JERUSALEM, October 14 (JMCC) - Three human rights organizations on Wednesday testified before the Israeli- government appointed public inquiry into Israel
’s naval raid of the Mavi Marmara
, the Gaza bound aid flotilla on which nine people were killed.
The Turkel committee’s mandate has expanded to look at the legality of the land and sea closures imposed by Israel on Gaza.
The panel heard testimonies from B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel and Gisha: The Legal Center for Freedom of Movement.
Each organization presented information on the humanitarian situation in Gaza. BT’selem Director Jessica Montell spoke of the buffer zones around Gaza’s perimeter fence, fishing restrictions, infrastructure problems, mainly with sewage and water, and general economic difficulties.
“Israel still has a lot of control, and so it has legal responsibilities [in the area],” says Montell.
Gisha’s presentation also focused upon the impact of the closure policy in terms of crossings, business, imports and exports, electricity and other facts of daily life.
“We were trying to show that the closure policy is not driven by security, but as an attempt to harm the civilian population deliberately in order to pressure Hamas
,” says legal director Tamar Feldman “The impact over a long period of time constitutes collective punishment [which is illegal].”
Physicians for Human Rights provided professional information on health care in Gaza. “We claim that the medical healthcare system in Gaza is inadequate due to a lack of development that began before the blockade, but it is clear that due to the blockade the situation has got worse,” says Ran Yaron, directo of PHR’s Occupied Territories department.
Since the flotilla incident, the number of medical exit permits granted by Israeli authorities for medical care unavailable in Gaza has decreased, says PHR. Nearly 570 patients' applications were rejected between May and August 2010 in comparison to 112 rejections between January and April 2010.
All of the organizations commended the inquiry for allowing them to testify. “This is a wonderful opportunity and I congratulate the committee for setting this great precedent,” says Feldman.
“We are very pleased to have had the opportunity to bring information to the committee,” says Montell.
However, concerns remained that the briefings fell on deaf ears.
“There is a concern that some members had made up their minds before even listening to us,” says Montell. “We know that our message is not popular in Israeli society. We are used to this, and perhaps I should have expected the committee would be influenced by this general hostile climate.”
During BT’selem’s testimony committee members interjected frequently with scathing remarks: “We do not live on the Seychelles,” said committee member Reuven Merchav, a former foreign ministry official, alluding to a quiet place with no hostile neighbors.
“They wanted me to talk more about Hamas crimes,” says Montell. “I would hope that something penetrated.”
Prior testimony by the Israeli army’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) unit may also have undercut the organizations’ testimonies, they said.
“We tried to correct misguided information given by COGAT,” says Feldman. “During that report, lots of information was given to the committee while not being compared to actual humanitarian need.”
“I am not optimistic about the efficacy of the committee to hold the Israeli government accountable to the blockade at all,” said one human rights organization representative. “It is clear that they don’t use the same language as human rights organizations at all.”
The Israeli cabinet established the commission on June 14 after rejecting UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s proposal for an international inquiry.
The committee is due to unveil its findings in the next few weeks. The report will be released to the Israeli government and to the international community. It will make recommendations but will not have the power to enforce them.