Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.—Genesis 4:8
“A serious error,” said Netanyahu’s main political partner, Avigdor Lieberman, after learning that Israel had formally apologized to Turkey for the killing of nine of its citizens during the Gaza’s Freedom Flotilla incident. One is tempted to acknowledge Lieberman’s wisdom, but this is not the case. Lieberman being Lieberman, he spoke out of primitive nationalistic reflexes, without stopping to consider the issue rationally. He is right, but he doesn’t know why.
A few days after the apology, new details were published by the Hebrew media. “Mush’hatim, nim’astem!” (roughly “corrupt people, we’re fed up with you!”), was the slogan that terminated Shimon Peres political career in the 1990 “Dirty Trick” Affair. He was so mistrusted, that potential partners to his attempt to form a government requested from him personal cash-securities as guarantees.
Nobody trusted Peres. Netanyahu enjoys a similar reputation. During his recent coalitional negotiations, his partners and enemies as one didn’t get tired of mentioning how treacherous Netanyahu is. Hebrew media disclosed that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan refused to accept Netanyahu’s apology through a phone call unless Netanyahu supplied in advance, by email, the exact text of the apology. The Turkish Prime Minister feared being tricked into a faulty apology; he can’t be blamed for being suspicious.
Yet, the text of the apology was slightly changed, though with Turkish consent. Turkey had demanded Israel to recognize that it had conducted a deliberate attack on the Mavi Marmara. Instead, the final text acknowledged “the killings and wounding aboard the Mavi Marmara were not carried out intentionally,” and that they were “an operational error.” Maybe this was the error that Mr. Lieberman was referring to; yet, the error Israel committed was of a different nature.
Turkey got all its other demands. A humanitarian fund will be established by the Turkish government; the government will determine the amount of compensation to be paid by Israel. The fund will get the funds and transfer them to the injured families. Official estimates by Israel claim that the amount will be of several tens of millions of dollars.
Turkey presents itself again as the colonial ruler of Holy Land; strengthening this assessment is Prime Minister Erdogan’s announcement that he will visit Gaza and the West Bank, though a date was not provided. Persistent rumours in the last month claim that Turkey will raise the level of its diplomatic representation in Palestine; Turkey’s Jerusalem Consul General, Şakir Özkan Torunlar, will probably be promoted to Ambassador to Palestine. Changing the delicate regional balance, Turkey announced that its Foreign Minister Davutoglu will visit Israel before its Prime Minister visits Gaza and the West Bank. Palestine became the center.
Then, Turkey added that if the compensation agreement is paid without any complications, “there is also the option that Turkey will invite high-level Israel officials to visit Ankara.” These are quite amazing statements in the diplomatic world. Such a confidence is a clear indication that Turkey has the upper-hand. Israel missed something in its apology.
Nuremberg Trials against Israel
On November 6, 2012, Turkey announced that a court in Istanbul will try in absentia (“in the absence,” a trial at which the defendant is not physically present) four ex-Israeli military commanders over the IDF Freedom Flotilla raid in 2010. The Mavi Marmara was trying to break the blockade of Gaza and bring humanitarian aid to the refugees there. Nine Turkish activists were killed by Israeli naval commandos (Shayetet 13), who had boarded the ship. In May 2012, Turkey’s Justice Ministry Sadullah Ergin finished his probe on the affair and requested information from the country’s Foreign Ministry on several IDF soldiers; a fact reported by the Turkish Today’s Zaman. On May 24, it was made public that criminal charges had been laid by Turkey against four IDF officers, demanding life sentences. Among the indictments were “inciting murder through cruelty or torture.”
The accusations target the IDF upper echelon. The list is led by former IDF Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi; the others are the ex-naval chief Admiral Eliezer Marom, the former head of military intelligence Major General Amos Yadlin, and the former head of the air force Major General Avishai Lev. Over 500 people will give testimony during the trials, most of them passengers who were aboard during the event. There is no question about the events; all the facts are acknowledged also by the IDF and the UN; both published reports on the violent event. The UN inquiry said that Israel’s decision to board the ship and the use of substantial force was “excessive and unreasonable.” Yet, considering the videos of the event, the UN assessment looks unreasonably soft towards Israel.
Heavily armed commando soldiers attacked and killed people armed with little more than improvised sticks. Moreover, on June 13, 2012, Israel State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss published his report on the Israeli government’s behavior in the event. Prime Minister Netanyahu turned out to be rather clumsy and incompetent to the extent of causing an unnecessary disaster. In the words of the comptroller: “The decision making process regarding the dealings with the Turkish flotilla led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and under his responsibility was found to include essential and significant flaws.”
One could expect Turkey to make use of the Israeli reports and place charges also against Mr. Netanyahu. However, this is not possible. On February 15, 2002, the International Court of Justice halted a Belgian attempt to try Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for the massacre of hundreds of Palestinians in Lebanon in 1982 when he was Israel’s Minister of Defense, ruling that serving ministers are protected from prosecution. Thus, Turkey chose to center its efforts on the responsible IDF officers.
In other words, Turkey decided last year to conduct a parallel to the Nuremberg Trials against Israel. These were a series of military tribunals, held by World War II Allied forces, of prominent Nazi Germany leaders. They were held in the city of Nuremberg, Bavaria, Germany, in 1945–46. One of the defendants, Martin Bormann, was tried in absentia, and sentenced to death; he had been the successor to Hess as Nazi Party Secretary. An indirect testimony of the Israeli acceptance of the Nuremberg Trials is that Israel conducted similarly problematic trials. The Nazis and Nazi Collaborators Punishment Law (Hok Le’Asiat Din BaNatzim) from August 1, 1950, legalizes the execution of Nazis. Thus, Israel opened the gate for conducting similar trials in absentia against its officials (a deeper analysis appears here).
Newly sworn Israeli Minister of Justice Tzipi Livini (the appointment is a superb testimony to Netanyahu’s sense of humor) was surprised when she spoke with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu about the creation of the committee supervising the funds transfer. “Turkey can undertake not to submit any charges against Israelis, but it is not legally possible [for it to] to cancel private proceedings that have already begun. The only thing is to try to persuade their families to withdraw their claims, but there is no way to force them to do so,” she was told. In other words, the Israeli apology had admitted that the IDF upper echelon committed crimes. Israel is not trying its criminal generals thus Turkey will. That is what the usually eloquent Lieberman had called “a serious error” of Netanyahu. A trial against criminal generals will become a significant step forward towards Justice, which neither Israel nor the West own a monopoly on it.
Roi Tov is a graduate—among others—of Tel Aviv University and the Weizmann Institute of Science. In addition to his memoir, Tov is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Molecular Physics and other scientific journals. He won various travel writing and photography awards.
In his writings, he tries to reveal life in Israel as a Christian Israel Defense Force (IDF) officer—from human rights violations to the use of an extensive network of underground agents. He was recognized first as a refugee and subsequently as political prisoner of Bolivia.