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Turkish-Israeli relations remain fragile

July 12, 2018 at 10:34 am

Ebru Ozkan, 27, was arrested by Israeli forces at Ben Gurion Airport on June 11 when she was returning to Turkey for alleged links with terrorist groups, is seen ahead of her trial at Ofer Military Court in Ramallah, West Bank on 11 July, 2018 [Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency]

An Israeli military court charged Turkish citizen Ebru Ozkan, 27, on Sunday, claiming that she had smuggled hundreds of US dollars and expensive perfumes to Hamas in the occupied Palestinian territories, local media reported. The lawyer, friends and relatives of the woman, who was arrested at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport on 11 June at the end of a trip spent mainly in Jerusalem, especially Al-Aqsa Mosque, denied the charges and insisted that her detention is political.

That looks very likely, given the recent timeline of Turkish-Israeli relations as well as Israeli-Arab relations. Ozkan’s arrest, as with that of other Turkish citizens recently, has to have had political motives.

The Israeli prosecution has claimed that Ozkan posed a threat to national security and has ties to terror groups, having smuggled $500, expensive perfume and a mobile phone charger to Palestinian terrorists in the occupied West Bank.

Read: Israel plans to cut off Turkey’s helping hand to Jerusalemites

How will such items serve terrorists? What “terrorist” acts would such a very small amount of money fund? What would a “terrorist” do with perfume? What kind of mobile phone charger — there are, surely hundreds of styles available in the West Bank, — was smuggled by this Turkish woman?

Her lawyer, Omar Khamaisi, was surprised at Ozkan’s indictment. “Come on, really?” he told Reuters. “I think that in this the case the decision will ultimately be a brave one; to release her, I hope.” He had thought that the judges would be independent and abide by the law, but this was not the case.

Several other Turks have been arrested by Israel while visiting Jerusalem and performing prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque. In December 2017, Israeli police arrested three Turks when they were in the courtyard of Al-Aqsa; it was claimed that they had assaulted a security officer. Eyewitnesses insisted that the real reason for their arrest was that they were wearing Turkish flag t-shirts and holding pictures of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The three were deported. At the beginning of 2018, the Israeli authorities arrested one and then six more Turks, and their harassment of the tourists continues.

Israel accuses the Turkish government of helping Hamas, which it believes is a terrorist group as do, it must be said, some of Israel’s new Arab friends. However, the movement was still asked by the US, through the former Qatari Emir Hamad Al-Thani, to participate in the Palestinian general elections in 2006 and it won an overwhelming majority.

Read: Turkish medical team arrives in Gaza

Israel, which imposed a siege on the Gaza Strip after the Hamas election win, was not happy with Erdogan when he walked off the stage at the 2009 World Economic Forum in Davos after comments by the then Israeli President Shimon Peres, who tried to justify the brutal Israeli offensive against the Palestinians in Gaza during so-called Operation Cast Lead in 2008/9. This, according to the Jerusalem Post, destroyed Israel’s confidence in Turkey, especially among the leadership of the Likud party which is ruling the country; it noted that the relations have never really recovered.

Israel’s leaders also got angry with Erdogan when he told a US interviewer in 2011: “Let me give you a very clear message, I do not see Hamas as a terror organisation. Hamas is a political party. It emerged as a political party that appeared as a political party. It is a resistance movement trying to protect its country under occupation.” This came in the wake of an announcement of a reconciliation deal by Hamas with the rival Fatah movement, which controls the Palestinian Authority and thus engages in security cooperation with the occupation power. It was reported at the time that Fatah had agreed to form a joint government with Hamas, making Israel very angry.

Palestinians who were wounded by Israeli troops during clashes hold portraits of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and celebrate after Erdogan had won in Turkey's presidential and parliamentary elections, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on 25 June, 2018 [Ashraf Amra/Apaimages]

Palestinians who were wounded by Israeli troops during clashes hold portraits of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and celebrate after Erdogan had won in Turkey’s presidential and parliamentary elections, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on 25 June, 2018 [Ashraf Amra/Apaimages]

In the wake of the unilateral decision of US President Donald Trump to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Erdogan condemned the move and described Israel as a “terror state” at a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation held in Istanbul to discuss the issue.

Read: Turkey may ban some Israel goods because of Gaza violence

When the Palestinians in Gaza launched the Great March of Return protests on 30 March, Israel shot and killed dozens of protesters, and wounded many more. Erdogan called the killing of the unarmed protesters a “massacre” and recalled Turkey’s diplomatic mission from Tel Aviv, a move that was mirrored by Israel. The killings have continued.


Haaretz reported at the beginning of this month warnings given to Israel from Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority about Erdogan. According to the newspaper, an Israeli defence official confirmed the warnings, noting that Saudi Arabia is afraid that the Turkish leader is presenting himself in the Arab world through his influence in Jerusalem; Jordan is afraid that it will lose custodianship of the holy city to Turkey; and the PA is worried that Erdogan will strengthen its rival, Hamas. These warnings have increased Israel’s worries about the rising power of Turkey.

“Our relations will normalise when Israel stops its inhumane policies,” said Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Sunday as he commented on the indictment of Ozkan. This means that Israeli-Turkish relations will never normalise, because the policies of a state which supports freedom and protects refugees, such as Turkey, do not square with policies of a state like Israel, which was built on ethnic cleansing, terrorism and contempt for international law.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.