The cabinet is set to approve Monday the establishment of an independent public committee to examine events around Israel’s takeover of a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, in which nine Turkish activists were killed.
The committee will include two international observers and tackle the legality of the blockade of Gaza and the legality of the navy’s actions. The committee will also determine whether investigations of claims of war crimes and breaches of international law conform to the Western standards.
A retired Supreme Court justice, Jacob Turkel, will head the committee, whose members will included Shabtai Rosen, 93, a professor of international law who is an Israel Prize laureate in legal sciences and a Hague Prize laureate in international law. Also on the panel will be Maj. Gen. (res. ) Amos Horev, former president of the Technion — Israel Institute of Technology.
The United States hailed the decision to investigate the May 31 raid, in which navy commandos opened fire on pro-Palestinian commandos after encountering unexpectedly violent resistance when storming the ‘Mavi Marmara, the lead boat in the flotilla.
“Israel has a military justice system that meets international standards and is capable of conducting a serious and credible investigation,” the White House said in a statement.
In the statement, the White House promised not to prejudge the outcome of the inquiry but made clear it expected Israel to present the results openly.
“While Israel should be afforded the time to complete its process, we expect Israel’s commission and military investigation will be carried out promptly. We also expect that, upon completion, its findings will be presented publicly and will be presented to the international community.”
Two foreign observers will take part in the committee’s deliberations. The statement released by the Prime Minister’s Bureau did not say what their powers would be. The first observer will be William David Trimble, a Northern Irish Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
Trimble joined the “Friends of Israel” initiative launched in Paris some two weeks ago, in which Israel’s former ambassador to the United Nations, Dore Gold, was also involved. Gold is considered a close associate of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The second international observer will be Ken Watkin, former military judge advocate general from Canada.
The statement from the Prime Minister’s Bureau defines the committee’s mandate and the questions it will deal with, the main one of which is the legality of the navy’s actions and whether it conforms to international law. The committee will also study the security circumstances in which the marine blockade on Gaza was instituted and whether it conforms to international law.
The committee will also examine the Turkish position and actions taken by the flotilla’s organizers, especially the Turkish group IHH, which has alleged ties to terrorist groups, as well as the identity of the participants in the flotilla and their intentions.
Another question the committee will address is the Goldstone report and demands to hold an international inquiry against Israel regarding events in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, claiming that Israel cannot investigate itself.
The committee will scrutinize whether claims regarding the breaching of the rules of engagement, the general procedure in Israel and as applied with regard to the current event, conform to the obligations of the state of Israel regarding international law,” the statement from Netanyahu’s bureau said.
The committee will be able to summon any person or organization to testify, or to give it information in some other fashion, on any issue it deems relevant.
Netanyahu has ordered all government personnel and agencies to cooperate fully with the panel and to give it all information and documents needed for its investigation.
However, in examining the military operation itself, or any actions by defense personnel, the committee will be authorized to access only documents that are directly relevant. It will also be able to receive the findings of the internal IDF probe being headed by Maj. Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland.
Should the panel believe the IDF probe was insufficient, it will be able to ask Eiland to conduct additional inquiries.
Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, other cabinet ministers and IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi are all expected to testify to the committee.
Netanyahu did not set a deadline for the panel’s work.
The committee itself will decide whether to open its hearings to the public, with the provision that any hearing “liable to endanger the state’s security or its foreign relations” must be closed.
To encourage witnesses to speak freely, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein pledged that testimony given to the panel will not be usable as evidence in legal proceedings.