Turkish court issues “historic” arrest warrants for Israeli army commanders

A painting depicts the Mavi Marmara aid boat breaking Israel’s blockade on Gaza, as Palestinians in Gaza City commemorated the fourth anniversary of the attack.

Ashraf Amra APA images

A court in Istanbul has issued arrest warrants against four Israeli military officials for their role in authorizing and carrying out the attacks on the Mavi Marmara, the Turkish humanitarian aid boat bound for Gaza on 31 May 2010. Israeli forces attacked and raided the boat, which was part of a flotilla in international waters and was attempting to break the siege on Gaza. Israeli commandos killed nine civilians and wounded dozens of others.

Speaking to The Electronic Intifada, Rabia Yurt, a Turkish attorney for the families of the victims, says the ruling is unprecedented. Yurt says it is “the first [time] in history” that arrest warrants have been issued against Israeli officials, who have never been held responsible in an international court for the army’s “uncountable crimes.”

The judges presiding at the Istanbul Çağlayan Courthouse on 26 May ordered arrest warrants against former Israeli army Chief General Gabi Ashkenazi, Naval Forces commander Vice Admiral Eliezer Marom, Israeli military intelligence chief Major General Amos Yadlin and Air Forces Intelligence head Brigadier General Avishai Levi. It is now up to Interpol, the international police agency, to follow the Turkish court’s directives and arrest the four commanders, who were tried in absentia.

This was the sixth trial so far in the case against the Israeli leaders for their role in the deadly attacks on the flotilla.

Tenth activist dies

After the deadly raid on the Mavi Marmara, Israeli forces kidnapped the crew and hundreds of the flotilla’s passengers, bringing the boats and all aboard to an Israeli port, where the human rights activists were arrested, detained and deported.

One of the civilians killed was Furkan Doğan, a 19-year-old US citizen with Turkish residency. The Center for Constitutional Rights stated that “Israeli commandos shot Furkan five times, including one shot to the head at point-blank range. At the time of the attack, it is believed Furkan was filming with a small video camera on the top deck of the Mavi Marmara.”

A tenth activist, 51-year-old Turkish citizen Uğur Süleyman Söylemez, died on 23 May — days before the court’s decision, and nearly four years after Israeli forces shot him in the head. Söylemez was in a coma ever since his injury.

Arrest warrants “necessary”

“The court argued that an arrest warrant had become necessary for the legal procedure as the defendants had neither attended the trial nor responded to an invitation sent to them through the related department of the Turkish justice ministry,” reported Turkish daily Hurriyet on 30 May.

The Turkish humanitarian group IHH (Humanitarian Relief Foundation), which sponsored and helped organize the aid flotilla in 2010 and has been helping to represent the families of those killed, stated in a press release last week that the ruling was a “positive outcome” for the relatives and loved ones of the ten Turkish citizens who were killed by Israeli attacks.

Last year, as The Electronic Intifada reported, the prosecutor of Spain’s national court formally requested a judge to begin steps to refer a case against Israeli leaders for the attack to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Three Spanish citizens, Manuel Tapial, Laura Arau and David Segarra, were aboard the Mavi Marmara when it was attacked and commandeered. Tapial, Arau and Segarra filed the case against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, six ministers and Vice Admiral Eliezer Marom of the Israeli navy who led the attack.

“The courts will not tolerate Israeli crimes”

On Friday, I spoke with Rabia Yurt, an attorney for the families of victims of Israel’s attack on the Mavi Marmara.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Rabia, the original complaint was filed by 33 relatives of the Turkish citizens who were killed on the Mavi Marmara, and the tenth victim who was injured in the attack in 2010 just passed away about a week ago. Can you talk about the outcome of this sixth hearing in the Mavi Marmara case, and why the judgment was significant? It names names of Israeli military war crimes suspects to be arrested.

Rabia Yurt: As you said, this was the sixth hearing of this trial, and during the last six trials, the court has heard witness statements from different witnesses from different countries, and because the [Israeli commanders] were tried in absentia, the lawyers and the prosecutor requested the court to issue arrest warrants in order to bring the defendants to Turkey and then be prosecuted.

So therefore, this arrest warrant is quite important, and it is also the first in history against Israeli officials. This trial is an historic trial. Until now, Israel has committed several, numerous and uncountable crimes — crimes which are the gravest crimes under international law. But until now, there has been no prosecution of any Israeli individual, nor has the State of Israel been held responsible for its crimes. Therefore, this trial, which started in 2012, is very very important and it’s an historic trial.

Former Israeli army chief commander Gabi Ashkenazi is wanted in court for his role in the Mavi Marmara attack. (Graphic courtesy of IHH)

Included in the list of Israeli military commanders and officers is Gabi Ashkenazi, he was the former chief of staff and commander of the Israeli army, and as well as his role in the Mavi Marmara attack, he oversaw the attacks on Gaza in 2008-09 which killed approximately 1,400 Palestinians and injured thousands more, and as you said, no Israeli leader — or individual soldier, for that matter — have been prosecuted for their role in this massacre. How likely is it that he and the others named in this recent judgment by the Turkish court will be arrested by Interpol?

RY: We have to stay optimistic. Of course we can’t deny the fact that the world has closed its eyes to the crimes committed by Israel. And until now, Israel has gotten away with everything that it has done, especially because of the veto rights of America in the [UN] Security Council.

However, we are optimistic, because Turkey is a democratic country. It is part of and is a signatory to the European extradition convention and signed to Interpol, and therefore all other countries who are also signatories to these conventions and institution have an obligation to indeed arrest these Israeli officials for whom the arrest warrants were issued. So we have to trust [this] and we have to keep our faith in this. And we also know that — remember that this trial started way back in 2012 — the Israeli authorities told their soldiers not to travel around too much, especially not go to Turkey. We know that Israeli soldiers were complaining about this. For instance, there was a case of an Israeli soldier who filed a claim against the State of Israel because he wanted to study in the United States, but because he took part in this operation he could not set foot out of Israel. So because we know this, we are quite optimistic about the arrest warrants, that they will be in fact implemented by other countries.

NBF: Has Interpol indicated that they are willing and ready and able to pursue these Israeli military commanders under this arrest warrant?

RY: The arrest warrant is being now prepared by the court in a way that it has to be sent to the ministry of justice, which in turn will send it to Interpol. But we haven’t heard anything from Interpol until now, because the arrest warrant still wasn’t received by them. It’s a very procedural thing, so we have to see what happens in the near future.

NBF: Rabia, what message does this ruling by the Turkish court send to the perpetrators of the killing of civilians by Israeli military officials?

RY: I believe that this message is a very, very strong message — the first in history [saying] that from now on, the international community, the courts will not tolerate crimes committed by Israel anymore.

We will fight against impunity, and this arrest warrant gives the message to Israelis that they have to think twice before they ever commit such crimes again. That until now, no Israeli individual was prosecuted, but from now on, they will be held responsible and they will be brought to justice. So this is a very, very strong message against impunity.

NBF: What can you tell us about the reaction to this arrest warrant ruling by the court from families and loved ones of the victims on the Mavi Marmara?

RY: The moment the court ruled the arrest warrants, we were all together in the courtroom, and everybody just screamed out of joy and clapped, they were very pleased, very happy with it. I could tell that the wife of Çetin Topçuoğlu, who was also on the Mavi Marmara — he passed away in the arms of his wife — before the court was going to give its ruling, we were standing outside the courtroom doors, and she was just praying and praying and praying. And this was the third time that actually we had requested an arrest warrant, so we had been disappointed twice before, and when the ruling came, everybody was full of joy.

NBF: Finally, what’s next in this case on behalf of now ten victims of Israel’s raid, how are you pushing forward in this case?

RY: In December, there is going to be another hearing, and we’re just going to make sure that the entire world will know about this arrest warrant, that we will follow whether any of these four defendants steps foot outside of Israel. We have lawyers in different countries also working together, and in South Africa, in the UK, many, many countries more — they will also closely follow whether these four defendants will travel in these countries. And then if this is the case, we will immediately take action and make sure that if the country in which one of the four defendants steps foot refuses, or neglects to fulfill its obligation to arrest [the defendant], then we will make sure that that country will not get away with it. And we will push for it, and publicize this as much as we can.




"we will make sure that that country will not get away with it"
If that country will not get away with it, then why does Israel get away with it?


I would be honored to be a part of this statement. Israel has got to be made accountable and stopped on all the the inhuman treatment of Palestinians and others.

Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).