Turkel (right) and int'l observers
Turkel (right) and int'l observers Israel news photo: GPO

The committee appointed to investigate the flotilla crisis of a month ago has had its mandate expanded slightly, has withdrawn its threat to resign, and will convene for its second session on July 11.

The committee, headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Yaakov Turkel, was established earlier this month under heavy international pressure to find out exactly what occurred before and during the boarding of the Turkish-IHH Gaza-bound ship.  

Israeli forces repeatedly warned a flotilla of ships heading for Gaza not to do so, as the area was under Israeli blockade. The ships did not adhere to these orders, but did not resist when the forces boarded them and steered them towards Ashdod – except for the Mavi Marmara, whose passengers attacked the Israelis with iron clubs, knives, and axes, and even shot at them and held some commandos captive. The Israelis were finally able to regroup and overcome their attackers, killing nine in the process – some of whom had expressed the prior wish to die as Islamic martyrs.

The Turkel committee was widely mocked for having “no teeth” and little real authority. On Tuesday, it was announced in Judge Turkel’s name that he planned to resign if the authorities were not expanded.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, after discussing it with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and Justice Minister Yaakov Ne’eman, quickly agreed that Turkel’s demands were not worth refusing.

The main changes are that Turkel’s committee will be able to subpoena witnesses and have them testify under oath, and will be expanded from three members to five.

It will still not be mandated to investigate the government’s decision-making process regarding the flotilla, however.  Instead, it will investigate the legality of Israel’s take-over of the ship, which is related to the legality of the blockade imposed by Israel on its enemy, Hamas-run Gaza. In addition, it will examine why Israel imposed the blockade, as well as the behavior of those who organized the flotilla, mainly the terrorist-associated Turkish IHH organization and Turkey itself.

The commission held its first session on Monday, and featured short statements by the two international observers, Lord David Trimble of Ireland and former Canadian judge advocate-general Ken Watkin.

In addition to Judge Turkel, the committee also numbers international law expert Shabtai Rosenne and Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Amos Horev. Most of the committee hearings will be open to the public.