Ehud Barak is being sued in the United States over his role in the 2010 slaying of Turkish American citizen Furkan Doğan by Israeli commandos who stormed a boat attempting to break the siege on Gaza.
The former Israeli prime minister was served court documents when he was in Los Angeles, California, for a speaking event last month.
His parents, Ahmet and Hikmet Doğan, filed the lawsuit against Barak.
“It is long overdue that these officials are held to account for their actions which have devastated my family and the families of many others,” Ahmet Doğan told The Electronic Intifada by email.
“If those who took part in the decision are not held to account, then … there is nothing to prevent the Israelis deciding to take such aggressive action in the future,” he added.
Barak was defense minister when Israeli forces shot and killed eight Turkish nationals, in addition to Doğan. A tenth victim died from his injuries in May 2014.
Tortured and killed
Doğan’s family brings the case against Barak under the Alien Tort Statute, which allows foreign nationals to use US courts in cases alleging violations of international law.
“Ehud Barak is directly responsible for killing their son,” Hakan Camuz, a spokesperson for the family, told The Electronic Intifada. “Ehud Barak is responsible for killing [Doğan] when he was under the protection of international law when he was doing humanitarian work in the international high seas.”
The complaint states that Doğan “was tortured and killed” during the raid on the flotilla: “Four of the shots struck Doğan from behind, hitting his head, back, left leg and left foot. The fifth shot struck his face at point-blank range, likely while he was lying on the ground on his back.”
In September 2010, a United Nations fact-finding mission found that Doğan was not killed instantly, but was “lying on the deck in a conscious, or semi-conscious, state for some time.”
In 2013, the International Criminal Court prosecutor conducted a preliminary investigation and found that “there is a reasonable basis to believe that war crimes … were committed on one of the vessels, the Mavi Marmara.”
While the prosecutor declined to open a formal investigation, an appeal is currently being considered.
Ahmet Doğan says he believes the international community has failed the 10 people killed on the Turkish ship, as well as Palestinians in Gaza.
“The obligation has now fallen on the doorstep of the courts in the United States and I think the world will be interested to see if the United States takes up the opportunity to hold to account those who are liable for the death of one of its nationals and upholding justice,” he said.
Barak has repeatedly claimed responsibility for the raid which he authorized five days prior.
Speaking to a panel formed by the Israeli government to review the attack, Barak stated: “As defense minister, I bear a comprehensive responsibility for everything that took place in the systems subordinate to me, including the IDF [Israeli military]. I take full responsibility.”
Past attempts to sue Israeli leaders have failed to move forward in US courts because of legislation barring lawsuits against foreign states.
But Dan Stormer, one of the lawyers representing the Doğan family, told The Electronic Intifada that because Barak is not currently a head of state, he no longer enjoys that protection.
The legal team representing Doğan’s parents also includes Geoffrey Nice, who helped prosecute former Serbian President Slobodan Milošević in The Hague, and Rodney Dixon, an international human rights lawyer.
The families of victims of the Mavi Marmara attack have sought justice in other courts. In France, lawyers attempted to serve Barak in 2010, but he managed find out about the litigation plans and dodge the suit by escaping on a plane, attorneys in the case say.
Stormer said Barak has 30 days to respond to the complaint.
“He can respond or ignore it. But he will not be able to come back to this country without being held liable if he ignores this process,” he said.
Because the lawsuit is a civil one, if Barak were to be tried and found guilty, he will be penalized with monetary damages, but will not face prison time.
Stormer told the Reuters news agency that damages awarded in the case could amount to “tens of millions of dollars.”
Charlotte Silver is a journalist based in Oakland, California. Twitter: @CharESilver.