Charles LEVINSON The Wall Street Journal
JERUSALEM—An Israeli raid against a Gaza-bound Turkish aid ship in May that killed nine passengers was legal under international law, an Israeli commission of inquiry said in a report released Sunday.
The commission, headed by retired Supreme Court judge Yaakov Turkel, ruled that Israel's continuing land, sea and air blockade of the Gaza Strip also complies with international law because Israel is effectively in a state of war with the territory's rulers, who are from the Palestinian Hamas movement.
Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan denounced the findings. "In my judgment there is no value or credibility to this report," he told reporters in Ankara, according to Anadolu Ajansi, Turkey's state news agency. Israeli human-rights groups also rejected the report's findings that the continuing blockade of Gaza is legal due to military necessity.
The actions by Israeli soldiers' were "lawful and in conformity with international law," the commission said in the report summary. "When examining the operation as a whole it seems that the soldiers did not overreact."
The commission will publish the second part of its findings in coming months, focusing on Israel's methods for investigating itself and government decision making in the runup to the botched raid.
Turkey's own commission investigating the incident issued a response Sunday to the Israeli findings. The Turkish board said in the statement it was "surprised, appalled and dismayed that the national inquiry process in Israel has resulted in the exoneration of the Israeli armed forces despite all the facts that have also been confirmed by the International Fact-Finding Mission" set up by the United Nations Human Rights Council and reported by that panel last fall.
The Turkish commission said its preliminary findings found that both the Israeli blockade of Gaza and its boarding of a ship in international waters were illegal. The Turkish panel sent its interim report to the United Nations Secretary-General in September.
The killings on board the Mavi Marmara vessel caused popular outrage and rare unity in Turkey, which has demanded Israel apologize for the deaths before damaged relations between the two countries can be restored. Israel has declined, although in recent months the two sides have taken steps to smooth over differences. The new Israeli report appears unlikely to help those efforts.
The investigations follow the May 31 raid by Israeli commandoes on a six-ship aid flotilla carrying 700 passengers headed for Gaza with food, medicine and other humanitarian aid. After seizing control of the first five ships without fatalities, soldiers rappelled from helicopters onto the largest of the ships, the 590-passenger Mavi Marmara, where passengers affiliated with a Turkish Islamic aid organization known as the IHH attacked them with chains, pipes, knives, and other light weapons, according to eyewitness accounts and supported by videos of the raid taken by israeli soldiers.
In the ensuing fight, eight Turkish citizens and one Turkish-American were killed, and 55 wounded. Nine Israeli soldiers also were wounded. The incident plunged Israel into one of its worst diplomatic crises in decades. Washington demanded Israel ease the blockade of Gaza, which Israel has taken some steps to comply with, while Turkey withdrew its ambassador from Tel Aviv and cancelled three joint military exercises.
In addition to Mr. Turkel, the Israeli commission included three other Israelis and two international observers, David Trimble, a 1998 Nobel Peace Prize winner from Northern Ireland, and Canada's former military prosecutor Brig. Gen. Ken Watkin. Both Mr. Trimble and Mr. Watkin, though not allowed to vote on the commission recommendations, endorsed the findings Sunday. A fifth Israeli member of the commission, Shabtai Rosenne, died at the age of 93 in September in the middle of hearings.
The findings by the Turkel commission largely support the findings of an Israeli military inquiry last July. The military report criticized the poor planning and faulty intelligence that preceded the raid, but praised the "heroic" commandoes who carried it out.
Israeli human-rights groups denounced the commission's defense of the Gaza blockade that justified the raid in the first place. Court documents released by the government and a recent Wikileaks cable both supported allegations that the Israeli blockade on Gaza was aimed at depriving Hamas of political support by depriving Gazans of all but the bare necessities, in addition to stopping military hardware.
"International law allows restriction of passage of goods and people for concrete security reasons," said Sari Bashi, the director of, Gisha, an Israeli human-rights group that calls for an end to the siege of Gaza. "Turning factory workers in Gaza to unemployed dependents so they will get angry at the regime is not a concrete military purpose."
Israel has relaxed the siege since the botched flotilla raid and now allows most consumer goods into the territory, but it still restricts exports and the movement of people.
The findings of the Israeli commission will be sent to a U.N. secretary-general panel looking at the incident, led by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer. The U.N. panel isn't conducting its own investigation, but is relying on the inquiries carried out by Israel and Turkey.
U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky confirmed the secretary-general panel received the report. "As you know, to help complete their important mandate, it is essential for the panel to review material provided by both sides, Israel and Turkey," he said. There is no indication when this U.N. panel will report.
—Marc Champion in Istanbul
and Joe Lauria in New York contributed to this article.