The Turkel Committee for investigating the Mavi Marmara incident heard the testimony of a radical leftist activist Wednesday, who claimed that Gaza is under siege and suffering a humanitarian crisis.  The activist, Jessica Montell, is Director of B'Tselem, a group that claims to monitor human rights which is funded by the highly controversial New Israel Fund, a partner of the Ford Foundation.

Committee member Amos Chorev was displeased with Montell when she used the word “siege” to describe the IDF's treatment of Gaza. “Why do you call it a siege?” he asked her. “It is a closure, not a siege.”

Amos Chorev, a former IDF general, explained that the terminology is important because the word “siege” evokes associations like the Roman siege of Jerusalem. A 'siege' leads to death, he opined, whereas the reality in Gaza is that of a closure, in which Israel carries out supervision for security purposes, and nothing more.

Montell countered by saying that she is not insisting on “semantics,” as she put it, but rather is focusing on a legal situation in which Israel is responsible for what happens in Gaza.

Not the Seychelles
The committee members questioned the accuracy of some of the factual claims in the report B'Tselem's handed in to the committee. They also reminded Montell that it was Arab terrorism that led to the imposition of the closure on Gaza in the first place. “We do not live on the Seychelles,” said committee member Reuven Merchav, a former Foreign Ministry official.

Montell said that she does not deny the “difficult security situation in Gaza” but repeated that she was concerned about the “humanitarian price paid by the civilian population in Gaza.” Montell became upset when Chorev noted that the committee has figures that show that there is no humanitarian situation in Gaza.

The committee chairman, retired judge Yaakov Turkel, accused B'Tselem of disconnecting the events from their security context. “I hope you would agree with me,” he said, “that if the [Hamas's] bombardments had stopped, it is likely that Israel's counteractions would also have stopped.” He asked why pressure was only being exerted upon Israel and noted that this constituted a basic lack of fairness.

Grassroots Zionist student movement Im Tirtzu protested to the Turkel Committee over the decision to hear testimony from extreme leftist groups backed by the New Israel Fund. These are “extremist organizations” that aim to “delegitimize Israel's right to defend itself,” the group stated. Im Tirtzu said it was a mistake to invite the groups to testify as if they were solely concerned with human rights, and to ignore their anti-Israeli radical political agenda.

The Turkel Committee announced Wednesday that two witnesses who had been scheduled to testify failed to appear. Muhammad Zidan from Kafr Manda and Hamad Abu Dabus of Rahat, had been on board the Mavi Marmara. “The Commission will consider its future steps regarding the two men,” it said.