[JURIST] The UN on Friday criticized Israel for using excessive force [report, PDF] during a May 2010 flotilla incident [JURIST news archive], in which Israeli forces raided several Turkish ships bound for the blockaded Gaza Strip [BBC backgrounder]. In a UN-produced report released by the New York Times amid objections from Turkey and Israel, the UN found that the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip was lawful but that Israel’s response to Turkish ships attempting to penetrate the blockade were “excessive and unreasonable.” The raid resulted in the deaths of nine Turkish passengers. The blockade was warranted, the UN conceded, but Israel should have taken alternative measures to avoid a violent confrontation:
The fundamental principle of the freedom of navigation on the high seas is subject to only certain limited exceptions under international law. Israel faces a real threat to its security from militant groups in Gaza. The naval blockade was imposed as a legitimate security measure in order to prevent weapons from entering Gaza by sea and its implementation complied with the requirements of international law… Non-violent options should have been used in the first instance. In particular, clear prior warning that the vessels were to be boarded and a demonstration of dissuading force should have been given to avoid the type of confrontation that occurred. The operation should have reassessed its options when the resistance to the initial boarding attempt became apparent.
The report is expected to be formally released by the UN later Friday. In response to the report, Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador [VOA report] to Ankara and suspended military agreements with Israel.
Numerous investigations into the flotilla raid have been conducted since the incident took place. The Turkish Foreign Ministry [official website] announced [JURIST report] in August 2010 that it would conduct an investigation [press release, in Turkish] into the raid. Two months earlier, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official website] announced the composition [JURIST report] of the international panel of inquiry. The Israeli government has established two internal commissions to investigate its response to the flotilla, one military and one civilian [JURIST reports]. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu [official website; BBC profile] testified before the civilian commission in August 2010 that Israel did not violate international law [JURIST report]. 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 [CFR 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.” In July 2010, 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 2010. The raid left numerous wounded and resulted in the deaths of nine pro-Palestine activists—eight Turks and one American.