Turkey’s upright stance!
Turkey has finally taken the long overdue step to regularise the expulsion of Israeli Ambassador over Israel’s refusal to apologise for the excessive use of force in last year’s high sea piracy on Freedom Flotilla. During this cowardly ambush, nine innocent civilians, including eight Turkish pacifists, were murdered in cold blood. Flotilla was intercepted by the Israeli navy in international waters, as it sailed towards the Gaza coast on May 31, 2010.
Last week, an Israeli official said: “We don't need to apologise for our acting to protect our citizens, our children, our cities."
The composition of Freedom Flotilla was unassuming, six small boats, carrying over 600 unarmed pacifist passengers from 32 countries; these included celebrities like the Swedish author Henning Mankell, the Irish Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire and a number of parliamentarians of the 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 the ferocious act was condemned all over the world, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan came out with an 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 a vital role in snowballing diplomatic pressure on Israel. Once again, he has carried the day by announcing that the Turkish navy shall escort the humanitarian relief ships destined for Gaza.
Turkey called for an urgent session of the UN Security Council that convened on June 1, 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; the resolution was endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council and supported by the UN General Assembly (UNGA).
The UNGA also set up an inquiry panel in line with the call of the Security Council. Right from the onset, the inquiry process faced manipulation. Though headed by Geoffrey Palmer, former Prime Minister of New Zealand, who enjoys a reputation for honesty, his course of action was restricted by a compulsion to reach consensus with the Vice Chair of the panel, ex-Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, who is a devout follower of the Israeli line. UN Secretary General 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."
Palmer’s report indicates that Israel used excessive force in dealing with the passengers. However, it endorses its naval blockade at a great distance from the blockade zone. It termed “no final warning immediately prior to the boarding”, as excessive and unreasonable. The 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, organised 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. The report is, indeed, incompatible in letter and in spirit of the ‘presidential statement’ adopted by the UNSC by consensus. On top of it, Palmer’s report ‘got leaked’ prior to its submission to the Council.
Turkey had been asking Israel for a formal apology, compensation to the families of the deceased and lifting of the Gaza blockade. These are, indeed, modest demands. The Turkish and Israeli officials have held four rounds of talks to evolve an agreed text of apology; an agreement was reached in Geneva in December 2010. Though the agreement was endorsed by the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, it could not be implemented due to the disagreements within the Israeli Cabinet.
Repeated delays in the publication of the Palmer Commission’s Report were caused by Israel’s request for additional time to form its internal consensus over an apology and compensation. The last request for a six-month additional period was not accepted by Turkey because it became quite evident that all these requests were actually 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 it have been suspended and 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. It does not recognise the blockade imposed on Gaza by Israel. Moreover, it is sending a request to the International Court of Justice to consider the legality of the blockade. Turkish Foreign Minister 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.” President Abdullah Gul also said that 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.”
To play it low, Israel has ruled out the risk of a naval confrontation with Turkey. Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel 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: “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. The Spokesman of the Hamas government, Abu Zuhri, said the UN report was “unjust and unbalanced” and would allow Israel “to shirk its responsibilities.”
Turkey has shown the right way, which is that the use of force cannot be tolerated and every nation has to stand up to preserve its sovereignty. Neither the Israeli government, which ordered the attack against the ship Mavi Marmara, nor its soldiers, who actually carried out the attack, are above the law; they all must be held accountable.
The people of Pakistan fully endorse the Turkish government’s stance and stand shoulder to shoulder with their brethren in their struggle to get the Gaza blockade lifted. It is, indeed, inhuman, unjustified and untenable. The Egyptian government has done a commendable job by lifting the land route blockade of Gaza. During the ongoing session of UNGA, the Arab League, OIC, NAM and OAU need to extend full support to the Turkish initiatives towards this just cause.
Unfortunately, America’s recent announcement that it would veto the resolution for Palestinian statehood in UNSC has once again reinforced the perception that the Middle East is poised to remain in the boiling pot for quite some time.
The writer is a retired Air Commodore and former assistant chief of air staff of the Pakistan Air Force. At present, he is a member of the visiting faculty at the PAF Air War College, Naval War College and Quaid-i-Azam University.