Turkey releases report on flotilla incident, accusing Israel
Turkey publicizes its internal report on the flotilla debacle in response to Israel's Turkel Commission investigation report on Sunday.
Ariel Schalit/AP Photo
Eight Turks and an American citizen of Turkish descent were killed during the 4:26 a.m. raid on the humanitarian aid flotilla, which was cruising 72 miles off the coast in international waters on its way to break Israel's Gaza blockade.
The Turkish report found that Israeli units shot dead two people from their helicopters before fast-roping onto the deck, where they battled passengers armed with sticks, clubs, and knives mostly drawn from the shipâ€™s eight kitchens.
What Turkey found
Turkeyâ€™s report on the incident was submitted to a United Nations investigation last September, but is now being made public after Israel on Sunday published its own report, which cleared the Israeli military and government of any wrongdoing.
â€śThe attacker canâ€™t claim that he is defending himself,â€ť a senior Turkish foreign ministry official said Tuesday. â€śOur aim was not to demonize Israel or the Israeli people [or] to tarnish the Israeli nationâ€¦. But Israel has not come to terms with their injustice.â€ť
The report of Israelâ€™s Turkel Commission â€“ which is to be the basis of Israelâ€™s findings for the UN investigation â€“ affirms Israelâ€™s official declarations that its units killed in self-defense. Turkish officials have dismissed it as â€śflawedâ€ť and a â€śwhitewash.â€ť
Outrage in Turkey over the incident has deeply damaged Israelâ€™s relations with one-time close ally Turkey, which has demanded an apology and reparations.
The Turkish report said that Israel mounted a â€śfull-fledged and pre-meditated attackâ€ť by heavily armed soldiers with live ammunition that used â€śexcessive, indiscriminate and disproportionate force â€¦ against the civilians on board,â€ť the Turkish report said.
Once the Israelis took over the vessel they â€ścontinued to brutalize and terrorize the passengers, abusing them physically and psychologically,â€ť the report found. During interrogation that lasted days in Israel, all passengers were â€śforced to sign incriminatory statementsâ€ť in Hebrew, while â€śevidence of critical importance to shed light on the attack was destroyed, tampered with or despoiled.â€ť
Some findings of the Turkish report echo those from the UN Human Rights Council, whose fact-finding mission last September concluded â€śa series of violations of international law â€¦ were committed by the Israeli forces during the interception of the flotilla.â€ť
What Israel found
Israelâ€™s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the Israeli commission findings, which stated that Israeli soldiers acted appropriately on the ship after they â€śencountered a real resistance force, armed with clubs, iron rods, chairs, etc.â€ť
The report stated that the â€ślargest groupâ€ť among the 600 on board was made up of â€śpeace activists,â€ť and that an order went out over the Mavi Marmaraâ€™s public address system telling all passengers to return to their seats.
The commission stated that passengers who were â€śdirect participants in hostilitiesâ€ť could legally be considered combatants.
It also found that Israeli soldiers â€śacted professionally and in a measured manner,â€ť though their actions â€śhad the regrettable consequences of the loss of human life and physical injuries.â€ť
"I hope all those who rushed to judgment against Israel and its soldiers will read these reports,â€ť Mr. Netanyahu said. â€śThe truth is that our soldiers were defending our country and defending their very lives. This is not only their right; it is their duty.â€ť
Loopholes and whitewash?
The Israeli position has prompted fury in Turkey, where President Abdullah Gul said Israelâ€™s report â€śisnâ€™t worth the paper it is printed on â€“ it has no credibility, legitimacy, or plausibility.â€ť
â€śItâ€™s full of legal loopholes, itâ€™s distorting facts, and unfortunately it whitewashes the Israeli military,â€ť said the senior Turkish official in Istanbul. â€śOur conclusion is itâ€™s shielding those people who are responsible â€¦ from international prosecution in the future.â€ť
Turkeyâ€™s report confirmed initial autopsies, noting that â€śmost suffered from multiple shots at close range.â€ť Witnesses reported shortly after the event that Israelis used laser sights on their guns in some cases; one of the dead was shot between the eyes.
The Turkish report also details what it called efforts by Israel to complicate any Turkish forensic examination. Bodies had been washed and â€śgunshot residues were removedâ€ť before being repatriated to Turkey.
The ship itself had been held in the Israeli port of Ashdod for 66 days, and when handed back to Turkey had been â€śscrubbed down thoroughly, blood stains completely washed off, bullet holes painted over; ship records, Captainâ€™s log, computer hardware, ship documents seized, CCTV cameras smashed, all photographic footage seized and presumably destroyed or withheld.â€ť
â€śIf you try so hard to hide evidence, it means that psychologically you are under pressure, that you committed something,â€ť said the senior ministry official.
He also echoed the conclusion of the Turkish report, that Israeli forces had a number of nonlethal ways of stopping the Mavi Marmara, but chose not to use them.
â€śIsrael prepared for a combat operation and refused to deviate from this strategy," the Turkish report stated. â€śThe tragic truth is that civilian casualty [sic] could have been avoided if Israel had sought [an] alternative non-violent plan of action.â€ť