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Sarah Colborne, 
Director, PSC  

On 6 November, I travelled to Istanbul to give evidence, alongside hundreds of other witnesses, on Israel’s attack on the Mavi Marmara on 31 May 2010. Four senior Israeli commanders are being tried as ‘fugitive suspects’: former IDF Chief of General Staff Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, Naval Forces commander Vice Adm. Eliezer Marom, Israel’s military intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin and Air Forces Intelligence head Brig. Gen. Avishai Levi. The case is being brought on behalf of 490 plaintiffs and victims including flotilla passengers and relatives of the martyrs.

Israeli response was initially to try and block the trial. In May 2012, according to Arutz Sheva, ‘Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said he was expecting foreign diplomatic pressure on Turkey to stop the trial that he said could have “wide-ranging implications for NATO and U.S. forces,” which frequently board ships suspected of terror activity.’ http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/161742 Once that tactic failed, the focus shifted on trying to dismiss this trial. Israel’s Foreign Ministry announced that the trial “clearly falls under the category of a Show Trial; an act which has nothing to do with either law or justice”, and that the case “does not qualify under any facet or foundation of a lawful judicial system, and is merely a propaganda display.” http://www.jpost.com/International/Article.aspx?id=290587

Israel’s concerns about this trial are well-founded. If, as a result of this trial, international arrest warrants are issued for those responsible, this will have a major impact on the freedom of movement of senior Israeli generals. We have already seen in Britain how universal jurisdiction laws here were used against Israeli general Doron Almog, and a few years later, against Tzipi Livni for her role in crimes committed in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead. Furious demands from the Israeli government to change the law here on universal jurisdiction resulted in changes which, although making it harder to seek an arrest warrant, still do not guarantee that those responsible for war crimes can walk the streets of London without arrest. Following the changes in universal jurisdiction legislation here, Tzipi Livni still had to be granted ‘special mission’ status by the British government to avoid arrest – giving her a temporary ‘get out of jail free’ card.

Some of the testimony from witnesses and families has been tweeted live from the courtroom via @MaviMarmaraCase and others. The father of Furkan Dogan, at 19 the youngest passenger killed. He told the court of hearing shots whilst watching the livestream feed from the ship, that despite Israeli attempts was still broadcasting. He could get no information about his son until he had to identify him at the morgue, with two bullet holes in his face. Another passenger, Nur Fitri, talked about failing to feel Cevdet Kiliclar’s pulse, and then realising that the red hole through his forehead was a bullet hole. A t-shirt was used as a makeshift white flag – but the bullets kept on being fired relentlessly from Israeli commandos. Witnesses came from around the world, and included former US Army Colonel Ann Wright, who witnessed the attack from another boat in the Freedom Flotilla, Challenger 1; and Joe Meadors, who was on the Sfendoni, another boat in the Freedom Flotilla, and also was on the US Navy vessel USS Liberty in 1967 when it was attacked from sea and air by Israel while in international waters.

A statement made by IHH, the Turkish NGO which owns the Mavi Marmara, said: “The crime committed onboard the Mavi Marmara was not only committed against the passengers of the ship but against the common conscience of the world, against all the people with a conscience who were represented on the ship. Israeli commanders violated the rights of the entire humanity. In line with the principles of justice, the responsible parties of the attack should be given a fair trial before the eyes of the world and they should be punished accordingly. So, we think it is very important for the media to follow the Mavi Marmara trial, the common case of the humanity, and give extensive coverage to it in order to bring it to Turkey’s and the world’s agenda. We ask for the support of our people to the ship’s passengers who will come from 37 countries for the trial on behalf of Cevdet Kiliçlar, a journalist who was killed in the attack, other humanitarian aid volunteers and activist Ugur Süleyman Söylemez who has been in a coma for 2.5 years after he was heavily injured in the Israeli attack.”

Israeli armed forces attacked the Mavi Marmara and other ships in the Freedom Flotilla in international waters on 31 May, 2010. Nine humanitarian activists Furkan Dogan, Cevdet Kiliçlar, Ibrahim Bilgen, Necdet Yildirim, Fahri Yaldiz, Ali Haydar Bengi, Cengiz Akyüz, Çetin Topçuoglu, Cengiz Songür were killed in the attack while more than 50 passengers were injured. Israel illegally violated the passengers’ right to communicate and the passengers were illegally jailed by the country.

In their investigative report, The UN Human Rights Council condemned the Israeli attack and found out after an investigation that Israel violated human rights and international law by committing the crimes of wilful killing; torture or inhuman treatment; wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, arbitrary detention and arrest, violation of the freedom of expression, illegal seizure of personal items etc.

Background information:

The case was filed at the Istanbul 7th High Criminal Court on May 28, 2012 against Israeli commanders who took part in the Mavi Marmara attack after an investigation by Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office. The prosecutor who was overseeing the investigation into the Mavi Marmara attack filed charges only against top Israeli commanders who planned and carried out the operation being mainly Ashkenazi. As the investigation proceeds, other civilians and military officers who are involved in the attack will be brought to trial one by one. According to Turkish Penal Code, the suspects face charges of voluntary manslaughter, attempted murder, intentional injury, masterminding of murder by the use of weapons, qualified robbery, seizing a sea vehicle by the use of force, causing damage to property, illegal deprivation of freedom and masterminding torture.