Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Turkey Must Prove It's No Paper Tiger

If all Arab League members joined Ankara to demand an end to Gaza blockade, it would be a wake-up call for Israel and the US
By Linda S. Heard
The Mavi Marmara ship
   In this Thursday, Aug. 5, 2010 file photo, The Mavi Marmara ship, aboard which Israel's deadly raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla took place on May 31, 2010, leaves the Haifa port, northern Israel, on its way to Turkey (AP)
The Turkish government's fury over Israel's refusal to apologise for killing nine Turkish activists on the Mavi Marmara is entirely justified. No doubt, adding insult to injury was the haste with which Tel Aviv recently apologised to Egypt — albeit verbally — for the deaths of five Egyptian security personnel tracking militants in Sinai. For Ankara, the final straw was a leak of the UN-authorised Palmer Commission Report into the legality of Israel's 2010 commando-attack on a Turkish aid ship in international waters.
Although the report does chastise Israel for its "excessive and unreasonable" use of force, it characterises the Israeli blockade as "a legitimate security measure in order to prevent weapons from entering Gaza by sea" — and stated that "its implementation complied with the requirements of international law". In that case, surely Gaza — which comes under continual Israeli attack with deadly consequences — also has a right under international law to protect its own people!
The report suggests that Israeli commandoes acted out of self-defence against Turkish activists armed with knives and metal bars without considering that in actual fact it was the activists who were defending themselves against an armed assault on their ship using any ‘weapon' that came to hand. This is akin to blaming a pussy cat for scratching a cheetah.
Omitted from the report is mention of the video evidence that shows how injured commandos were taken below deck, where they were given treatment for their wounds. In short, its findings are biased to the point of being ridiculous. Malaysia's former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohammad has rightly written off the report as "a joke" and "a waste of time and money". "I'm not surprised. The UN is a creature of the United States and the US is a creature of Israel," he said in a written statement.
However, his scathing comments about the UN are inapplicable when it comes to the UN Human Rights Council that launched a fact-finding mission into the incident. It found Israeli forces violated international law as well as the Geneva Conventions. Most importantly, it judged Israel's blockade of Gaza to be "unlawful".
Whether the blockade is lawful or unlawful is disputed. It's important that this point of law affecting the lives of the 1.5 million residents of Gaza is cleared up once and for all. If Ankara has its way it soon will be. Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu says his country intends to put this matter before the International Court of Justice as soon as this week. "We are bound by the International Court of Justice. We say the ICJ decides," he announced. This isn't to say that Tel Aviv will comply with any ICJ judgment running contrary to its interests but, at least, it will be binding upon the UN. Turkey has also promised to help the families of the murdered Turkish activists launch lawsuits against Israel in international courts.
It's my hope that this time around Turkey doesn't bend to pressure from the US and the UN to mend ties with Israel for the sake of Middle East peace which thanks to the intransigence of the hardnosed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is already a lost cause. So far, it looks as though Ankara means business.
Lives are not cheap
In the first place, Ankara has downgraded diplomatic relations by expelling Israel's ambassador to Turkey and recalling its own. Secondly, Turkey has frozen all military cooperation with Israel and is considering cutting trade ties; a move that would hurt Israel far more than Turkey which currently enjoys a booming economy. Thirdly, Turkish officials have been quoted by the Hurriyet Daily News as saying, "the eastern Mediterranean will no longer be a place where Israeli naval forces can freely exercise their bullying practices against civilian vessels." There is even a suggestion that the Turkish naval vessels will ensure the protection of future aid flotillas heading to Gaza. In the meantime, the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is planning to visit the Gaza Strip.
Some deluded Israeli newspaper commentators are portraying Turkey's threats as mere posturing to bolster its leadership aspirations within the Arab and Muslim world; they say Ankara is using the Mavi Marmara incident as a pretext to flex its muscles against Israel to gain popularity. The truth is simpler. The Erdogan government wants to assure its citizens that their lives are not cheap and has genuine concerns for the people of Gaza who have been subsisting in the world's largest open-air prison for far too long. It's time that Arab states stood up to be counted. If all 22 Arab League member countries were to join Turkey to demand an end to the blockade or else, Israel and the US would receive a wake-up call that even they couldn't ignore. If Erdogan has the gumption to start the ball rolling and refrains from rolling over himself, the Arab world should visibly come aboard else be put to shame.
-This commentary was published in The GULF NEWS on 06/09/2011
-Linda S. Heard is a specialist writer on Middle East affairs

No comments:

Post a Comment