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U.N. Flotilla Report Confirms Israeli Stance

Finds ‘excessive’ force and, contra Turkey, says blockade is legal

Marc Tracy
September 01, 2011
A protest in the West Bank in June 2010.(Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images)
A protest in the West Bank in June 2010.(Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images)

The Palmer Report—the United Nations’ investigation into the Memorial Day 2010 Turkish-backed, Gaza-bound flotilla, in which Israeli soldiers killed nine onboard the Mavi Marmara—has leaked in advance of its official release, likely tomorrow. You can read it here (thanks NYT!). As expected, it declares Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza to be legal: “The naval blockade as a measure of the use of force was adopted for the purpose of defending its territory and population,” it concludes. Also as expected, it finds that the Israeli military used “excessive and unreasonable” force; chillingly, it reports, “forensic evidence showing that most of the deceased were shot multiple times, including in the back, or at close range has not been adequately accounted for in the material presented by Israel.” Finally, as expected, it calls on Israel to express regret and offer some compensation to victims’ families, and for Israel and Turkey to resume full diplomatic relations.

At first glance, these seem like a balanced, “on the one hand, on the other” set of conclusions. In fact, though, they are a clear—even resounding—vindication of Israel and a diplomatic defeat of Turkey. Recall that Israel itself has essentially admitted that it should have handled the flotilla differently so as not to have caused the deaths, and that it has offered to express regret and compensation, and resume full diplomatic relations. Turkey, by contrast, has insisted on an apology (as the U.N. does not), has deemed the blockade illegal (as the U.N. does not), and has called on the blockade to be lifted (as the U.N. does not).

It’s also worth noting, for those stubborn stragglers who still insist Israel murdered nine civilians in cold blood, a few other things the panel finds: that while “the majority of the flotilla participants had no violent intentions,” nonetheless “there exist serious questions about the conduct, true nature and objectives of the flotilla organizers, particularly IHH. The actions of the flotilla needlessly carried the potential for escalation.” And: “Israeli Defense Forces personnel faced significant, organized and violent resistance from a group of passengers when they boarded the Mavi Marmara requiring them to use force for their own protection. Three soldiers were captured, mistreated, and placed at risk by those passengers. Several others were wounded.”

It seems to me that Prime Minister Netanyahu made the right call in not apologizing. Turkey was banking on a U.N. report that forced Israel to beg for a rapprochement; when it didn’t get that, all that was left was for it to throw a fit and hope Israel fell for it, which it didn’t. Now it is threatening to sanction Israel. If (when?) Turkey follows through, the broader international community will see Turkey contradicting the U.N. report and Israel simply, compliantly toeing its line. Turkey is nothing if not the France of De Gaulle: chafing at no longer having the power it once had and alienating traditional allies in elaborate, emotional, and vain attempts to regain it. Like France, it will fail.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.

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