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Israel Let Off the Hook Again

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Israel cannot be trusted to investigate its military over the Gaza flotilla raid. Only an international, independent inquiry will do

The man who ordered the attack on the aid flotilla to Gaza, set up the inquiry, chose its members and determined its mandate, has announced its outcome even before it has started. Binyamin Netanyahu's beaming smile showed an Israeli prime minister confident that he had faced down international protestations over the Israeli attack on the Gaza aid flotilla, buying off the pressure with an inquiry that even the Israeli newspaper, Ha'aretz, described as a farce.

For those without crystal balls, Netanyahu helpfully told us that the inquiry will show that Israel took "appropriate defensive actions in accordance with the highest international standards". Well, it will say that, we can be sure.

Is this a rerun of the Widgery inquiry into Bloody Sunday that falsely found that civilians opened fire on British soldiers first? (Israel stated that it was the civilians who attacked first, as if the boarding of the ships never happened). Let us hope that it will not take 38 years to find a Saville, unearth the truth and for someone to apologise for this Bloody Monday massacre as well as others.

The inquiry chairman, Jacob Turkel, has stated that holding people to account is a marginal issue. Israeli soldiers will not testify at the inquiry. Would any of the activists co-operate with or trust this kangaroo court? Would an activist beaten up by Israeli soldiers, who has seen their friends and colleagues killed and shot, feel safe going back? Will all their photographs and video footage be released intact after having been illegally confiscated by the Israeli authorities? Israel was very fast to release its own carefully edited selected footage.

Turkey has understandably dismissed this inquiry. A valid inquiry requires Turkey's co-operation to share the findings of the post-mortems into the nine Turkish citizens killed. They reportedly show that one victim was shot five times from less than 45cm.
Netanyahu has hand-picked two international observers including Lord Trimble who on the day of the attack on the flotilla was starting a "Friends of Israel initiative". They will not be allowed to vote on the inquiry's conclusions. In case of need, the commission can hold closed sessions as it sees fit.
Do not expect the inquiry team to be so naive as to produce a report that will totally exonerate Israeli actions. No doubt there will be references to alternatives that should have been used, operational shortcomings, grey areas in international law and lessons to be learned.

If Israeli actions were legitimate, and if their soldiers did act properly and legally, then what has Israel to fear? If it wants to restore its image then only a proper international, independent inquiry reporting to the UN security council would suffice. Such an inquiry would have to have full powers making it mandatory on all parties to co-operate including Israel, Turkey and the activists. Any party found responsible for illegal actions should then be held to account.

The Israeli record of investigating itself is shockingly poor. Even when the Kahan Commission into the Sabra and Shatila massacres found Ariel Sharon to have "personal responsibility", he still retained ministerial office in Begin's cabinet, and before long became foreign minister and ultimately prime minister. The Shamgar commission set up to investigate the massacre of 29 Palestinians at the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron in 1994 exonerated both the army and the settler leadership of all responsibility, and recommended the partitioning a site that had been a mosque for nearly 1,400 years.

The Landau commission investigating Israeli interrogation techniques, not only took no action but deemed Israel had the right to "use moderate physical pressure" - torture to the rest of us. It even outlined in a secret part of the report exactly how this should be done. Torture continues today, with recent reports of a 15-year-old Palestinian boy threatened with torture by use of car battery leads on his hands and genitalia.
While a UN inquiry into Israel's assault on Gaza found evidence of potential war crimes and crimes against humanity, the initial Israeli investigation only prosecuted one soldier - for the use of a stolen credit card. History repeats itself, as it seems a credit card of one of the activists, taken by Israeli security ended up being used in Tel Aviv.

Impunity also extends to soldiers and settlers in the occupied territories. The Israeli human rights group, B'Tselem has reported for years on how settlers are never held to account for their crimes. Rabbi Moshe Levinger, a Hebron settler leader, was given a five-month sentence for killing a Palestinian, reduced to only four. While western fatalities attract more attention from the Israeli authorities and international media, justice rarely ensues and the families of Rachel Corrie or Tom Hurndall, both killed by Israeli soldiers, still await the truth of what happened to their loved ones even today.

How can a government that uses overwhelming force against civilians, torture, detains children without trial, steals land and resources of another people, demolishes their homes and property, and has violated so many laws and conventions it would be difficult to list them on one page, seriously be expected to hold itself to account?

Sadly, British ministers have already welcomed the inquiry despite its shortcomings and lack of independence. Suspicions have been aroused that acceptance of this charade was in return for a cosmetic easing of the blockade of Gaza, and not what is needed, its full and final lifting.

The international community, and in particular the United States, never says enough. Like a spoilt child, Israel can do as it pleases. Should we be surprised that Israel uses fake British passports to assassinate people in third countries? The impact of this lack of accountability was highlighted in the report of the UN fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict in 2009 arguing that this only led to further crimes.

Stitching up an inquiry will be a Pyrrhic victory for Israel, just as Widgery did not help the British. The blockade of Gaza is unravelling, its barbaric siege and imprisonment of Gaza further exposed to a horrified world, with more flotillas prepared to run the gauntlet of Israeli gunboats and boarding parties. Hamas gets stronger as do more hardline elements in Gaza. Israeli leaders are not asking the right questions. Only a root-and-branch change in their policies and actions towards the Palestinians will bring them both security and international acceptance that they crave.

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 Notes to editors:
1.      On 14 June 2010, Israel announced a three-man panel inquiry into the flotilla attacks, with two international observers. 

Chris Doyle
Council for Arab-British Understanding

For further information and interviews please contact the CAABU office 0207 832 1321 - Chris Doyle can be reached on 07968 040 281.
Promoting an enlightened and positive approach to Arab-British relations in Government, Parliament, the Media, education and amongst the wider public.
We are the oldest and largest organisation of its type in Europe having been set up in 1967. We strive hard to build on the historical, political and cultural links between the Arab world and Britain.


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