Turkish judges urged not to drop charges against Israeli officers

Israeli ambassador Eitan Na’eh, left, presents his credentials to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Turkish capital Ankara on 5 December.

Presidency of Turkey

An Istanbul court remained in session until midnight last Friday as a panel of judges considered whether to drop a case brought against four senior Israeli military officials accused of ordering the lethal raid on a flotilla to Gaza in 2010.

The judges failed to make a decision, scheduling another hearing for 9 December.

A Turkish prosecutor is arguing the case must be dropped, citing the reconciliation pact signed over the summer.

In June, Turkey promised immunity for Israeli officials in exchange for $20 million in compensation to the victims’ families. The Turkish parliament approved the agreement in August.

The agreement thawed a six-year freeze in military and political relations between the two countries. This month, the governments resumed an exchange of ambassadors.

Life sentences

In May 2010, Israel attacked the Turkish-owned Mavi Marmara as it sailed in international waters as part of a flotilla to Gaza, killing nine people and fatally injuring a tenth.

In 2012, the families of the victims filed a criminal complaint against four Israeli officers: Gabi Ashkenazi, who was the Israeli chief of staff at the time; Eliezer Marom, who was the commander of naval forces; Avishai Levi, who was director of air force intelligence and Amos Yadlin who was head of intelligence.

Among the lengthy list of charges against the Israeli officials are instigating plunder, instigating torture, instigating deprivation of liberty and instigating armed injury.

Prosecutors had been seeking life sentences for the four defendants.

But now prosecutors are demanding the case be dropped so as to comply with the political normalization agreement reached between Turkey and Israel.

The official text states “This agreement will constitute full release from any liability of Israel, its agents and citizens with respect to any and all claims, civil or criminal, that have been or will be filed against them in Turkey.”

“The Government of Israel, its agents and/or citizens, shall be indemnified by the Government of Turkey against all costs, damages, and/or expenses,” it adds

Messy agreement

Mustafa Ozbek, the spokesperson for the Humanitarian Relief Foundation, known by its Turkish initials IHH, a group that helped organize the flotilla, told The Electronic Intifada the judges have indicated they will throw out the case.

But the attorneys representing the families and victims are pushing the court to uphold the complaint by emphasizing holes in the one-page agreement between the two governments.

Ozbek says the families of the slain victims have not received “a single dollar in compensation.”

Media reported that Israel delivered the money to the account of the Turkish justice ministry in September.

“Even if they do in the future, this is not an action for damages but a criminal case,” Ozbek said. “With regards to these points the prosecution should proceed.”

Since 2014, IHH has opposed dropping its lawsuits in exchange for any compensation.

Attorneys note that citizens from 37 countries are involved in the lawsuit, making the case extend beyond the scope of the Turkey-Israel pact.

“The agreement is concerned about the families of 10 victims only,” Ozbek said. “However there were 715 victims on board. Their right to seek justice cannot be dismissed either according to Turkish or international law.”

Turkish law also states that a pardon or general amnesty can only be granted by a three-fifths supermajority – or 330 votes – in the national assembly. The Turkey-Israel agreement passed with only 206 votes.

“Therefore the parliamentary endorsement of the agreement is null and void. It violates the constitution in this regard,” Ozbek asserted.

Israel has never directly responded to the complaint, according to IHH, but demanded the lawsuit be dropped as a precondition to any normalized relations with Turkey.

Victims of the Mavi Marmara attack are also pursuing justice in US courts as well as in the International Criminal Court.

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Charlotte Silver

Charlotte Silver's picture

Charlotte Silver is an independent journalist and regular writer for The Electronic Intifada. She is based in Oakland, California and has reported from Palestine since 2010. Follow her on Twitter @CharESilver.