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Gush Shalom appeals to the Supreme Court

U.S. may agree - we concerned citizens do not

Tomorrow, Wednesday June 30, the Supreme Court will hear our appeal to dismantle the Tirkel Committee and replace it with a Judicial Commission of Inquiry.

Uri Avnery: "Even if the United States government was convinced to agree to a powerless, meaningless investigation, we as Israeli citizen concerned for the future of our country absolutely don't agree."

Tomorrow, Wednesday June 30, at 9am Judges Naor, Meltzer and Dantziger of the Supreme Court in Jerusalem will hear the appeal of the Gush Shalom movement to dismantle the "Tirkel Committee" and replace it with a Judicial Commission of Inquiry, independent of the government and fully empowered to investigate the circumstances of the Israeli Navy takeover of the Gaza Flotilla. The appeal is signed on behalf of Gush Shalom by former Knesset Member Uri Avnery, and the movement's spokesperson Adam Keller. It i represented by lawyers Gaby Laski, Lymor Goldstein and Neri Ramati.

The main argument in the state's answer, presented to the Supreme Court, is that the government has an unlimited power to decide whether or not to investigate a certain event at all, in whose hands to place the investigation and what powers to give the investigators, and that in the past the Supreme Court rejected appeals seeking to impose on the government the creation of a Judicial Commission of Inquiry.

The state also described to the court at great length the negotiations conducted between the government of Israel and the government of the U.S. Initially, the U.S. tended to support an International Commission of Inquiry under auspices of the U.N., but eventually came to endorse the creation of the "Tirkel Committee" in Israel. To underscore this point the State went as far as presenting to the Supreme Court in Jerusalem as an exhibit, the statement issued by the White House spokesperson on this subject, as well as the full text of a TV interview by the American Ambassador to the U.N.

"The Sate's answer exposes the main purpose for which the Tirkel Commission was formed: not the wish to investigate what really happened on the boat and how nine of its passengers came to be killed, but the intention to appease at the cheapest price the world governments and public opinion, and especially the government of the U.S." says Uri Avnery. "The U.S. government has its own considerations, having to do with worldwide strategic interests and possibly also with internal American considerations of elections due in November.

"We, as Israeli citizens who act to improve the society and the country in which we live, have a supreme interest of our own: to have a thorough and independent investigation into the circumstances of a grave political and military fiasco, which caused preventable bloodshed, which severely hurt Israel's position in the world and whose long-term implications might be felt in many years to come. Only a thorough and truly independent investigation has the chance to prevent similar fiascos from recurring - if not worse ones. With all due respect to the U.S. government, it has no authority to forgo on behalf of the citizens of Israel an investigation which is vital to ensure proper public norms in the State of Israel.

"The respectable people who have been gathered into the Tirkel Committee cannot carry out such a thorough investigation even if they want to, because the government has not given them the needed authority. I in no way share the absolute trust which the State representatives give to the internal investigation by the armed forces of their own deeds, whose results will be given ready-made to the Tirkel Committee without its members having any way of independently checking them. The rule which the State asks the Supreme Court Judges to endorse, that the investigation of soldiers about their acts in the field should be carried out solely through the debriefing carried out by the army itself and that statements made during debriefing should not at all be passed to anyone outside the armed forces, is a dangerous erosion of the principal of civilian control over the armed forces, a cornerstone of any democratic regime.

"In Article 16 of its answer to the court the State claims that only passengers of the Mavi Marmara were hurt by the takeover of the boats by Israeli troops. This assertion is in complete contradiction to many testimonies, published all over the world, about brutal behavior of the troops also to passengers of the other boats, though luckily not coming to the point of fatalities. Moreover, the very fact of the State already presenting factual assertions on a subject in which the Committee is supposed to investigate and present conclusions testifies to the State not taking seriously the investigation which is supposed to be conducted.

"The mandate given to the Tirkel Committee by the government included among other things the task of investigating and reporting on the identity and the activities of the Flotilla organizers and participants. In practice, the Committee is active for more than a week already, and there is no mention of any intention to contact the Flotilla organizers and participants and hear their testimonies. The Committee has not offered to Flotilla participants the option to come and testify in Israel while having immunity from arrest by the police - and indeed the Committee has no authority to offer such immunity. Nor did the Committee announce any intention to go abroad and there hear the testimonies of the Flotilla organizers and participants - and also here the Committee was not at all given the authority to go abroad and collect testimonies outside the boundaries of Israel.

All this gives rise to the strong suspicion that the Committee intends to discuss the identity and activity of the Flotilla activists, reach conclusions and publish a report about them - without hearing a single testimony from the people concerned themselves. Such a procedure denies in advance any credibility to a report which the Committee would eventually publish on this subject.

UPDATE: 29 June 2010

On the eve of the hearing of Gush Shalom's petition, PM Netanyahu accepted the request of Judge Ya'akov Tirkel to broaden the powers of the Committee headed by Tirkel, charged with probing the Gaza Flotilla raid.

The Supreme Court hearing is delayed for ten days, and until July 11 the activities of the Tirkel Committee will be suspended.

Uri Avnery: Even before our petition could come before the Supreme Court, the government accepted our primary contention – the Tirkel Committee was not given the necessary authority to conduct a thorough and independent investigation.

This evening, Osnat Mendel of the Supreme Court department of the State Prosecution called Adv. Gaby Laski, representing the Gush Shalom movement, and told that the state asked the Supreme Court to delay for ten days the hearing in Gush Shalom's appeal to dismantle the Tirkel Committee, a hearing which was due to take place tomorrow morning at the Supreme Court.

In its request to delay the hearing the State disclosed that Judge Tirkel asked the political echelon to reconsider the authority given to the Committee headed by himself. In response to this request and due to other non-specified considerations, Prime Minister Netanyahu decided at noon today to conduct such a reconsideration in the coming days. Judge Tirkel undertook to the Supreme Court that the Committee's activities will be suspended until July 11, and that it will conduct no activity until the change in its authority is determined.

"It seems that already before our appeal got to any hearing before the court, the State representatives in practice admit Gush Shalom's main contention - that the Tirkel Committee, with the very narrow authority and mandate given it by the government, was not able to conduct a serious investigation into the circumstances which led to the killing of nine passengers on the Gaza Flotilla, and subsequently to a severe damage of Israel's international position. I am glad to see that the Prime Minister apparently has also understood this, even if belatedly" says former Knesset Member Uri Avnery, one of those who signed the appeal.

"Nevertheless, we don't withdraw our demand to form a Judicial Commission of Inquiry, independent and fully empowered, which is the instrument created by Israeli law exactly for sensitive investigations of this kind. A thorough and independent investigation is needed, first of all, not for the Americans, not for the Turks, and not for the U.N. but for ourselves, for the sake of Israel's future in order to help prevent such grave fiascos from happening again.

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