[JURIST] Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu [official website; BBC profile] testified Monday that Israel did not violate international law [transcript] during the May flotilla incident [JURIST news archive], in which Israeli forces raided several Turkish ships bound for the blockaded Gaza Strip [BBC backgrounder]. His testimony was the first heard before the Turkel Commission, a civilian investigatory commission created by the Israeli government [JURIST report] in June. During his testimony, Netanyahu expressed confidence that the commission would find Israeli actions to be in compliance with international law and explained the Israeli response to the flotilla in the context of the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas [GlobalSecurity backgrounder]. Netanyahu continued to accuse Hamas of “at least four war crimes: inciting to genocide; systematically and intentionally firing on civilians; using civilians as human shields; and preventing visits by the Red Cross to kidnapped IDF soldier, Gilad Shalit.” Netanyahu urged the commission to consider Hamas’ war crimes in its investigation:
These are not merely past crimes. They are being committed today as well, and I hope this Commission will deem it appropriate to emphasize these points in its report. I ask this only because other commissions, which claimed that the question of human rights and international law were so dear to their hearts, for some reason almost entirely ignored these central issues. I am convinced that a credible investigation like yours – independent, transparent, impartial and responsible—will certainly not ignore them.
Additionally, he stated that the humanitarian crisis of Gaza was a fiction perpetuated by Hamas. A crisis had been avoided by the policies of his government: “There was no hunger in Gaza and there was no lack of medicines or other essential items,” Netanyahu explained.
In June, Netanyahu appointed former Israeli Supreme Court justice Yakov Turkel to head an internal probe, approved by the Israeli cabinet that month. The Israeli government has agreed to cooperate with the international commission appointed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official website] last week. The panel will consist of four members, including former New Zealand premier Geoffrey Palmer [official profile], former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe [BBC profile] and two other members, one appointed by Israel and the other by Turkey. Ban described the panel as “unprecedented,” and stated his hope that the “agreement will impact positively on the relationship between Turkey and Israel as well as the overall situation in the Middle East.” Earlier this month, an Israeli military probe found insufficient intelligence and planning [JURIST report] in the raid in a report, but also concluded that no punishments were necessary. Israeli forces raided six ships attempting to deliver more than 10,000 tons of aid to Gaza in May. The raid left numerous wounded and resulted in the deaths of nine pro-Palestine activists—eight Turks and one American.