Dr Amichai Cohen is a Senior Lecturer at the Ono Academic College in Israel; Prof. Yuval Shany is the Hersch Lauterpacht Chair of Public International Law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Both Dr Cohen and Prof. Shany are senior researchers at the Israel Democracy Institute. The authors thank Prof. David Kretzmer, Mr. Gil Limon and Mr. Rotem Giladi for their comments to a previous draft. The usual disclaimers apply
On January 23, 2011 The Public Commission to Examine the Maritime Incident of May 31, 2010 – The Turkel Commission published its partial report on the Flotilla incident. This partial report deals with the two main issues raised in the aftermath of the Flotilla incident – the legality of the naval blockade on Gaza, and the tragic results that ensued from the raid by Israel Defense Forces (IDF) commandos of the flotilla ships, which tried to run the blockade – the killing of 9 passengers on board one of the flotilla ships – the Mavi Marmara.
The Turkel Commission was set up by the Israeli government on June 14th 2010, and was headed by a former Justice of the Supreme Court, Yaakov Turkel. Its members included a retired diplomat (Ambassador Reuven Merhav), a former army general (Amos Horev) and a civil law professor (Miguel Deutch). Shabtai Rossene, the fifth member of the Commission, a renowned international law expert, died during deliberations. The Commission also included two international observers, Nobel laureate, Lord David Trimble, and the former Judge Advocate General of the Canadian Forces, Brig. General Kenneth Watkins. The Commission was further assisted by two notable international law experts – Professor Michael Schmitt and Prof. Dr. Wolff Heintschel von Heinegg. The report, which covers 240 pages (the English version is almost 300 pages long), exonerated the IDF and the Israeli government from any violation of international law connected with the flotilla incident and declared that the nine deaths which occurred on board the Mavi Marmara were a tragic result of a conflict which Israel did not seek, plan or even foresee. This conclusion is supported by extensive fact finding and legal analysis. Although the Commission conceded that it could not verify the entire body of evidence for each and every case of shooting or other form of violence employed on the Mavi Marmara during the takeover (the Commission identified 133 such incidents), it did not find Israel’s action to violate any applicable international law standard.
The purpose of this comment is to discuss some of the specific legal findings made by the Turkel Commission, which we believe to be problematic in nature.