Flotilla Attacks: UN Panel Calls for Israeli and Turkish Reports Rather Than Independent Investigation

Flotilla Attacks: UN Panel Calls for Israeli and Turkish Reports Rather Than Independent Investigation

On June 1, one day after the May 31, 2010, Israeli attack on the unarmed, civilian, six-ship Gaza flotilla, the United Nations Security Council called for “a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to international standards.”

No Investigation, Only a Review of Israeli and Turkish Government Reports

Now, two months later, as a survivor of the Israeli attack, I am aghast at the ludicrous mandate given to the four-person United Nations panel, which calls for only reviewing Israeli and Turkish government reports rather than independently investigating the attack.

Because of intense Israeli and American government demands for the panel to review only Israeli and Turkish government reports, the panel will be “looking into the existing national inquiries that are under way already, then, if necessary, to ask for further clarification,” according to Martin Nesirky, spokesperson for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

The Chairman of the panel is New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer and Vice Chairman is the former President of Colombia, Alvaro Uribe, who has a terrible human rights record in his own country and with whom the US and Israeli governments have had strong military ties. In 2007, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos admitted that Israeli advisers were working with local defense officials under a contract signed in April 2007 for $10 million.

The Turkish government appointed Ozdem Sanberk, a diplomat who held senior positions in the Turkish Foreign Ministry and the United Nations.

Israel appointed Israeli government insider and Netanyahu and Lieberman friend Joseph Ciechanover, former head of Israel’s Defense Mission to the United States and Canada and a recipient of the Pentagon’s Medal for Distinguished Service. He also was general counsel to the Israeli Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Agriculture. He is now the president of Challenge Funds, chairman of the board of Israel Discount Bank and is a member of the Bank of Israel Advisory Committee.

The committee held its first meeting on August 10. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the inquiry was “not designed to determine individual criminal responsibility,” but would “examine and identify the facts, circumstances and the context of the incident.”

On August 9, Ban denied the United Nations had negotiated a secret deal with Israel not to call Israeli soldiers to testify, saying there was “no such agreement behind the scenes.” In response to Ban’s denial of a secret deal, Mark Regev, the Israeli government’s chief spokesman, said: “Israel will not cooperate with, and will not participate in, a panel that demands to investigate Israeli soldiers.”

The panel is expected to submit an initial progress report in mid-September.

Israel, no doubt, will defend its actions, and Turkey, despite having withdrawn its ambassador to Israel, still continues military-to-military relationships with Israel. Turkish soldiers traveled to Israel after the flotilla attack to pursue training on Israeli-made, Heron, unmanned aerial vehicles-drone (UAVs) that was being conducted in Turkey by Israeli military personnel prior to the attack, as a part of a $190-million Turkish military equipment purchase from Israel.

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We Demand an Independent Investigation

I strongly fear that no one on the panel will represent international citizens who formed the flotilla.

There were 750 citizen activists from 35 countries on board the six-ship flotilla. Nine activists, eight Turkish and one American, were murdered, with 35 bullets found in the nine bodies. Five had been shot in the head, and the 19-year-old American citizen Furkan Dogan had been shot five times. Fifty more Turkish citizens were wounded by Israeli commandos.

We demand a truly independent investigation from the United Nations, not a review panel for reports done by either the Israeli government or by the Turkish government. While eight of those murdered (one was a American citizen) and all 50 that were wounded by the commandos were Turkish citizens, and while I appreciate Turkish government assistance in getting many international flotilla participants out of Israel, I do not want our citizens’ movement coopted by governments and their agendas.

Our flotilla was a citizens’ effort to break the siege of Gaza caused, defended or ignored by governments who allowed it to continue for four years. It was only when citizens took the lead in forcing the issue of the naval blockade did governments that could have put pressure on the Israelis to modify or end the siege finally did so.

UN Must Demand That Israel Return Evidence in Passengers’ Cameras, Cellphones and Computers

So, I call for the United Nations to have a truly independent investigation of the Israeli commando attack on the six-ship flotilla to include looking at the evidence held on the cameras, cellphones and computers of the passengers on the ships.

But all of the evidence we, as passengers on the six ships, had is in the hands of the Israeli government. All cameras, cellphones and computers on board the six ships, including camera equipment from 70 international journalists, TV crews and documentarians, were taken by the commandos and are still in the possession of the Israeli government.

The 14 American citizens that survived the Israeli attack on the flotilla have demanded that the Obama administration pressure the Israeli government to return our electronic equipment and the rest of our personal possessions. None of us returned to the United States with any of our possessions other than the clothes on our backs and our passports.

Despite lists of our possessions being given to US consular officers during a visit to us while we were in prison in Israel, and to US consular officers in Istanbul, Turkey, during our brief stay after being deported from Israel and to American Citizen Services officials at the State Department in Washington, DC, virtually nothing has been returned to us. (I did receive a diary sent from the US Consulate in Istanbul, but nothing else – no computer, camera, cellphone, clothing, handbag, address book, $800 in cash, backpack, suitcase etc., have been returned.)

Letter to Secretary of State Clinton Still Unanswered

On June 14, 2010, I wrote a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking that the State Department make a formal request to the government of Israel for the return of our personal possessions.

Despite numerous inquiries to the State Department about the status of the response to my letter, after seven weeks, I have not received a reply to the letter nor to the 80 questions that I asked that the United States government pose to the Israeli government concerning their attack on the Gaza flotilla.

As an American citizen, I am distressed that my government will not respond to this request for assistance.

As a former US diplomat who worked for 16 years in the State Department and served in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan (I helped reopen the US Embassy in December, 2001) and Mongolia, and who received an award for heroism from the State Department for actions during the evacuation of the US Embassy and the international community during the Sierra Leone civil war, I am deeply saddened by the lack of professionalism in my former organization in responding to such a request.

UN Must Appoint Better Panelists

We call on the United Nations to appoint truly neutral, independent members of the UN Panel to have a professional investigation, not a review, of the Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla.