With Israel and Turkey having announced a reconciliation agreement this week, Turkey is portraying itself as a protector of the oppressed by arguing that it will allow greater aid to the people of Gaza. The truth, however, is that, far from helping the Palestinians, Turkey’s deal with Israel serves to reinforce the occupation regime in place since the June 1967 Israeli-Arab War.
The mainstream media, as ever, is failing to properly report the significance of the reconciliation agreement. Here’s what you need to know.
Relations between Turkey and Israel came under strain as a result of Israel’s 2008-09 massacre in Gaza (dubbed “Operation Cast Lead”, in which over 1,300 Palestinians were killed, mostly civilians). Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan famously confronted Israeli President Shimon Peres at the 2009 World Economic Forum, publicly criticizing him for Israel’s war crimes before storming off the stage.
Relations were severed in May 2011 when the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) attacked a civilian ship on a humanitarian mission in international waters, murdering nine Turkish peace activists on board (one of whom was also an American citizen).
The ship, the Mavi Marmara, was part of a flotilla aiming to break Israel’s illegal blockade of the Gaza Strip, a policy of collectively punishing the entire civilian population for the crime of having Hamas as governing authority.
Hamas had taken over control of Gaza in the summer of 2007 after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas conspired with the US and Israel to overthrow the Hamas government that was democratically elected in early 2006.
The coup effort failed, and Hamas’s main opposition, Abbas’s Fatah party, was expelled. Ever since, Hamas has ruled in Gaza while the West Bank remains under the thumb of Abbas, whose term long ago expired, and who remains in office illegitimately.
Israel responded to Hamas’s election victory by drastically escalating its policy of blockading Gaza with the goal of collectively punishing the civilian population – a violation of international law.
After IDF forces murdered the activists aboard the Mavi Marmara, Turkey cut diplomatic ties to Israel in protest, and Israel followed suit.
The new agreement is designed to reestablish cozy relations.
Under the agreement, Turkey will give the military arm of Hamas the boot, such as banning its use of Turkish soil to train new recruits. Hamas, which has praised the deal, may still carry out political activities there.
Both countries agree to lift diplomatic sanctions to normalize relations, with a hope of possibly returning to the lucrative cooperation Israel and Turkey have previously enjoyed in the military and “security” sectors, as well as sectors like tourism and energy.
While not explicitly mentioned, the agreement will pave the way for Turkey to become a portal for Israeli gas exports to Europe, with a pipeline deal in the works.
But there are two other terms of the agreement that warrant particular attention…
Turkey has also committed under the deal to help Israel ensure that there will be no justice for the families of the victims of Israel’s attack on the flotilla.
Israel will put a paltry $20 million into a fund to be transferred to victims’ families. Israel’s special envoy during negotiations with Turkey, Joseph Ciechanover, hailed the deal on the grounds that it would “generate achievements for Israel worth far more than $20 million.”
Moreover, the money will not be transferred until Turkey passes a law helping to make sure that the perpetrators of the crime – least of all those at the highest levels of the Israeli government – will not be held accountable. Turkey agrees under the deal to bar its court system from hearing any claims against Israelis for the attack on the Mavi Marmara.
But the travesty of justice doesn’t end there.
The government of Turkey is emphasizing that the deal will allow it to deliver an immediate shipment of 20,000 tons of humanitarian aid to Gaza. It has also highlighted its plans for development projects in Gaza, including a new hospital, a power station, and a desalinization plant – all of which are badly needed.
But the real meaning of the deal is that Turkey is agreeing to help Israel sustain its illegal blockade of Gaza, thus making itself complicit in Israel’s collective punishment of the Palestinians in order for certain crony sectors of its economy to profit from the prolonged misery of Gazans through partnership with the occupation regime.
Instead of demanding that Israel must cease its illegal policy, Turkey has instead acted to legitimize the collective punishment of 1.8 million Gazans.
The US Role
In the backdrop of all this is the role of the US government. Israel is Washington’s closest partner in the Middle East, and Turkey is, of course, a NATO ally.
From the beginning, the US has sought to get its partner regimes to reconcile with each other, so as to be able to carry on with business as usual.
The US has also played an important role in helping to ensure that Israel is not held accountable for its continuous violations of international law – a task in which the Western mainstream media has also played a key role.
After its murder of nine Turkish civilians, Israel came under intense international pressure to end its illegal blockade. Instead, it merely lifted some of its restrictions on goods permitted into Gaza – such as juice, spices, and shaving cream.
The US naturally praised the Israeli government for continuing its slightly-eased illegal blockade regime, taking credit for persuading Israel to do so – and the media played along in its usual role of manufacturing consent for government policy.
Mark Lynch in Foreign Policy, for instance, at the time hailed the “good deal” that Gazans were getting under the arrangement – in which Israel agreed to allow slightly more goods into Gaza “in exchange for American support for a whitewash of the investigation of the flotilla incident.”
To that end, the US also had a willing partner in crime: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon…
The UN Secretariat’s Role
The United Nations organization, too, has long played the game of paying lip service to the rights of the Palestinians while in truth acting with great duplicity, from the conflict’s origins to today.
In the aftermath of Israel’s attack on the flotilla, there was a UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) fact-finding mission to investigate the incident. Its conclusions were uncontroversial. It reiterated the international consensus that Israel’s blockade constituted collective punishment and hence violated international law. Consequently, it found Israel’s attack on the flotilla and murder of nine civilians on board to be an additional violation of international law. Even had Israel’s blockade been legitimate, international law required Israel to allow the safe passage of humanitarian aid to the civilian population and forbade Israel from attacking a civilian vessel on the high seas.
The US naturally opposed that report every step of the way while seeking to undermine its findings and recommendations designed to seek justice for the victims.
Behind the scenes, the US colluded with the UN Secretariat to undermine the cause of justice. At the same time the fact the Fact-Finding Mission was underway, Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon authorized his own inquiry into the attack – to be headed up by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer and Colombia President Alvaro Uribe, along with one delegate each from Israel and Turkey.
The representative for the Israeli point of view was none other than Mr. Joseph Ciechanover – the same special envoy who helped negotiate the recent reconciliation agreement with Turkey.
Apologists for Israel’s illegal blockade have loudly trumpeted the report of Ban Ki-moon’s Panel of Inquiry – popularly known as the Palmer Report – since its chairs expressed their opinion that Israel’s blockade was legal. (Mr. Ciechanover naturally concurred with that view.)
The Palmer Report also judged Israel’s attack on the Mavi Marmara to be “excessive and unreasonable” (which Mr. Ciechanover naturally registered his objection to), yet stopped short of drawing the unavoidable corollary that it constituted a violation of international law.
What the apologists fail to mention is that the Palmer Report’s opinion lacked all authority. In fact, the report itself emphasized that it had no mandate to express any legal opinion – something its two chair members lacked any qualifications to give, anyhow.
Moreover, the mandate the Panel did receive was a political one: the explicit goal was to establish a framework for Israel and Turkey to be able to reestablish relations, in accordance with the will of Washington. To that end, the Panel went to great lengths to avoid inquiring into the legality of Israel’s blockade and simply adopted as its premise that it was not illegal – despite self-contradictorily acknowledging that one effect was the deprivation amongst the civilian population of Gaza.
The report was riddled with factual errors and logical fallacies, as well as willful deceptions, such as deliberate mischaracterizations of what international law has to say about it. For example, the Panel claimed that Israel’s sole purpose must be to starve Gazans outright or otherwise deny them goods essential for their survival in order for it to constitute a violation; the truth being that anticipated harm to civilians in excess of the military advantage sought renders a blockade illegal – a criteria incontrovertibly met in the case of Gaza and the perpetual humanitarian crisis that has existed since the siege began.
As Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s senior adviser Dov Weissglass explained it at the time, the blockade was intended to be “like an appointment with a dietitian. The Palestinians will get a lot thinner, but won’t die.”
The purpose of the blockade is perfectly understood in Washington. On November 3, 2008, the US embassy in Tel Aviv cabled to then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that “Israeli officials have confirmed to Embassy officials on multiple occasions that they intend to keep the Gazan economy functioning at the lowest level possible consistent with avoiding a humanitarian crisis” – with “humanitarian crisis” defined by Israel as the point at which Gazans start dropping dead from outright starvation.
The goal was “to keep the Gazan economy on the brink of collapse without quite pushing it over the edge.”
For the Palmer Panel, that the blockade was legitimate was a pre-drawn conclusion designed to further a political aim at the expense of ensuring Israeli impunity for its criminal actions. It was contrary to a clear international consensus that Israel’s blockade is illegal – a consensus expressed in the immediate aftermath of the Mavi Marmara attack by every single member of the UN Security Council other than the US, by the authoritative findings of the UN fact-finding mission, by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and by international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, not to mention Israeli rights groups like B’Tselem and Gisha.
And the Palmer Panel is but one example of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s complicity in Israel’s occupation and war crimes.
The Mainstream Media’s Role
In short, it is a simple point of fact under international law that the blockade is illegal.
Yet here’s an example of how the US media explained the legality of Israel’s blockade following the release of the Palmer Report: Isabel Kershner writing in the New York Times informed readers of Israel’s position that its blockade was “in accordance with international law” and that its position was “backed up by the Palmer report”.
That’s it. No mention of the consensus view of the rest of the planet. Just Israel’s position and the non-authoritative opinion of two former politicians with no qualifications in legal jurisprudence whose stated purpose was to advance a political agenda and who adopted false premises and engaged in demonstrably willful deceptions in order to arrive at the desired conclusion.
Here’s the BBC explaining the context for the recent reconciliation agreement: “Israel maintains its blockade of Gaza to try to prevent weapons or materials reaching Palestinian militants … while allowing humanitarian aid into the territory. Palestinians say the policy is tantamount to collective punishment, and UN and aid officials have warned of deteriorating conditions in Gaza.”
So Israel’s blockade, according to the lying BBC, is aimed solely at the military sphere, without blocking goods for the civilian population. That the blockade is illegal is relegated by the BBC to merely the Palestinians’ point of view – rather than the view of every country on the planet other than Israel itself and its superpower benefactor. UN and aid officials warn of a worsening situation, but fall short of condemning the blockade’s illegality, in the fantasy world painted by the British news agency.
With regard to the question of whether IDF commandos began using live fire against passengers before or after landing on the deck of the Mavi Marmara by rope from helicopter above, the BBC article adds, “A UN inquiry was unable to determine at exactly which point the commandos used live rounds.”
That’s a most peculiar statement, in light of the fact that the UN fact-finding inquiry into Israel’s attack on the flotilla rather determined that “live ammunition was used from the helicopter onto the top deck prior to the descent of the soldiers.” The evidence indicated that most of the victims were executed at close range, including Furkan Doğan, the youngest person killed and an American citizen of Turkish descent.
Such is the nature of the mainstream media’s coverage of international affairs, which serves the goal of manufacturing consent for Western government’s complicity in Israel’s perpetual trampling of Palestinians’ human rights.
This week’s reconciliation deal certainly isn’t the first time Turkey has betrayed the Palestinians and their just cause.
Following the Mavi Marmara attack, Turkey declared that its military would escort future flotillas in order to protect them from Israeli attack and see their humanitarian mission through to Gaza.
Turkey also vowed to pursue legal recourse through the International Court of Justice (ICJ) – which in 2004, relevantly, had issued an advisory opinion affirming the illegality of Israel’s settlements, including in occupied East Jerusalem, as well as of the annexation wall Israel was constructing in the West Bank.
That was all meaningless talk, of course – empty promises of solidarity with the Palestinians in their plight to be free from Israeli oppression.
Turkey’s true colors were revealed in full display this week with its reconciliation agreement with Israel – a deal that, far from helping the people of Gaza, makes Turkey Israel’s partner in perpetuating the occupation regime.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared that his government consulted with the Palestinians “every step” of the way during its negotiations with Israel.
What he meant, however, is that he consulted with the Palestinian Authority (PA) under Abbas’s illegitimate leadership. The PA’s acquiescence to the agreement is simply a reflection of the role defined for it under the Oslo Accords: that of Israel’s collaborator in the occupation regime. (Turkey also apparently consulted with Hamas, whose reasons for approval are more ambiguous, but presumably attributable to a belief among its leadership that they will benefit politically, and perhaps also financially, irrespective of the long-term detriment to the civilian population living under Hamas’s thumb.)
The Palestinian people, on the other hand, who don’t enjoy the same elite status as Abbas and his cronies, certainly weren’t consulted on the matter.
What the people of Gaza need isn’t more charity. What they really need is their freedom and dignity, to be able to have the means and opportunity to provide a living for themselves – for the world community to cease turning their backs on them and to stop participating in the perpetual violation of their human rights.
Turkey, through its reconciliation agreement with Israel, has chosen to commit itself to helping Israel sustain the status quo of oppression that has kept the people of Gaza in need of so much humanitarian aid in the first place.
This article was originally published at Foreign Policy Journal and is largely drawn from material in the author’s new book Obstacle to Peace: The US Role in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Click here to read the entire first chapter now for free.
Jeremy R. Hammond is an award-winning analyst and publisher and editor of Foreign Policy Journal. Described by Barron’s as “a writer of rare skill”, he is the author of The Rejection of Palestinian Self-Determination: The Struggle for Palestine and the Roots of the Israeli-Arab Conflict (2009), Ron Paul vs. Paul Krugman: Austrian vs. Keynesian Economics in the Financial Crisis (2012), and Obstacle to Peace: The US Role in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (2016). Find him on the web at JeremyRHammond.com.