Investigating the Freedom Flotilla Attack – by Stephen Lendman
On June 2, the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) approved formation of an international committee (like the Goldstone Commission) to probe the Flotilla attack, saying it will include lawyers and international law and human rights experts, its findings to be presented in September (during the Council’s three week session in Geneva) after visiting Gaza and contacting Israel, Turkey, Greece, and the Freedom Flotilla coalition.
HRC’s panel includes:
— Desmond de Silva, a UK lawyer and former chief prosecutor for the Sierra Leone Special Court investigation into widespread killings there;
— Karl Hudson-Phillips, a former International Criminal Court (ICC) judge and former Trinidad and Tobago attorney general and parliament member; and
— Malaysia’s Mary Shanthi Dairiam, active in gender equality issues, including on the UN Development Program’s gender equity task force.
In emergency session, the HCR criticized Israel’s “outrageous attack on aid ships attempting to breach a blockade on the Gaza Strip,” calling it “piracy, (an) act of aggression, (a) brutal massacre, (an) act of terrorism, (a) war crime, (a) crime against humanity -unprovoked….unwarranted….atrocious, (and) brutal,” calling activists “peaceful…innocent…noble…unarmed, (and) defenseless,” setting the tone for what’s to come, HRC president Sihasak Phuangketkeow saying:
“This is not about finger-pointing. It’s about establishing the facts of what took place because the incident was a humanitarian tragedy and it’s in the interests of everyone. So I’m hopeful and I’m urging all the parties concerned to render their full cooperation, because it is in their interests and it’s in the interests of the international community as a whole.”
“The expertise, independence and impartiality of the members of the mission will be devoted to clarifying the events which took place that day and their legality.”
Israel’s response was expected, a foreign ministry official saying the HRC acted in haste as part of its “obsession against Israel. The Israeli probe, conducted with transparency, makes the organization’s probe completely unnecessary.”
Israel, of course, won’t cooperate, and plans a whitewash like its July 20 Gaza Operational Investigations: Second Update, responding to the Goldstone Commission and other reports of widespread Cast Lead crimes of war and against humanity.
No serious investigation was conducted, the report citing only four criminal indictments – two for using a minor as a human shield, one regarding an attack on a family waving a white flag, and the other for credit card theft.
Hundreds of other serious crimes weren’t addressed, including high level culpability, a few low-level soldiers marginally hung out to dry to absolve government and IDF officials – Israel’s usual coverup of appalling war crimes.
Evidence of the Report’s Whitewash
On January 4, 2009, the Abu Hajjaj family was attacked, despite carrying clearly visible white flags, resulting in two deaths, Majeda Abu Hajjaj and Raya Abu Hajjaj, mother and sister. Yet Israel “found gaps between (soldiers and Palestinian) testimonies,” making it “impossible to make a criminal connection between the described incident,” relying instead on soldier versions to whitewash the crime’s severity. In addition, investigators gave no credibility to complainants’ sworn affidavits, or requested corroborating evidence to confirm them.
Willfully killing civilians is murder, a grave Fourth Geneva violation. One soldier was charged with manslaughter for shooting a “man,” yet none were killed, only a mother and her sister.
On January 3, Israeli forces attacked the Al-Maqadma mosque near the Jabalia camp, an air-to-ground anti-personnel missile carrying small cube-shaped fragments for maximum effect killing 15 civilians and injuring 40 others. Israel claimed it targeted a “terror operative” spotted firing rockets.
Yet sworn affidavits and investigations showed no hostilities or military activity in the area, a conclusion Israel didn’t contest, saying collateral casualties were unintentional. However, both the attack’s timing, shortly after sunset prayers, and the weapon used disproves the IDF’s claim, the Goldstone Commission concurring, another grave Fourth Geneva violation.
Yet the officer in charge was merely disciplined even though he willfully attacked a mosque at prayer time.
On January 5, Israeli forces fired two tank shells with flechette darts at a condolence ceremony, killing five civilians and injuring 17 others. Yet according to the commander and his forces, no civilians were present, just “visually identified….terrorist operatives,” attacked while loading a “Grad rocket” on “open terrain.”
None were there, just a clearly identifiable condolence tent on a sidewalk about 10 meters wide on a road around 22 miles long in a residential area, not “open terrain” as claimed. Many civilians were present, ones soldiers claimed weren’t seen, saying combatants were attacked – a bald-faced lie, proved by dead and injured civilians, one of hundreds of grave Fourth Geneva violations during Cast Lead, preceded and succeeded seamlessly by many others.
Yet no investigations were conducted, no assailants charged, and no justice rendered, including by Israel’s whitewash investigation, the same kind examining the Flotilla massacre.
Israeli Cast Lead Coverup
The Goldstone Commission exposed and condemned numerous Israeli war crimes, concluding that:
“the Israeli military operation was directed at the people of Gaza as a whole, in furtherance of an overall and continuing policy aimed at punishing the (entire) population, and in a deliberate policy of disproportionate force aimed at (civilians. These are war crimes because) no justifiable military objective” was pursued.
Yet on July 6, IDF Military Advocate General, Maj. Gen. Avichai Mendelblit reported only the following:
— a Lt. Colonel was summoned to a disciplinary hearing “for having deviated from military directives pertaining to the prohibition on the use of civilians for operational activity;” a mild reprimand resulted despite serious Fourth Geneva breaches;
— a staff sergeant was indicted for manslaughter, absolving him of cold-blooded murder; his punishment will be minimal;
— a criminal investigation was ordered “to clarify the circumstances of a specific incident;” expect no prosecutions to result; and
— a captain was disciplined for “his failed professional judgment in authorizing an attack against a (claimed) terror operative,” killing and injuring only civilians.
Gen. Mendelblit claimed over 150 incidents were examined and nearly 50 investigations launched since Cast Lead’s conclusion.
Only mild disciplinary actions resulted besides one manslaughter indictment, despite a 23 day rampage, committing extensive crimes of war and against humanity, killing over 1,400, injuring over 5,000, many permanently disabled, (civilians in most cases affected), and inflicting massive destruction and devastation, unaddressed or relieved under siege. Gen. Mendelblit instead said:
“Operation Cast Lead was limited in the scope of fire and forces used. IDF soldiers operated in crowded urban areas while Hamas made deliberate and cynical use of the Palestinian population (they were protecting), creating a complex security situation. Hamas operated from within civilian homes, schools, kindergartens, mosques, hospitals and UN facilities (bald-faced lies) while the population in the Gaza Strip was made hostage” – not by Hamas, its legitimate government, by Israeli marauders, rampaging, killing and destroying lawlessly, omitted from the general’s account.
Israel’s Inquiry Commission – Whitewashing the Flotilla Massacre
On June 14, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced its formation, an internal probe to suppress truths, its members including:
— former Israeli Supreme Court Justice, Jacob Turkel, heading it, a man with little inquiry commission experience;
— Amos Horev, a retired Israeli major general, a prominent military-industrial complex figure; and two non-voting foreign observers:
— David Trimble, head of Northern Ireland’s Ulster Unionist Party, First Minister of the Good Friday Agreement’s power-sharing government, Conservative Party life peer, earlier involved with loyalist death squads and Royal Ulster Constabulary killers (RUC); and
— Former Canadian General Ken Watkin, earlier involved in whitewashing Canada’s role in committing Somalia atrocities in the early 1990s.
A June 15 Haaretz editorial was unimpressed, saying:
“….the committees membership nor its authority is suited to meet the challenges posed by the affair. (It’s more) a public relations tool (than a body appointed) to bring justice to bear on those found responsible. It would have….been better if the (committee) had never been born, sparing us the deceptive appearance of a real investigation,” what the commission will scrupulously avoid, its findings to be willful coverup, blaming the victims, not their assassins or culpable high-level officials.
An Israeli military inquiry was also conducted, headed by retired Major General Giora Eiland, his released July 12 findings calling the Flotilla attack justified, according to an official summary made public – Eiland submitting a classified 150 page report to IDF Chief of the General Staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, and Ehud Barak, Israel’s Defense Minister. Its conclusions were as follows:
“….there were no wrongdoings and no negligences in any fundamental areas during a complicated and complex operation.”
Nonviolent unarmed activists were delivering humanitarian aid to besieged Gazans. In an operation planned weeks in advance, they were willfully attacked in international waters, up to 15 murdered in cold blood, commandos given names and photos of targets, incriminating evidence found on board the mother ship, the Mavi Marmarra.
— “But on the other hand, there were mistakes that were made in decisions, including some taken at relatively high levels, which meant that the result was not as had been initially anticipated.”
The “anticipated” result was hostile interdiction, assassinating nonviolent activists, seizing their cargo, arresting participants on board, treating them harshly in detention, expelling them from Israel, concealing murder and barbarism in international waters, and blaming victims for their attackers’ crimes.
Assassinations and related violence were carried out as planned, using commandos, trained killers as the assault force, not Israel’s equivalent of America’s Coast Guard, charged with maritime law enforcement, search, rescue, and other non-combat functions.
— “not all possible intelligence gathering methods were fully implemented and (the) coordination between Navy Intelligence and the Israeli Defense Intelligence was insufficient.” In addition, “the anticipated level of violence used against the forces was underestimated.”
Faced with worldwide condemnation, the inquiry blamed intelligence failures, not a well-rehearsed operation conducted as planned.
“the operation relied excessively on a single course of action.” No other was prepared for in “the event of more dangerous scenarios.”
The attack was carried out as planned, every detail rehearsed for precision, including the pre-attack filming on a ship resembling the Mavi Marmarra, showing commandos were attacked, not activists – fiction, not fact.
“….as far as is currently known, no country in the world holds the ability to stop a vessel at sea in a non hostile manner.”
The US Coast Guard and comparable agencies elsewhere do it routinely as necessary, seldom encountering violence and not initiating it themselves.
“….alternative courses of action could have existed had the process of preparation begun enough time in advance….”
Preparations began weeks in advance, including detailed intelligence on the number of ships and activists, their names and home countries, photos of targets to be assassinated, dates of departure and expected arrival, and a well-rehearsed commando interdiction operation.
The inquiry “determined that the Navy Commando soldiers operated properly, with professionalism, bravery and resourcefulness and that the commanders exhibited correct decision making….the use of live fire was justified and that the entire operation is estimable.”
Commandos are elite combat forces trained to kill “professionally.” They followed precise orders assassinating nonviolent activists in international waters – a lawless cowardly act against unarmed civilians.
The inquiry “noted with favor the various stages of medical evacuation of the injured by air and by sea, including the injured passengers of the Mavi Marmarra.”
Commandos treated activists harshly, firing from helicopters before boarding, followed by gas bombs, other weapons, beatings, and dumping some bodies overboard. There was no provocation and no warning given. The attack was premeditated and vicious, some passengers shot multiple times in the head at point blank range.
Dozens were injured, at least 20 seriously. Everyone was taken prisoner. The few commandos hurt were treated by the ship’s doctor. He was shot in the arm while aiding victims. Wounded passengers were searched and handcuffed like the others. Throughout the ordeal, soldiers were hostile and abusive, injured activists further mistreated, kicked, struck with weapons, and in some cases shot again.
No compassion whatever was shown. Some wounded passengers weren’t taken to the hospital on arrival at Israel’s Ashdod Port. Although hurt, bleeding and needing treatment, they were kept on board, doctors prevented from helping them.
From interdiction to assault to seizure to detention to deportation, the entire procedure was harsh, demeaning, and degrading, the slightest reaction met by blows, some unharmed activists injured en route to the airport for deportation. Others, before and during detention, were seriously beaten, some tortured. Five stayed behind hospitalized, too injured to leave. The whereabouts of some remains unknown.
General Eiland said “the issue should be viewed with perspective,” believing Israel won’t incur long-term damage, saying:
“….there’s a tendency to draw general conclusions based on a single incident….(In addition), the fact that the IDF examines itself and others do not, results in that only the ‘errors’ of the IDF are publicized.”
America, Britain and other nations do self-examine, as shamelessly as the above account using coverup to suppress the truth and avoid accountability. And when abuses are too great to hide, one or more low-level soldiers are charged to absolve chain of command crimes, including high-level civilians, how Israel, America and other nations duck responsibility for lawless acts of violence, ones carefully planned in advance.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.