Suggestions of a rapprochement between Turkey and Israel following Benjamin Netanyahu’s apology “for any error that may have led to loss of life” during Israel’s raid on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla now appear to have been somewhat premature. Although Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu said on 25 March that Turkey’s main demands had been met,more recent reports tell of growing Turkish dissatisfaction with the deal. On 28 March Memo was reporting a huge discrepancy in the amount of compensation that Turkey expected ($1million per murdered victim) over what Israel considered it could get away with paying ($100,000 pro rata).
Some reporters also need to sober up on this story. Nicole Johnston may wish to forget her euphoric references to “an incredible development”, which would be seen as a “huge achievement “of the Obama administration and a “great win for Turkey”. Her Al Jazeera colleague Anita McNaught (who wrote that nine Turks had died in the raid) concurred by suggesting that Turkey had got “almost everything it wanted”. Both of these experienced journalists should have noted that Furkan Doğan, one of those killed on the Mavi Marmara, was solely a US citizen. Therefore it was also to Mr Obama, and not just the prime minister of Turkey, that Benjamin Netanyahu should have apologised and offered to pay compensation. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had specifically mentioned this matter during his bilateral meeting with Mr Obama in 2011. As he recalled, “I asked President Obama whether the reason he showed no interest in one of his nationals being killed was because [Mr Doğan] was [ethnically] Turkish. He didn’t reply.” Far from being a huge achievement for the US administration it was nothing less than a national disgrace that not one word of protest has ever passed Mr Obama’s lips concerning the unlawful killing of one of his constituents.
With regard to the actual apology it is difficult to believe that Mr Erdoğan read the statement that Mr Netanyahu is reported to have made. “The tragic results regarding the Mavi Marmara” he declared “were unintentional” and he apologized for “any errors that could have led to a loss of life”. Even in the language of diplomatic double-speak this is an inadequate explanation for the calculating, cold blooded murders committed by Israeli commandos. Andre Khalil, the Al Jazeera cameraman who witnessed the deaths of Cevdet Kiliçlar and Cengiz Songür said that they were targeted sniper killings. The former was shot in the middle of the forehead and the latter by a single shot in the neck by commandos firing from the Navigation Deck. Both had been on the Bridge Deck at the time from where Mr Kiliçlar had been trying to photograph a helicopter landing commandos on the deck above.
The other victim shot while filming was Furkan Doğan who was shooting a video on the Navigation Deck when he was hit in the leg and the foot by live fire from a helicopter. Subsequently two commandos came to where he was lying injured on the deck and shot him twice in the head and once in the body. “The Israeli government” the BBC reported“insisted its commandos used lethal force because activists had attacked them.” Mr Erdoğan must have been under considerable pressure from President Obama to legitimize such a brazen lie.
Yet the focus on the deaths of nine activists should not have allowed the enormous catalogue of other crimes committed during the raid to pass without redress. There has been no mention of any compensation for Uğur Suleyman Söylemez who remains in a coma nearly three years after he was shot in the head by an Israeli bullet. Nor was there any mention of compensation for 52 people injured by gunshot wounds, 24 of whom received serious injuries. Nor for the brutality, the humiliation, the illegal abduction and detention and in some cases the torture that was inflicted in some measure on every member of the flotilla. Regarding torture it is worth recording here that Selim Özkabakçi, who had already been denied his medication for diabetes for the entire period of detention, was set upon at Ben-Gurion airport by a large gang of soldiers who repeatedly kicked and punched him while he was lying on the ground. He was subsequently taken to a separate building and subjected to a process called Palestinian Hanging, in which he was hung by his arms which were tied behind his back. The procedure can pull the joints out of their sockets. Mr Özkabakçi described in his affidavit to the court at Istanbul how this this attack (which presumably was also “unintentional”) was triggered by his reaction to deliberate provocation by a soldier. Mr Özkabakçi is another victim whose continuing pain and trauma will not receive any financial compensation.
Neither was there any mention of compensation for the theft and vandalism of nearly all the activist’s property, including hundreds of laptops, cameras, video recorders and mobile phones. Much of this property was professional equipment belonging to journalists and filmmakers, who in many cases were freelancing. Many passengers also carried large sums of cash to donate to aid projects in Gaza, all of which was stolen by soldiers, contrary to the IDF’s famed ‘purity of arms’ doctrine of ethics. For example one IHH official, Ahmet Emin Dağ, was carrying 10,000 Euros in cash for aid projects supported by the charity. [Affridavit made in Istanbul 25 June 2010] Also ignored were the large quantities of cargo which were destroyed or irreparably damaged. We should recall that Mark Regev, the Israeli spokesperson, had told various channels that if the flotilla was unloaded in Israel “we’ll make sure that every single humanitarian item reaches the people of Gaza”. And of course, because of Israel’s illegal diversion of the flotilla every single humanitarian item was unloaded in Israel. Yet two desperately needed X-ray machines which were carefully packaged and loaded in full working order in Turkey were never delivered to Gaza by UNSCO because they were reportedly no longer working. [Richard Miron pers. comm. 17/10/2011] 3,500 tons of desperately needed cement was left on the MV Rachel Corrie for months so that it was unusable when it finally reached Gaza. But cruelest of all, was the trashing of thousands of individual gifts to sponsored orphans in Gaza. IHH’s Orphan Care Unit had collected individual gifts from their sponsor families with letters of friendship from Turkish children to their brothers and sisters in Gaza. (Amongst the presents was a canary in a cage whose fate remains unknown.) All the presents had been put on seats in the women’s lounge to protect them as much as possible, while some of the women slept on the floor. At Gaza the Orphan Care Unit had intended to have a presentation when the gifts would be given to the orphans. Needless to say the soldiers tore open and vandalized every present. Mr Netanyahu has not offered so much as a bent shekel coin to compensate for this heinous crime.
Mr Erdoğan’s third condition for normalization of relations had been the lifting of the siege. In this regard Mr Netanyahu gave an assurance that Israel will allow goods to enter and leave the Gaza Strip. At the time of this assurance Gaza’s only commercial crossing at Kerem Shalom was closed, access via the Erez pedestrian crossing was severely restricted and fishermen from Gaza were again restricted to three miles from shore. The excuse for this shut down was the firing of two rockets into Israel on 21 March, which represents a new Israeli policy of restricting civilian movement as a punitive step in direct response to attacks by combatants. Yet no imposition has been incurred by Israeli military forces for the three months of attacks and provocations on the territory which followed the cessation of last year’s hostilities. During this period, as Ben White recorded , Israeli forces had perpetrated 63 shooting attacks, thirteen army incursions and 30 naval attacks on Gazan fishermen. Recent statements from Israel make it clear that there will be no significant easing of the closure in the foreseeable future. IDF actions will always speak louder than any empty words painfully extracted from an Israeli prime minister.