A close review of the full Palmer Report leaves Israeli readers with an uncomfortable feeling. As opposed to the impression created by leaks to the media, the United Nations did not absolve Israel
of guilt. The UN indeed justified the Gaza blockade, legally and morally, yet the report’s authors rather explicitly assigned Israel the main blame for the death of nine Turkish nationals and the wounding of others. Another charge is the improper treatment of flotilla activists after they were detained and brought to Israel.
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The report does not ignore the deliberately violent abandon of members of Islamist Turkish group IHH and the abuse of Navy commandoes aboard the Marmara. The flotilla members are described in harsh terms, yet in the same breath the authors make claims implying that Navy commandoes were trigger-happy and caused needless deaths.
The report also ruled that the Turkish government did not do everything it could and should have done in order to avert the violent clash. However the reporter’s authors refrained from addressing the acts and failures of the Islamist activists and of the Turkish government with the gravity reserved for Israel. This is apparently the reason why only Israel was asked to express regret and compensate the wounded and the families of the dead.
The report is divided into two parts: The first pertains to the legal and moral aspects of the circumstances that led to the Marmara events, while the second, more extensive part pertains to the ship’s takeover. In the first part, the report’s authors unequivocally justify the naval blockade on the Gaza Strip both legally and morally, as well as Israel’s right to impose this blockade in international waters. It is no wonder that Israel’s government was quick to highlight this section, which contradicts most of the Turkish government’s claims.
The committee’s assertions on this front have great significance, because they undermine the main legal basis for Turkey’s demand for an apology from Israel. Moreover, the conclusions can also serve Israel as a powerful diplomatic means to persuade UN members to prevent further flotillas.
However, the report’s second part rules that although Israel had the right to stop the Marmara and other vessels, the means adopted by it were disproportional, hasty, and contradicted common maritime procedures.
Moreover, the committee claims that once Israel discovered that Marmara passengers were violently resisting the Navy raid and harming the commandoes, the operation should have been stopped and a new assessment should have been made. It’s unclear what such reassessment could have achieved, and the very assertion is outrageous. After all, it’s clear that had Navy commandoes stopped their raid, they would have likely abandoned their comrades already on board the ship and left them to die there.
The committee also claimed that Israel did not provide sufficient explanations and evidence to show why Navy commandoes had to fire several shots from close range and to the back of the activists who assaulted them. This assertion is outrageous as well, because Navy soldiers were obviously attacked from close range with knives and firearms; some of them were lying on the deck while struggling with several assailants holding them from several directions. Under such circumstances, the shots fired were inevitable.
For example, a commando who saw his comrade being thrown from the upper deck was not only entitled to – but obligated to – fire at the back of the assailants who grabbed his colleague. It’s unclear why such facts were not made clear to committee members, or alternately, why the panel ignored them.
The Palmer Report makes it apparent that its authors made a great effort to maintain objectivity and fairness, yet at the same time they were aware that they work in the service of the UN, which is a political organization. This created the need to “balance” the assertions and conclusions in a way that would satisfy both sides and pave the way for reconciliation, as the UN chief and officials in Washington wanted.
As we know, the Israeli government was willing to accept the committee’s demand for an expression of regret and compensation, but rightfully did not agree to Prime Minister Erdogan’s demand for an apology. This demand, which was crudely presented as an ultimatum and condition for restoring the ties between the two states was in fact meant to humiliate Jerusalem and score Erdogan some points in the Muslim world.
Indeed, there is great doubt whether such apology would have rehabilitated the once tight relationship with Turkey, yet it would have surely eroded Israel’s deterrent power and regional stature.