Israel needs to apologise to Turkey over attack on ship


OPINION:ON May 31st, 2010, at 4.30am, Israeli commandos boarding from sea and air attacked the Turkish ship Mavi Marmaraand killed eight Turkish nationals and a 19-year-old Turkish American.

At the time of the attack the international convoy, which included six boats and activists from 32 countries, was sailing in international waters. To be precise, Mavi Marmarawas 72 nautical miles off the coast of Israel and 64 nautical miles away from the Israeli-imposed “Gaza blockade area”.

There was no final warning. The deceased were shot multiple times from point-blank range. Within hours, outrage at Israel’s action echoed around the world. Save for an antiquated parabellum belonging to the captain, there were no weapons in the ship. The convoy was carrying much needed humanitarian aid for the besieged people of Gaza. More than a year later, there still is no explanation for such brutal and excessive use of force.

During the ensuing controversy, I wrote in this paper that the Turks, regardless of their political persuasion and their station in life, expected the government of Israel to stop demonising the activists and apologise for the catastrophe they caused. This did not mean to humiliate Israel. It would have been, and it will still be, a civilised step to start to mend the much important Turkish-Israeli relationship.

The Israeli government does not have to grit its teeth. An apology is the appropriate statement of regret and the least it can do as it did not, we still believe, intend to kill people on board. Indeed, Israel expressed regret over the killings.

But from ordering the wrong meal to missing a date and losing forever, life is full of small and big regrets.

However, it is the first time that Turkish civilians were killed in peacetime by units of an organised army, and a friendly one at that. No one can say that this is a manufactured grievance on our part and invite us to stoic calm.

A year on, instead of an apology, we have to face a relentless smear campaign. Notwithstanding many ominous overtones, the usual pundits accuse us of supporting terrorism, being at the helm of an “Islamist upsurge”, and of pursuing “neo-Ottomanist” policies. This campaign would have us think in the simplistic terms of an imagined antagonism between Turkey and Israel. There are those hotheads who would not stop at detracting Turkey but describe it as a nation hostile to the Jews, and claim that good relations with Turkey is a lost cause. This is not only unjustifiable and unfair, but also outright dangerous.

In fact, we are seeing no more than a smokescreen, an attempt to evade coming to terms with the basic truth that in the small hours of that fateful date, Israeli commandos killed nine civilians.

Yes, they felt strongly about the plight of the Gazan population. They wanted to go beyond occasional moanings and show their solidarity. But strong feelings hardly turn people into terrorists.

How about those who live through a blockade that has grown into a military siege, even forbidding the entry of cinnamon on the grounds that it might be used in making bombs? The IHH [The Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief] is as much an Islamist-terrorist organisation as Médecins Sans Frontières is a communist-terrorist one.

There is nothing “neo-Ottoman”, whatever that means, about telling the Israeli government that it should end the Gaza blockade. No one needs another WikiLeaks leak to discover that every government, including the US, has been telling the same thing to the Israeli government: that the blockade is inhuman and unsustainable.

Last week a UN report was leaked to the press by guess whom? UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon expressed astonishment that this report, which had not yet been submitted to him, was leaked. It concluded that Israel’s action was “excessive and unreasonable”, while saying that Israel’s naval blockade was legal and based on legitimate security concerns.

It said nothing about the limits of a blockade action, the extreme circumstances it created, or the many moral implications that inhabit the decision to pursue this action in such an unforgiving and ruthless way. It is ironic that the UN Charter restricts the use of force to very strict conditions. Surely Mavi Marmarais not one. Turkey does not recognise the blockade imposed on Gaza by Israel.

When did the Turks first meet the Jews? The answer is mired in legend, and stories abound. At the very least, we have some early Turkish documents, dating back to the 13th century, which speak of “the wise, perceptive and capable people”, referring to the Jews living in the old Ottoman capitals of Bursa and Adrianople.

Rightly, the impression stayed and took hold, never to change. In 1492, Sultan Bajazed II invited the Jews expelled from Spain to settle in the Ottoman lands, thereby opening a whole new chapter in Jewish history.

Turkey does not aim to harm or jeopardise the historic and exceptional Turkish-Jewish friendship. Hence, the call of Mr Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, to Israel to correct its big mistake.