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Israel's whitewash inquiry unacceptable

It is no surprise, and perfectly understandable, that the Turkish Foreign Ministry has dismissed the internal inquiry set up by the Israeli government into its assault on the Gaza aid convoy in the eastern Mediterranean on the 31 May. Because the attack resulted in the deaths of nine Turkish civilians and injuries to dozens more from forty countries, the UN Security Council's call for a full investigation into the matter would have seen "a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to international standards" as the logical next step. But the relationship of the international community with Israel is not logical, nor is the Jewish state ever held accountable to international standards of conduct and law. Hence the US has now announced its acceptance of the inquiry set up by the right-wing Netanyahu government.

If the way that Israeli Arab citizens and members of parliament (the Knesset) were abused and threatened by Jewish fellow members in the wake of the attack on the convoy is a measure of Israeli democracy and values, it would be foolhardy to expect anything "credible and transparent" to emerge from this internal inquiry. For a start, the objective of the Israeli government is very different to that required by the Security Council. Israel has no interest in determining who was responsible – and thus who is to be held accountable – for the use of deadly force against the civilians on the Freedom Flotilla, and what decision-making procedures were followed in the run-up to the attack. That information is, without doubt, already known to ministers and the army hierarchy. Instead, the Israeli Prime Minister wants to examine "whether Israel's Gaza blockade and the flotilla's interception conformed with international law and also investigate the actions taken by the convoy's organisers and participants." In short, those who were assaulted, killed, wounded and kidnapped in international waters by the armed forces of a supposedly democratic state are to be investigated to see why they put themselves in the firing line. This is the old Israeli tactic of blaming the victim for the crime.

The inquiry commission is to be headed by retired supreme justice Yaakov Tirkel, giving the accused the right to be the defendant, prosecutor, judge and jury at one and the same time. According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, Judge Tirkel was not only opposed to bringing in foreign observers but has also made clear that he is opposed to drawing conclusions about individuals and dismissing those responsible for failures. This begs the question: what is the point of the inquiry? A sop to the international community that will soon be forgotten and everyone can go back to business as usual, perhaps? It is obvious, before a question has even been asked, that this is going to be a whitewash inquiry.

Nevertheless, to give some veneer of credibility Netanyahu and the Americans have agreed on the appointment of Northern Ireland's Lord David Trimble and Ken Watkin, a former Canadian judge advocate general, to sit as observers in the inquiry. Neither of the two men will have any voting rights nor any other ability to influence the inquiry in any way. Doubts can also be raised about the lack of impartiality, certainly on Lord Trimble's part. The former First Minister of the province has, according to the Jewish Chronicle, "previously called on Israel to stand firm on the boycott of Hamas". The Israelis, believes David Trimble, should not exhibit "over-generous flexibility" in its dealings with the democratically elected government of Gaza. He has also said in a paper launched by UK lobby group Conservative Friends of Israel that Hamas must first renounce violence before any negotiations, must sign up to the principle of the international Quartet and recognize past agreements. In other words, he is an establishment man, through and through, and definitely not impartial. Does he not, for example, expect Israel also to honour its agreements with the Palestinians and stop settlement building in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem? It is this sort of bare-faced prejudice and double-standards that have perpetuated the conflict in the Holy Land for more than six decades.

Clearly Israel's proposed internal inquiry fails to meet the expectations of the UN Security Council as well as the victims of the murderous attack on the aid convoy in international waters. Only an impartial independent inquiry led by the UN has any chance of identifying the persons responsible for the attack and holding them accountable. The fact that Judge Tirkel has already ruled out any possibility of the inquiry apportioning blame or holding any one to account for the killings that took place on the Mavi Marmara in the early hours of May 31st, the whole process can already be dismissed as worthless. The UN Security Council must appoint its own inquiry team without delay; Israel's predictable lack of cooperation will expose yet again what a farce its claims to be a responsible democratic member of the community of nations really are.

Commentary & AnalysisEurope & RussiaIsraelMiddle EastPalestineTurkey
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