Israeli attack on Gaza Flotilla condemned by UN Mission

26 Sep

A UN mission, established under the mandate of the Human Rights Council to look into the Israeli attack on the Gaza Flotilla earlier this year, has released a report condemning the former for violating various international human rights and humanitarian law during the interception and detention of passengers in Israel.

While this should not come as a surprise to those who followed the event closely, the report confirmed that the Israeli government had released distorted information, with the intent to manipulate public opinion by portraying activists on board Mavi Marmara as extremists who provoked violence and with plans to smuggle weapons into the Occupied Territories. The detailed report systematically demolished these claims.

On cargo being shipped by the flotilla, it noted that stringent security checks were made by various authorities. For instance, passengers on Mari Marmara were subject to security checks in Antalya port, similar to those in airports (p. 22). This finding diminished the suggestion that weapons could have been smuggled onboard.

The highlights of the report which would destroy Israel’s claim to high ground, are, however, to be found, mainly on the sections that detailed the occurrence of the attack.

This is most evident when soldiers attempted to descend on Mari Marmara from their helicopters. The findings ‘concluded that live ammunition was used from the helicopter onto the top deck prior to the descent of the soldiers’ (p. 27). These evidence are supported by the forsenic analysis of those passengers killed – many of them received fatal shots on their head or from a high angle:

Furkan Doğan had five bullets, including three on his face, head and thorax while Ibrahim Bilgen was shot in the chest with an additional soft baton round at the side of his head at close range. The report claims ‘the wounds [on Bilgen] are consistent with the deceased initially being shot from soldiers on board the helicopter above and receiving another wound while lying on the ground, already wounded’). Cevdet Kiliçlar died from a single bullet to his forehead between his eyes while Cengiz Akyüz and Cengiz Songür were shot in the head and at the upper central thorax below the neck, from a high angle respectively. Çetin Topçuoğlu was shot thrice with one bullet entering from the top of his head while Uğur Suleyman Söylemez (who is still in a coma) had one bullet wound on his head (p 30 – 31).

The Mission also found no evidence that any of the passenger retaliated with firearms (i.e. disproving Israel’s accusation that the passengers either had their own arms or wrestled them from their soldiers). This evidence is supported by the lack of any medical records on the kinds of injuries inflicted upon the soldiers whom were hurt in the operation. The authors stated that on this particular accusation, it ‘finds that the Israeli accounts so inconsistent and contradictory with regard to evidence of alleged firearms injuries to Israeli soldiers that it has to reject it’ (ibid).

To further compound the gravity of the attacks, soldiers continued shooting at those whom were already wounded with live bullets, soft baton charges (beanbags) and plastic bullets. Many were also subjected to other forms of violence such as being kicked in the head and chest (p 28).

It is reasonable to derive from within this small section of the report that the soldiers had used disproportionate force against unarmed civilians even before they landed on Marmara. Hence, when the passengers retaliated, they had sufficient fear for not just the loss of their lives, but also for the women and children on board. In short, they have the right, in light of the violence that was inflicted upon them, to defend themselves against the soldiers.

This interpretation of the event is aligned with one of the findings by the Mission which stated that ‘Insofar as the Israeli interception of the flotilla was unlawful—and the Mission considers that it was unlawful—the use of force by the Israeli forces in seizing control of the Mavi Marmara and other vessels was also prima facie unlawful since there was no legal basis for the Israeli forces to conduct an assault and interception in international waters’ (p 36 – 37).

The illegality on the use of such disproportionate force is based on various international law such as Principle 9 of the Basic Principles on the Use of Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, which states that firearms shall not be used by the official unless in self-defence or when there is a serious threat to the latter (p 37). In this case,

‘… throughout the operation to seize control of the Mavi Marmara, including before the live fire restriction was eased, lethal force was employed by the Israeli soldiers in a widespread and arbitrary manner which caused an unnecessarily large number of persons to be killed or seriously injured. Less extreme means could have been employed in nearly all instances of the Israeli operation, since there was no imminent threat to soldiers… Even in a situation where three individual soldiers have been injured and detained, the objective of freeing these soldiers does not legitimate the use of force outside applicable international standards and soldiers must continue to respect and preserve life and to minimize injury and damage’ (p 37).

Based on this one (amongst other) findings (i.e. amongst other violations on international law), it is clear that the initial public outcry against the use of force by Israel has been justified.

More importantly, the report adds to the growing list of human rights crimes in which soldiers and the Israel state is culpable. In this incident alone, the authors noted that there is enough evidence to suggest crimes violating the Fourth Geneva Convention, ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) and CAT (Convention Against Torture) has been committed (p 54 – 55).

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