Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul said Turkey would reject the report, regarding it as “null and void”… “The time has come for Israel to pay a price for its illegal actions… first of all, (Israel) is being deprived of Turkey’s friendship.”

By Air Commodore ® Khalid Iqbal                                                                                       

Turkey has finally taken the long overdue step to regularise the expulsion of Israeli ambassador over Israel’s refusal to apologise for excessive use of force in last year’s high sea piracy on ‘Freedom Flotilla’. During this cowardly ambush, nine innocent civilians including 8 Turkish pacifists were murdered in cold blood. Flotilla was intercepted by the Israeli navy in international waters as it sailed towards Gaza’s coast on 31 May 2010. Last week an Israeli official said, “We don't need to apologise for our acting to protect our citizens, our children, our cities."

Composition of ‘Freedom Flotilla’ was unassuming, six small boats carried over 600 unarmed pacifist passengers from 32 countries; these included celebrities like the Swedish author Henning Mankell, the Irish Nobel laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire and a number of parliamentarians of European Union. Their commitment for peace and humanitarian cause could be gauged from the fact that despite barbaric actions by Israeli commandos, these passengers administered medical treatment to injured Israeli commandos.

  Though there was spontaneous across the board condemnation from all over the world, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan came out with exceptionally courageous response by expressing his desire to join the struggle even by personally boarding a ship to break the inhuman blockade of Gaza. The tempo set by him played vital role in snowballing diplomatic pressure on Israel. Now, once again, he has carried the day by announcing that Turkish Naval ships shall escort the humanitarian relief ships destined for Gaza.

Turkey called for an urgent session of the UN Security Council that convened on 1 June 2010, and adopted a consensus Presidential Statement, authorising a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation, into the tragedy, conforming to international standards. Soon after, the UN Human Rights Council also adopted a resolution by which it established a ‘Fact-Finding Mission.’ This Mission established that the Gaza blockade is unlawful; conviction was endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council and supported by the UN General Assembly.  

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The UN SG also set up an ‘Inquiry Panel’ in line with the call by the Security Council. Right from the onset, this inquiry process faced manipulation. Though headed by Geoffrey Palmer, former Prime Minister of New Zealand, who enjoys a reputation for integrity and honesty, his course of action was restricted by a compulsion to reach consensus with the Vice Chair of panel, ex-Columbian President Alvaro Uribe, who is a devout follower of the Israeli line. Mr Ban-Ki-Moon insisted that no report would be released unless Palmer and Uribe could reach consensus. As a result the inquiry panel restricted itself to "reviewing reports from Israel and Turkey, thus sidestepping any independent gathering of evidence or hearing of testimony from eyewitnesses." This approach guaranteed equity for Israel’s obstinate stance.

Palmer Report indicates that Israel used excessive force in dealing with the passengers; however, it endorses Israel's naval blockade at a great distance from the blockade zone. It termed ‘no final warning immediately prior to the boarding’ as excessive and unreasonable. Inquiry maintains that forensic evidence showed “most of the deceased were shot multiple times, including in the back, or at close range”. It added, however, that the flotilla “acted recklessly in attempting to breach the naval blockade” and the Israeli commandoes “faced significant, organized and violent resistance from a group of passengers”. The inquiry called on Israel to make “an appropriate statement of regret” and pay compensation to the families of the dead. Report is indeed incompatible with the letter and spirit of the ‘Presidential Statement’ adopted by the UN Security Council by consensus. On top of it, Palmer report ‘got leaked’ prior to its submission to UNSG.

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What Turkey had been asking from Israel was a formal apology, compensation to the families of the deceased and lifting of Gaza blockade. These are indeed modest demands. Turkish and Israeli official have held four rounds of talks to evolve an agreed text of apology.  An agreement was reached in Geneva in December 2010.  Though agreement was endorsed by the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, due to the disagreements within the Israeli cabinet, it could not be implemented. 

Repeated delays in the publication of the Palmer Commission’s report were caused as a result of Israel’s request for additional time to form its internal consensus over apology and compensation. The last such request for a 6 month-additional period was not accepted by Turkey. Because it became quite evident that all these requests for delay were aimed at prolonging the process.

Turkey has decided on a series of steps as a mark of protest. Diplomatic relations with Israel have been downgraded to the Second Secretary level. Military agreements with Israel have been suspended, and military trade has been halted. Turkey has enhanced its naval patrolling along its coastline in the Eastern Mediterranean, to ensure the freedom of navigation in the Eastern Mediterranean.  Turkey does not recognize the blockade imposed on Gaza by Israel.

Turkey is sending a request to the International Court of Justice to consider the legality of the blockade. Turkish foreign minister Mr Davutoglu said, “This is not just an issue between Turkey and Israel but one between Israel and the international community, involving international rights and the international community’s conscience.”

Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul said Turkey would reject the report, regarding it as “null and void”… “The time has come for Israel to pay a price for its illegal actions… first of all, (Israel) is being deprived of Turkey’s friendship.”

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To play it low, Israel has ruled out the risk of a naval confrontation with Turkey. Deputy foreign minister Ayalon said, “I don’t think for a moment that Turkish (naval) ships will escort boats trying to run the blockade of Gaza.” However, he added that ‘Israel would keep the blockade in place’. The Israeli government claimed vindication over its right to impose a blockade on the Palestinian territory which is run by Hamas.

Spokesman for the Hamas government of Gaza, Abu Zuhri, said the UN report was “unjust and unbalanced” and would allow Israel “to shirk its responsibilities”.

Turkey has shown the right way that use of force cannot be tolerated and every nation has to stand up to preserve its sovereignty. Neither the Israeli Government who ordered the attack against the ship ‘Mavi Marmara’ nor its soldiers who actually carried out the attack are above or immune from the law.  They all must be held accountable.

People of Pakistan fully endorse the stance of Turkish government and stand shoulder to shoulder with their Turkish brethren in their struggle to get the blockade of Gaza lifted through all means. Blockade is in indeed inhuman, unjustified and hence untenable. Egyptian government has done a commendable job by lifting the land route blockade of Gaza. During the ongoing session of UNGA, Arab League, OIC, NAM, and OAU need to extend full support to Turkish initiative towards this just cause.

Unfortunately, America’s recent announcement that it would veto the resolution for Palestinian statehood in UNSG has once again reinforced the perception that Middle East is poised to remain on boiling pot, for quite some time.

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