By Richard Lightbown – Istanbul
The fourth anniversary of Israel’s attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla was commemorated in Istanbul on 31 May by a demonstration of solidarity joined by an estimated eighty to one hundred thousand people. The people of Turkey have not forgotten those who were killed, wounded and tortured by Israeli terrorists (who concurrently claimed to be paragons of moral virtue). Neither have they forgotten the people of Gaza whose daily suffering is fatuously linked by world leaders to Israel’s security needs.
This year the list of those martyred on the Mavi Marmara was increased by the name of Uğur Süleyman Sӧlemez who finally died on 23 May. He had been in a coma ever since he was shot in the head with a live bullet fired from a Zodiac speedboat. He was targeted because he had been operating a fire hose to prevent commandos boarding from those same craft. The use of fire hoses is a standard defense against pirates and therefore might be considered compatible with combating an illegal all-out military assault. Even the UN Panel report expressing the opinion that the blockade (and therefore its enforcement) was legal, called the vicious attack without a final warning ‘excessive and unreasonable’. (This perverse opinion of the blockade was written by a sometime unelected Prime Minister of New Zealand, and the former supreme commander of Colombia’s death squads with an undeclared interest as a former major purchaser of Israeli arms and military expertise.)
Three days after Mr Sӧlemez’s death the Seventh High Criminal Court in Istanbul finally ran out of patience with Israeli procrastination and, to cheers and applause, issued arrest warrants for the four defendants charged in 2012 with ordering the operation which instigated the crimes. The four accused are former Chief of General Staff Gavriel Ashkenazy, former Naval Forces Commander Eliezer Marom, Air Forces Intelligence Director Avishai Levy and Head of the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate Amos Yadlin. Reuters later received a text message from Amos Yadlin saying ‘I won’t be visiting Turkey, just like I won’t be visiting Syria, Iran or North Korea’. However this bravado might realistically be tempered with the knowledge that his co-accused Elizier Marom was forced to cancel a speaking engagement in London last November following an interview with the Metropolitan Police at Heathrow airport. Had the Met officers been more diligent in their duty Mr Marom might not have returned to Israel so promptly.
The arrest warrants are to be considered by Minister of Justice Sadullah Ergin who will be responsible for deciding whether to request Interpol to issue Red Notices for the four accused. The notices would seek their location and arrest with a view to extradition.
Elsewhere the governments of Turkey and Israel have been negotiating compensation following Prime Minister Netanyahu’s apology for the killing of Turkish citizens. (Significantly however he did not apologize for the illegal killing of U.S. citizen Furkan Doğan to U.S. President Barak Obama who had brokered the deal.) Israel is desperately seeking to end all criminal proceedings associated with the raid and has linked its offer of compensation and diplomatic normalization to a demand that all such proceedings be dropped. However Turkish courts are independent of the state legislature and the cases cannot be dropped without the consent of the complainants, all of whom have expressed a determination to continue their pursuit of justice. Since an international agreement on compensation would need to go before the Turkish state legislature it has been suggested that the impasse could be avoided by new legislation that would grant pardons to the four Israeli accused. Needless to say this would be extremely unpopular with the Turkish electorate and potentially very damaging for any politician associated with the deal.
Mr Ergin now has to decide between Turkish citizens demanding that the legal processes continue against the four accused (and set a precedent for further prosecutions) or accede to Israeli demands which are very likely supported behind the scenes by strong arm tactics from the U.S. administration. Some commentators have suggested that he may simply fudge the issue by delaying the request to Interpol by bureaucratic procedures.
At the same time the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court is considering whether to institute an investigation following a request from the Union of the Comoros which is the flag state of the Mavi Marmara. A determination on the matter is expected to take about two months. Among other considerations, the Prosecutor will have to decide whether the criminal case in Turkey, along with a similar cases in South Africa and Spain will render the case inadmissible at the ICC. (The investigation in South Africa was initiated by lawyers representing South African journalist Gadeja Davids who was on the Mavi Marmara.)
A measure of Israel’s desperation at these circumstances was revealed in a Jerusalem Post article reporting an appeal to Interpol to ignore any Red Notice request on the grounds that its statutes do not allow it to intervene in political affairs. It is worth recalling that what is being described as a ‘political affair’ involves the murder of ten civilians, gunshot wounds to more than fifty others, following by the abduction and physical maltreatment (described as being akin to torture by one UN inquiry) of over 600 passengers and crew. In addition more than forty per cent of the 10,000 ton humanitarian cargo was either rendered unusable, destroyed or stolen while in Israeli custody, while an estimated 800 cameras along with a similar number of mobile phones were stolen from the Flotilla participants. Four of the ships were seriously vandalized before being released to their owners (one of them was so badly damaged that it had to be sold for scrap) and three are still held in Israeli custody.
In an era when politics and politicians are widely regarded with contempt, Israel’s bureaucrats are once again trying to set new standards of depravity for this widely discredited profession by embracing their mafia-like behavior within the definition of politics.
– Richard Lightbown contributed this report to PalestineChronicle.com.