – home.

    So why do you wish to keep giving the cynical bastards who pulled this PR coup off even more victories? Are you seeking justice? For whom? For the men who prepared for an attack and then launched one against commandos? Who the hell starts a fight against commandos and expects to win or come out alive? Would you start such a fight? Of course you wouldn’t. So it’s not like you will find some sort of justice here. What is going on now is a propaganda game where the deck is stacked against Israel from the beginning and then Israel makes a couple of serious mistakes to make matters even worse. As if these setbacks aren’t enough, you want to tie Israel’s hands and slap it around a bit.

    Do you even stop to think why you, an experienced journalist, would play the game this way? Is it honest? Is it fair? What happens if you get your wish and Israel and the IDF are punished further as if they committed real crimes (even though everybody knows this was a PR flotilla)? How will you protect your family in Sderot or Ashkelon when real weapons start coming in or IDF soldiers are hampered by laws that apply to NOBODY else in the world when they need to fight real wars?

    Israel should keep the footage to itself and release what it needs to in order to level the playing field. Israel should offer minimal information about its tactics and its commandos. Israel should investigate its political leaders and the IDF leadership without mercy and fire the idiots who fell into this PR trap.

  6. 6 Tom Mitchell said at 12:43 pm on November 28th, 2010:

    If the flotilla was only a pr stunt, why was it necessary to react so strongly to it? It seems that Jerusalem didn’t think through the reality of the blockade, because it decided after the event that it could loosen up the blockade considerably with no threat to state security.

  7. 7 maayan said at 2:35 pm on November 28th, 2010:

    Tom, of course it was a PR stunt. Why did Israel react as it did? Because apparently there are some idiots running the country and some IDF operations. Why did they loosen up the blockade subsequently? Because they wanted to show everybody they’re idiots.

    I will, however, take this moment to correct one inaccurate description of yours. The Israelis did not want to “react so strongly” to the flotilla. In fact, it was their lack of proper preparation, intelligence gathering and improper arming of their commandos that ended up with this unhappy outcome. It was a WEAK reaction that caused the failed boarding of the Mavi, and it was WEAK preparation that led to an outcome of deadly violence. Think about the fact that here is a ship going to Gaza, that is not being captures easily and where 3 of the commandos have been taken by the hostile passengers somewhere down into the ship. You can bet the guys who were still up top were thinking their friends were either being tortured, killed or on their way to “disappearing” like Gilad Shalit. With that realization, and the shots that hit one of the commandos from a non-Israeli weapon, it shouldn’t surprise anybody that they started killing people to gain control of the ship.