B Explanatory memorandum by Mr Fassino,
1 The facts
1 During the night of 30 May 2010, a raid by Israeli
commandos attacked a flotilla of six ships organised to force the
blockade of Gaza and to send aid to its population. It was the ninth
attempt since 2008 to break the Israeli and Egyptian blockade of
the Gaza Strip by sea, but the first one that caused bloodshed.
Nine people of Turkish nationality (one with dual Turkish-US nationality)
died and about 30 were injured, including eight Israeli soldiers.
2 The flotilla was trying to bring aid to Gaza to break the
Israeli and Egyptian blockade which, since 2007, has been imposed
on the Gaza Strip. These ships were carrying 10 000 tons of food,
everyday goods, including school supplies, building materials and
two large electricity generators.
3 The flotilla was organised by The Free Gaza Movement and the
Turkish Group IHH (Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and
Humanitarian Aid). On board the ships there were activists representing many
organisations, representatives of pacifist groups from many countries
and politicians. The Israeli Government says that the IHH is closely
linked to Hamas, and is a member of another organisation, the Union of
Good, which supports suicide bombings. However, the Turkish Government
considers the IHH as a legitimate humanitarian organisation.
4 The six ships were in international waters, about 80 miles
off the Israeli coast. The Israeli commandos landed on the main
ship, the Turkish Mavi Marmara,
descending from helicopters. The objective was allegedly to check
the cargo, verifying that there were no weapons or instruments of
aggression. Prior to the raid, the Israeli authorities had suggested
that the humanitarian aid land in an Israeli port and then it would
be forwarded to Gaza. This proposal was rejected by the organisers
of the flotilla.
5 There are opposing versions on how the confrontation developed.
Activists say that the Israeli commandos started shooting as soon
as they dropped onto the bridge of the ship. Conversely, Israeli
sources reported that the commandos, attacked with axes, knives
and a pistol by a group of activists, fired in self-defence. Video
clips and photographs show a group of activists armed with metal
bars, knives and slingshots and some other blunt objects. The video
released by the Israeli military stops just before the gunfight.
No violence was reported in any of the other five vessels.
6 Autopsies carried out by the Institute of Forensic Medicine
of the Turkish State pointed to a total of 30 bullets found in the
bodies of the dead activists, including one shot in the head by
four bullets. The nature of the wounds of the Israeli soldiers was
not made public.
7 Less than a week after the deadly confrontation aboard the Mavi Marmara, another ship – the
Irish-owned MV Rachel Corrie –
tried to sail to Gaza. It was intercepted by Israeli troops and
conducted to the Port of Ashdod, with no apparent conflict.
8 Among the eight previous cases of vessels bound for Gaza,
some were allowed to reach their destination, others were detained
and sent back. It is unclear why this one was greeted by a raid.
It may have been due to the size of the largest ship, the Mavi Marmara, which was carrying
about 600 passengers, making it difficult to board to carry out
the control of the goods transported. Israel claims that “ships
that violate or attempt to violate the maritime blockade may be
captured or even attacked in accordance with international law”.
At all events, it is plain that a wrongful and disproportionate
use of force occurred on the Israeli side.
9 The Free Gaza Movement announced that other maritime convoys
would challenge the Israeli blockade.
2 The blockade of Gaza
10 Israel and Egypt began the blockade of the Gaza Strip
when Hamas took control with a coup in 2007, expelling the representatives
of the Palestinian National Authority. The Israelis consider that
the blockade weakens Hamas, forcing them to stop firing rockets
on Israeli cities and obtain the return of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
11 Up to now, the blockade has covered a wide range of products,
including food and basic necessities, and goods for reconstruction
and economic activity, including cement and scaffolding, which Israel
suspects may be used to launch rockets.
12 According to the United Nations, Gaza receives about a quarter
of the supplies that it used to receive before 2007. The UN agency
for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) reports that the number of assisted
people in Gaza, who are unable to buy basic needs, has tripled since
In an attempt to minimise the effects of the blockade, Palestinians
constructed a network of tunnels (almost 800 according to a report)Note
import goods from Egypt. According to some analysts,Note
value of trade passing through the tunnels is estimated at US$200
million a year. It is also said that Hamas taxes the goods imported
through the tunnels.
14 During these three years, the block does not seem to have
been very effective: the Hamas rocket attacks have continued, though
less frequent; Hamas has been strengthened and in any case continues
to control the Gaza Strip and Gilad Shalit has not been released.
In its recent Resolution
, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council
of Europe urged the Government of Israel to lift “the siege of the
Gaza Strip to allow humanitarian aid to enter and secure the reopening
of access points”. This same request has repeatedly been reiterated
by the United Nations, European Union, Arab League and a large number
3 The reactions of the international community
16 The Israeli assault on the flotilla has been the
subject of international condemnation.
17 Turkey recalled its Ambassador from Israel. Prime Minister
Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for Israel to be punished for its “massacre”.
Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said that there should be a lawsuit
in a Turkish court against Israel. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet
Davutoğlu described the raid as “equivalent to banditry and piracy”
and “a murder conducted by a state.”
18 The UN Security Council called for a “prompt, impartial, credible
and transparent enquiry according to international criteria”. The
UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, expressed his distress over the
incident and urged Israel to lift the blockade of Gaza, stressing
that the protracted blockade of Gaza was counterproductive, unsustainable,
unjust and penalising for the innocent citizens. If his appeal to
lift the blockade had been heeded, the present tragedy would have
been averted, he said.
19 Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of “state
20 Disapproval was expressed by the European Union and its member
countries, which requested the reopening of access to Gaza and an
international commission of enquiry.
21 Concern was expressed by the US administration at an action
which it considered to be disproportionate.
22 Harsh words of condemnation came from Russia.
23 Within the Council of Europe, the President of the Assembly,
on 31 May, condemned the action by Israeli forces and deplored the
disproportionate use of force, underlining that, “whatever the reason,
targeting those who are involved in humanitarian and peaceful activities
can never be justifiable, and goes against the values we defend
in the Council of Europe”. He called for the full facts of this
incident to be clarified, and for those who have violated international
law to be fully held to account. The Political Affairs Committee
of the Assembly requested that a debate under urgent procedure be
held during the part-session from 21 to 25 June 2010. The Chairman-in-Office
of the Committee of Ministers also expressed concern and dismay.
24 Egypt – which, together with the Arab League and all its members,
had strongly condemned the Israeli raid – decided to open the land
border with Gaza for the first time for an indefinite period of
time, from 1 June 2010.
25 The Human Rights Council of the United Nations adopted a Resolution
on 2 June 2010, requesting the establishment of an “International
26 The same request was made by Turkey and several other countries,
including France and the United Kingdom, while the United States
argued that it should be led by Israel, but explained through the
Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, that the US administration
was “open to different ways of ensuring a credible investigation including
27 On 14 June 2010, the European Union Foreign Affairs Council
adopted a declaration deeply regretting the loss of life during
the Israeli military operation in international waters and condemning
the use of violence. The council urged an immediate, full and impartial
enquiry which, in order to command the confidence of the international
community, should involve international personalities.
28 On 14 June 2010 Israel announced that it rejected the call
for an international enquiry commission, but set-up instead a panel
of three men headed by ex-Supreme Court judge Yaakov Tirkel and
including Amos Horev, a retired military officer, and Shabtai Rosen,
a professor of international law. Two foreign observers, Lord David
Trimble (former Northern Ireland First Minister and Nobel Peace
Prize winner) and Brigadier General Ken Watkin (retired Canadian
military prosecutor), would also sit in the enquiry committee, without voting
29 The Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu criticised the
composition of the Israeli committee: “We have no trust at all that
Israel, a country that has carried out such an attack on a civilian
convoy in international waters, will conduct an impartial investigation.
To have a defendant acting simultaneously as both prosecutor and
judge is not compatible with any principle of law”.
30 Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, speaking in
Paris, said that the inquiry “does not correspond to what the Security
Council asked for”.
31 The Israeli cabinet announced on 17 June 2010 an easing of
the land blockade of Gaza, following Tony Blair’s proposals to change
over from a list of eligible products to a list of prohibited goods.
4 The peace process
32 The case of the flotilla is indicative of the climate
of serious tension which has existed for months in the Middle East
and of the standstill in the peace process.
33 After winning the 2009 elections, the Israeli Government has
followed a line oscillating between openness and rigidity. On the
one hand, the Netanyahu government has sent messages of availability:
the speech of Bar Ilan, which recognises the solution “two states
for two peoples”, the reduction of checkpoints into the West Bank
and the temporary freezing for ten months of new settlements in
the West Bank. On the other hand, the Israeli Government has repeatedly
stated that an indivisible Jerusalem should be solely the capital of
Israel and has authorised the extension of existing settlements
and new settlements in East Jerusalem, has made a condition of the
recognition of Israel as a “Jewish state”, has kept a strict blockade
on Gaza and has broken off negotiations for the release of political
34 The Palestinian camp is also characterised by fragility and
contradictions. Despite the mediation of Egypt, negotiations between
Fatah and Hamas have not led to an agreement. Hamas still does not
recognise the authority of President Mahmoud Abbas and pursues a
strategy opposite to that of the Palestinian National Authority.
In this scenario, Prime Minister Fayad has launched a strategy of
building the Palestinian state “bottom up”.
In this precarious scenario, the international community’s
efforts to reopen a channel of dialogue between the conflicting
parties have also met difficulties in achieving results:
- President Obama – who, in his
speech in Cairo (May 2009), made an extraordinary commitment to
the Middle East and did not hide American frustration with the rigidities
and behaviour of the Netanyahu government. American-Israeli relations
have experienced moments of great tension, particularly during the
visit of Vice-President Biden to Israel. To bolster the action of
President Mahmoud Abbas, the American administration has decided
to grant aid of US$400 million for the Palestinian National Authority.
- The Quartet, which in these last months has acted intensively,
met in Moscow during the crisis, called upon the Israeli Government
to lift the blockade of Gaza and suspend further settlements, and
urged the parties to resume the course of negotiations.
- The United Nations Secretary General made the same plea.
- The President of the European Union, its High Representative
for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and the European Union Foreign
Affairs Ministers did not conceal their frustration and, reiterating
the European Union declaration of December 2009, urged the parties
to show more co-operation.
36 Pope Benedict XVI, in his address to the Special Assembly
for the Middle East of the Bishops’ Synod, also issued an appeal
for an urgent, shared international effort before the conflict led
to a greater bloodshed.
37 In order to help overcome the crisis, the foreign ministers
of France, Italy and Spain have proposed to strengthen the European
civil mission, already in place at the Rafah crossing, by extending
its presence to all points of access by land and sea tasked with
ensuring that the reopening of access to Gaza is done safely for Israel.
38 Despite the crisis, at the beginning of May 2010, indirect
“proximity” talks began between the Israelis and Palestinians, mediated
by the American Special Envoy for the Middle East, George Mitchell,
with the objective of overcoming mutual prejudices and creating
conditions to go forward with direct talks. It is positive that
neither the Palestinian Authority nor the Israeli Government have
demanded the suspension of the talks, due to the incident of the
39 I should emphasise here the value of the “Call for reason”
(JCall) by a large number of personalities of the Jewish world,
who urged the Israeli Government to take a courageous and unequivocal
path towards a negotiated peace with the Palestinians.
40 The Iranian affair weighs on the present critical situation.
Negotiations with the international community have not produced
the expected results up to now and the Security Council has adopted
a new package of sanctions. Furthermore, President Ahmadinejad and
his entourage pursue a violent anti-Israeli campaign and support
Hamas and the more radical sectors of the Palestinian world. On
the other hand, Israel has made no secret about a possible military
option against Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities, for which –
according to press reports – it would have secured from neighbouring
countries the possibility of using air corridors.
41 It is clear that the seriousness of the attack on
the flotilla requires a firm, unambiguous and transparent investigation
of all the facts to determine individual and collective responsibility.
It is the responsibility of Israel not to reject this demand from
the international community.
42 Israeli actions have met with general condemnation by the
international community and public opinion increasing therefore
the isolation of Israel, a situation on which the authorities should
43 This crisis also calls to mind the binding nature of the principles
and prescriptions of international law by which each state must
temper its action, as well as emphasising that the use of force
and the right to defence cannot infringe the principle of proportionality.
44 This crisis demonstrates the extent to which point Gaza is
one of the most critical issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:
first the blockade, which, since 2007, oppresses the lives of one
and a half million people; then the Israeli operation “Cast Lead”
in January 2009, which resulted in victims and devastation; now,
the incident of the flotilla. Everything indicates the urgent need
to suppress the blockade of Gaza as soon as possible, to ensure
free access – by land and sea – by ensuring the entry of all items
required for a normal life and for the development of economic and
social activities, this leading to a reduction in political tension.
45 The end of the blockade of Gaza cannot, of course, ignore
the security needs of Israel, which would be secured by strengthening
prevention and control mechanisms to prevent the entry of weapons
and illicit material.
46 Above all, this most recent episode shows that time does not
work in favour of peace and, indeed, the effect of the passing years
without ever achieving a solution has aggravated frustrations and
radicalisation and undermines – in particular among the new generations
– the credibility of the peace process.
47 It is therefore urgent to promote the resumption of dialogue
and negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians to arrive at
the only possible peace, founded on the existence of an independent,
viable and contiguous Palestinian state alongside a recognised state
of Israel. The indirect “proximity” talks advocated by American
Envoy Mitchell are a valuable opportunity that should be encouraged
so that the way to direct negotiations can be opened as early as
48 Commitment and responsibility are a priority of the international
community and its institutions – including the Council of Europe
– should act decisively to restart the peace process, facilitating
the resumption of dialogue between the parties and finally giving
these people and these lands stability, security, rights and a harmonious coexistence.