A report by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has concluded that Israel committed war crimes in its “clearly unlawful” assault on the Turkish-flagged vessel the Mavi Marmara at the end of May. The report was compiled by a team of four human rights experts who, according to the Guardian newspaper, “condemned the treatment of the passengers and crew as brutal and disproportionate”. The Mavi Marmara was part of the Freedom Flotilla seeking to break the Israeli-led blockade of Gaza which, the report said, “is illegal because of the scale of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza”. The UNHRC report said, “There is clear evidence to support prosecutions of the following crimes within the terms of article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention: wilful killing; torture or inhuman treatment; wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health.”
The attack by Israeli commandos took place while the ship was in international waters and nine unarmed Turkish civilians were killed by the soldiers; subsequent autopsies revealed that most had been shot at close range, described by witnesses as “executions”. The UNHRC team believe that the evidence they amassed suggested that the assault was “disproportionate” and “betrayed an unacceptable level of brutality”. This is in stark contrast to the example of some of the passengers who were able to disarm some of the commandos and empty their guns of ammunition when they were in a position to shoot the soldiers themselves.
Predictably, the Israeli Foreign Ministry has called the report “biased” and “one-sided” produced by a “politicised and extremist” body. The UNHRC conclusions place the BBC’s Panorama programme in a particularly bad light. Panorama’s “Death in the Med” episode in August attracted hundreds of complaints of bias towards the Israeli position; journalist Jane Corbin was given access to the Israeli commando unit which carried out the attack. The Guardian claims that the Israelis refused to cooperate with the UNHRC investigation.