Turkish flotilla attack anniversary haunts Israel as Freedom Flotilla II prepares to sail

Osman El Sharnoubi, Tuesday 31 May 2011

Ominously, the anniversary of Israel’s killing of 9 activists aboard the Mavi Marva aid flotilla to Gaza plays in the background as the Freedom Flotilla II prepares to sail and Israel retorts it will intercept it 'at all costs’

Thousands of pro-Palestinian activists and demonstrators march to the Taksim Square in Istanbul, Turkey, Monday, May 30, 2011 as they marked the first anniversary of a deadly raid by Israel on a Turkish aid ship bound for the Gaza Strip, (AP).

A year has passed since Israeli occupation forces raided the Turkish aid vessel MV Mavi Marmara in international waters, preventing it from reaching embargoed Gaza.

In the process, Israeli soldiers riddled eight Turkish and one American citizen on board with 30 bullets, killing them and wounding several dozen others.

The Mavi Marmara was one of three ships comprising the Gaza Freedom Flotilla attempting to break Israel’s then three-year-long brutal blockade on Gaza and deliver much-needed aid to the impoverished population there.

Throughout the ensuing year and challenging large-scale international condemnation Israel repeatedly defended its actions, asserting that its commandos were attacked by slingshots, knives, metal objects, among others, and that the soldiers were defending themselves against injury.

In a UN report published in September 2010 the investigators stated the operation to board was illegal and condemned the ensuing violence; the report said that “violations of international law, including international humanitarian and human rights law, were committed by the Israeli forces during the interception of the flotilla.”

Violations mentioned in the report included “wilful killing; torture or inhuman treatment; wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health,” adding that “the level of violence inflicted on the members of the flotilla was incredible and disproportionate.”

Israel towed its conventional line and denied any wrongdoing. To counter, they established the Turkel Commission to conduct its own investigation and produce its own report. In the end, the report clearly stated that the Israeli forces’ and government’s version of the events was correct. The former Supreme Court judge Yaakov Turkel heading the investigation assured that the soldiers were attacked, even shot at (by weapons wrested from the soldiers by the activists) and had to react accordingly.

The report further accused a main contributor to the flotilla, a Turkish NGO called the Turkish Foundation for Human Rights, Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH), of having ties to Hamas and of trying to smuggle weapons and banned material to Gaza. Furthermore, for security reasons it defended its imposed blockade on Gaza, something that the United Nations has numerous times deemed a breach of the Geneva Conventions.

The whole affair back-fired on Israel on several levels: firstly, a severe rift sheathed between the once-close Turkey and Israel. Under international pressure, Israel eased the blockade, and finally, it provoked a persistent resolve on the part of activists worldwide to break the siege. Yet, short of condemnation, no government action was taken on the ground, save for Egypt’s the opening of the Rafah border crossing with Gaza to allow for the passage of humanitarian and medical aid.

The Free Gaza movement and its coalition partners, a group of international organisations, are preparing to set the Freedom Flotilla II to Gaza to sail in June. The 15 ships planned as part of the flotilla should carry 1,500 activists from about 100 different countries and is intended to carry aid and banned construction material.

The Free Gaza movement has been trying to pierce the blockade since 2008, travelling to Gaza nine times, the last four of which have been violently intercepted, including the trip by the Mavi Marmara.

Recent developments are putting more pressure on Israel, whom the Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has accused of “state terrorism,” to end its blockade.

The recent Egyptian decision to open the Rafah crossing permanently, notwithstanding that it is mainly to allow for the passage of Palestinians and not goods, led Israel to call for international arbitration against Egypt.

Turkey, on the other hand, has long-since launched its own investigation, its top prosecutor recently demanding Israel reveal the names of soldiers and military personnel involved in the attacks.

Israel is using the maritime blockade on Gaza as the reason to fire occasionally at Palestinian shipping boats and the sporadic killing of fishermen, which has caught media attention lately.

Israel has vowed to prevent the second flotilla from breaking the siege “at all costs,” including using armed force; however, such escalating threats haven’t thwarted the plans to reach the Gazans.

Freedom Flotilla II is to sail from different Mediterranean ports around 20 June.

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