The Apology – more background from Israeli officials via Turkish media

Israel’s colorfully-spoken Foreign Ministry spokesperson Yigal Palmor has kindly explained, to representatives of the Turkish media, some of the problems involved in Israel’s failure to apologize [so far] for the deaths of nine Turkish men [including a 19-year-old Turkish American high school student] during the ill-prepared and ill-conceived boarding of the 600-passenger Turkish ship Mavi Marmara on the high seas in the eastern Mediterranean on 30 May 2010 by a few helicopter-borne Israeli commandos [who apparently expected to be instantly obeyed].

The Turkish Hurrieyet Daily News reports today that Palmor said negotiations with Turkey involved discussions including the word “apology”. “Yigal Palmor, a spokesperson for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, also told a group of Turkish journalists in Jerusalem earlier this week that the deal was put on hold at the very last minute before being voted on by the Israeli Cabinet. This was due to ‘additional conditions’ set by senior Turkish government officials”. This is reported here.

As it turns out from a reading of this Hurriyet report, the “additional conditions” were not part of the discussions or negotiations, but rather were entirely separate. It appears that the linkage was made by Israel.

Hurriyet reports that “the agreement had lost its credibility before it was put to a vote by the Israeli Cabinet, Palmor said, due to the additional conditions later publicly set by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an. ‘While it was being discussed by the Israeli Cabinet, Mr. Erdo?an made a statement in which he called on Israel to lift the blockade on the Gaza Strip. Later, a high-ranking Turkish official, it may have been Mr. Erdo?an again, said the government would not pursue prosecution of the Israeli soldiers involved in the raid, but that they could not give guarantees for other parties. Those were additional conditions’, Palmor said. Following these statements, the deal was shelved, Palmor said”.

So, what was the “apology” going to be?

According to this account in Hurriyet, Palmor “revealed the long-discussed wording of the planned deal on the issue: ‘If possible operational mistakes led to unintentional damage and unintentional loss of life, then Israel apologizes’. The spokesperson also underlined the fact that it was an agreement that ‘included an “if”,’ and it was not intended to state as a fact that something wrong had happened as a direct result of Israeli policy”.

This Turkish newpaper’s report on Palmor’s briefing adds that “The planned agreement, which was negotiated by Turkish and Israeli diplomats in Geneva, had many layers, said Palmor. ‘According to the plan, Israel was supposed to announce an agreed formula that would be satisfactory for both sides, to agree with the [UN’s] Palmer Report before it was published, and to agree to pay compensation to the families of victims through a joint Turkish-Israeli fund’, he said … According to the spokesperson, Turkey, in return, agreed to restore diplomatic ties to their previous level, to declare it had no claims left on the issue, and to announce it would not pursue the prosecution of the Israeli soldiers who were involved in the raid. But, following the statements from Turkey, the deal was never submitted to the Israeli Cabinet for voting, Palmor said”.

The Mavi Marmara was part of a “Freedom Flotilla” of some six boats, with large unofficial Turkish participation headed by the IHH humanitarian aid organization, headed to “break the siege” on Gaza — over a year after Israel had declared a formal maritime blockade of Gaza’s maritime space.

Israeli think-tanks and Israeli officials warned many times in advance of the sailing of the Freedom Flotilla that they viewed it as a “terrorist” threat.

Israel denies entry to Swedish MK who could have testified to Turkel Commission because he was on board the Mavi Marmara

Israeli authorities have denied entry today to a Swedish MK who was on board the Freedom Flotilla’s Mavi Marmara on 31 May, when Israeli Naval forces launched an interception and boarding attack that ended with 9 dead — all Turks, one of them a 19-year-old American high school student.

According to a report by Agence France Presse today, a Swedish member of Parliament of Turkish origin, Mehmet Kaplan, “was ordered to leave minutes after his plane landed in Israel because he had ‘failed to follow procedure’ and obtain an entry visa in Sweden, ministry spokeswoman Sabine Hadad told AFP. Dror Feiler, an Israeli artist based in Sweden who has relinquished his Israeli citizenship, was also expelled upon arrival at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, Hadad said … Passengers detained in the raid on the flotilla were later released after signing a letter ‘in which they pledged to obtain authorisation to enter Israel from Israeli embassies in their respective countries’, Hadad said”. This news report is posted here.

Just last week, the Turkel Commission appointed by the Israeli government to look into the international law aspects of the “maritime incident” has just repeated its invitation for anyone on board the Mavi Marmara to testify: “The Commission wishes to remind the public of the notice from 21 October 2010, in which we called upon any eye witnesses with relevant information and/or documentation for the Commission’s mission, who are willing to testify. (This invitation is posted here) The Commission will be accepting such submissions no later than 15 November 2010″.

These two men could apparently both have testified about what happened on board the Mavi Marmara during the Flotilla fiasco.

It is not clear that they would have agreed to do so — a number of the activists who were on board apparently have a problem with the idea of accepting what they see as the commission’s flawed mandate.

The Palestine Information Center reported tonight that “Dror Feiler, the spokesman for the Swedish ship that was part of the Flotilla, told the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper on Friday that he would file a complaint on behalf of 11 Swedes against the Israeli leaders on 8th November with Tel Aviv police and the Israeli prosecutor. He explained that the complaint would be filed against Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu, his war minister Ehud Barak, and his Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi. The charges would include armed robbery, kidnap, detention, and assault and battery, Feiler elaborated”. This report can be read in full here.

YNet reported that Feiler was coming to get his saxophone back — it was confiscated, along with his telephone and cameras, and never returned: ” ‘Preventing my entry wouldn’t be logical, but I am aware that it’s hard to count on the logic of Israeli authorities, so there is certainly a fear that they won’t let me enter’, he says. ‘It would be strange. After all, I was born in Israel, my mother lives in Israel and I have friends and family there. It’s my right to enter and explain to anyone who wants to hear what the aim of the flotilla was and why I work overtime against the policies of the Israeli government’.” This is posted here.

Haaretz wrote that “The Turkish-born MP Mehmet Kaplan and artist Dror Feiler were detained at the Ben Gurion International Airport upon landing, on the grounds that they were barred for 10 years due to their participation in the May 2010 flotilla. Both were among the dozens of flotilla passengers taken in to custody following Israel’s deadly raid … Feiler, who currently lives in Sweden, also took part in the flotilla, though not on the Mavi Marmara ship where nine Turkish activists died in clashes with Israeli naval commandos. He has given up his Israeli citizenship but has been permitted to return to the country dozens of times since. This was the first time he was denied entry … ‘Anyone who took part in the flotilla will not be permitted into Israel’, said Sabine Hadad, spokesman for immigration authorities. ‘They know this. They should have contacted the embassy before arriving’.” This was published here.

So, even if they had applied for a visa from Sweden, it would have been denied anyway…? Even if they were going to testify to the Turkel commission?

IDF to use dogs when boarding future Flotillas

A report posted overnight in the Jerusalem Post says that “The IDF’s Oketz canine unit will be used to assist soldiers in boarding Gaza-bound ships during future interceptions, a military source said on Thursday. The decision followed intensive deliberations by military chiefs on how to improve boarding techniques following the bloody confrontation on board the Mavi Marmara ship on May 31″… This is posted here.

The Israeli naval interceptions are part of Israel’s formal maritime blockade of the Gaza Strip, announced on 3 January 2009, during the IDF Operation Cast Lead [27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009].

The Israeli declaration of a naval blockade appears to be aimed at stopping the various flotillas that were trying to “break the siege” — as much as at the official reasons given [interdicting possible arms shipments into Gaza or weakening the position of Hamas in the Gaza strip].

YNet reported that “The dogs will be the first to board the decks, to prevent harm to soldiers from hostile elements on board. ‘As soon as you put an attack dog in an area where soldiers are supposed to get to, it keeps the place sterile and prevents anyone from approaching’, a military source said. ‘Dogs can be placed by crane or other means. They’ll be the first, and after them, the soldiers’. Dogs from the Oketz unit are trained to immobilize an enemy by biting – the more the enemy struggles, the harder the bite. ‘Attack dogs have proved their capabilities on many occasions’, the source said. ‘They are strong and merciless, but in fact this is a non-lethal weapon that can certainly do the work (on the deck)’. The same source said dogs were involved in preparations for boarding the Turkish flotilla, but it was believed there would be no violent opposition from the people aboard the Marmara, so they were not sent onto the decks. ‘After that flotilla, we understood that this is indeed a good method and we’re improving our abilities’, he said. ‘A dog has no problem operating on a boat and can do great work’.” This is posted here.

There was violence in IDF boarding of Jewish boat heading to Gaza

Yes, we now know, there was indeed violence in the Israeli naval takeover of the Irene, the “Jewish Boat” that had audaciously sailed from a northern Cyprus port last weekend, heading toward Gaza.

Predictably, most of it was directed against “refusniks” Yonatan Shapira, who once served as an Israeli Air Force pilot, and — to a lesser extent — his younger brother Itamar.

Yonatan signed “A Pilot’s letter” with 26 other Israeli Air Force pilots in September 2003, saying “we are no longer willing to follow illegal orders”, protesting targetted assassinations in particular in Gaza, which he said were “war crimes”. He formed, with former Palestinian fighters, a group called “Combattants for Peace”, which he described in an interview on Democracy Now:

Yonatan repeated his accusation of “war crime” in an interview with the BBC on 6 January 2009, at the height of the IDF Operation Cast Lead in Gaza [27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009]:

The views he expresses in these Youtube videos show why it was predictable that Yonatan would have been treated with greater violence during the Israeli naval take-over of the Irene, the Jewish Boat to Gaza.

Yonatan received three strong electric shocks from a taser gun — twice, it was fired directly onto his chest, over his heart.

Continue reading There was violence in IDF boarding of Jewish boat heading to Gaza

Turkish President stands firm on Israeli responsibility for Flotilla fiasco

An Associated Press report published in Haaretz informs us that: “Turkish President Abdullah Gul said late Monday that Israel’s deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla would have sparked war ‘in old times’.”


Gul repeated his country’s demand, made following the Israeli naval attack at sea on the Freedom Flotilla in the Eastern Mediterranean, that Israel “must adhere to international law and take public responsibility for the attack”.

In an interview with AP in New York, where Gul is one of many world leaders attending a special high-level session of the UN General Assembly, he said: “It is not possible to act as though this incident did not take place … In the old world, in the old times, if such an incident were to take place, wars would follow … But in our world today, it is international law that has to be taken into consideration … It is up to Israel. They have to do what is necessary since they are the ones that created the incident,” he added”.

The AP report said that senior Israeli sources had confirmed that Gul had made an Israeli apology a condition for meeting Israel’s President Shimon Peres in New York. Gul did not tell AP that this was a Turkish condition, but AP noted that “Peres said … that the planned meeting was scrapped because Turkey had set unacceptable conditions”.

Continue reading Turkish President stands firm on Israeli responsibility for Flotilla fiasco

Israeli decision to participated in UN Panel on Freedom Flotilla: "UNprecedented"

Given Israel’s new-found appreciation of international law, it should not be too surprising: “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today (Monday), 2.8.10, informed UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon that Israel would participate in the panel that he is establishing in the wake of the 31.5.10 events regarding the flotilla”, the Israeli Prime Minister’s office has announced.

According to the statement, Netanyahu said that “Israel has nothing to hide. The opposite is true. It is in the national interest of the State of Israel to ensure that the factual truth of the overall flotilla events comes to light throughout the world and this is exactly the principle that we are advancing.”

The Prime Minister consulted his “Security Cabinet” — a “seven-member ministerial forum” — before the decision was announced,  and, the statement said, “diplomatic contacts … have been held in recent weeks in order to ensure that this was indeed a panel with a balanced and fair written mandate”.

Haaretz’s Barak Raviv wrote that This is the first time Israel has ever agreed to participate in a UN probe regarding the Israel Defense Forces … UN Secretary General Ban officially announced Israel’s participation in the international inquiry, calling it an ‘unprecedented development’ … Ban also announced those who are planned to head the UN inquiry, saying the ‘panel will be led by eminent personalities: former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Mr. Geoffrey Palmer as Chair and the outgoing President of Colombia, Mr. Alvaro Uribe as Vice-Chair. The Panel will have two additional members, one each from Israel and Turkey. It will begin its work on 10 August and submit the first progress report by mid September’.”

Ban reportedly added that he hoped “the Panel will fulfill its mandate based on the Presidential Statement of the Security Council and with the fullest cooperation of the relevant national authorities of the two countries … It will also give me recommendations for the prevention of similar incidents in the future”… This is reported in Haaretz here.

The Joan of Arc of the Knesset

It was a strikingly ugly act, an act of  public bullying, that made the soul cringe.

It was excruciating to watch.

This is incendiary and divisive stuff, in a country that has trouble managing minority-majority relations.

Even writing about this group ganging-up against one individual human being causes revulsion.

Haneen Zoabi, elected member of the Israeli Knesset for the Arab/Palestinian National Democratic Assembly [a/k/a the Balad Party and as Tajamua] , stood in the Knesset  last week to face her public punishment  for having participated in the Freedom Flotilla sailing towards Gaza that was stopped by an Israeli naval assault on 31 May in which 8 Turkish men and one American-born high-school student were shot and killed.

Fewer than half of the 120-member Knesset plenary participated in the 34 to 16 vote (total vote = 50, out of 120) to withdraw several parliamentary privileges, including Zoabi’s diplomatic passport, her right to leave the country, and her right to reimbursement for any legal defense. Not even all the 65 Knesset members who are counted as “far-right” participated in this vote.

But very few did anything to try to stop the continuing verbal assault, and public humiliation: though Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin did express his personal regret, he abstained in the vote (as Haaretz noted in an editorial. And mondoweiss blog now mentions that Uri Avnery reported noticing some “half-hearted protest” made by Haim Oron of Meretz).

Zoabi was told she had caused shame and disgrace to her family and to the Knesset.   In earlier raucus Knesset hearings, the 41-year-old politician from Nazareth (apparently, her Muslim parents sent her to a Catholic school) was called a traitor, and in the next breath was blamed for not being married.  One other female Knesset member (Anastasia Michaeli, born in Russia) had to be physically prevented from attacking her on 2 June, and harassed Zoabi by holding up an oversize replica of an Iranian passport with Zoabi’s photo and name on it.  Death threats have been made.

It is impossible to imagine that the scenario would have been the same if Zoabi had been a man, or if she had been Jewish.

Continue reading The Joan of Arc of the Knesset

Quote of the day – (4th in our series)

Today’s quote is written by Jerusalem Post Defense Correspondent Yaakov Katz, writing about the report commissioned by the IDF, which was recently presented to the client (with only a summary to the public) by Major General Giora Eiland:
“…what is also clear from the recent flotilla affair, and others before it, is that the military culture here does not believe in holding individual officers responsible for their mistakes. This is without a doubt the case when it comes to high-ranking officers but can also be applied to the junior ranks“. The JPost article from which this is drawn can be read in full here.

Tracking the Libyan-chartered boat

A Libyan-chartered boat, loaded with 2,000 tons of food and medical supplies destined for Gaza, was immobile for several hours earlier Tuesday in the waters of the Mediterranean off Port Said, Egypt. It began to move again around 5 pm.

It could be headed to the Egyptian port of El-Arish, as it has apparently official listed as its destination, or to Israel’s Ashdod Port — or even to Gaza.

People associated either with the ship or with the Libyan aid group that chartered it have sounded accommodating and non-confrontational for days. Yet, as some Palestinians [in Gaza and in Jerusalem] — and others — encourage the ship to head to Gaza in defiance of Israel’s formal naval blockade, Israeli military officials have raised their tone as well.

UPDATE: The IDF spokesperson has just sent a tweet assuring that “Contrary to media reports, no ultimatum was issued to crew of Libyan boat by Israeli Navy … Rather, the Navy had emphasized that the boat could not be allowed to enter Gaza Port” A few hours earlier, the IDF sent these two tweets: “Israeli Navy has begun preparations to stop Libyan boat in case boat persists in trying to enter maritime closure area”. and “The Israeli Navy has initiated communication with the Libyan ship”. It is still not clear, but the boat appears to be turning slightly in the direction of El-Arish.

Continue reading Tracking the Libyan-chartered boat

What if they gave a press conference, and nobody came?

So, what would be the worst thing that could happen if they gave a press conference — and nobody came?

A few months after Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli Foreign Ministry (MFA) offered a briefing to journalists on its response to criticisms about the Gaza war. Despite the nicely-air-conditioned auditorium, five journalists came.

Some days before that, the MFA offered a similar briefing on the same topic to the diplomatic corps. I was told that five diplomats attended….

Now, Israel’s YNet website has reported that “Weeks before the Gaza-bound flotilla left port, at the end May, 2010, the Israeli government was aware of the problem and the potential whiplash. Israel’s Defense Ministry, under Ehud Barak, worked out plans to enforce the blockade and apprehend the ships; Israel’s Foreign Ministry was responsible for PR and the legal justification for stopping the flotilla”…

Continue reading What if they gave a press conference, and nobody came?