Grilling Israel at the Council of Europe

Turkey’s intense lobbying at the Council of Europe has paid off, and Israel was harshly condemned at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), a 47-nation intergovernmental organization and Europe’s largest.

Resolution 1748, adopted by a vote of 106 to four, is a very significant blow to Israel, which attacked civilian aid ships carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza, killing nine Turks and wounding dozens. The unequivocal condemnation of Israel at the European institution, a champion of the rule of law, human rights and democracy, was a clear message that the Jewish state cannot get away with its crimes, committed in international waters against unarmed civilians.

The report was somewhat disappointing in its original form and its language not strong enough to satisfy Turkish deputies, who were furious over the killing of eight of their own citizens. It was changed by the Political Affairs Committee to reflect a harsher condemnation after much pressure exerted by its members. When it came out in draft form on the assembly floor, it was already strengthened and included conditions that Turkey had for some time been seeking.

It considered the Israeli raid, which took place in international waters, “an illegal act constituting a breach of international law, in particular customary law of the sea and international human rights and humanitarian law.” It found the response of the Israeli forces “manifestly disproportionate.” It expressly underlined that “the use of force and the right to self defense must never violate international law.”

While condemning the attack, PACE said it “deplores that the Israeli authorities have not, so far, accepted the request for an international enquiry committee.” The assembly reiterated the call for an international inquiry and urged Israel to cooperate with the international community, which has called for a prompt, international, impartial and transparent investigation.

The resolution also highlighted the siege of Gaza, with PACE saying that it believes the blockade, which is illegal under international humanitarian law, should be lifted.

The most embarrassing point raised during the debate in the assembly was the failure of Israel to return the personal belongings of activists seized during the raid. The point was made by deputies in an amended version and brought to the attention of the floor by Turkish deputy Erol Aslan Cebeci in an oral amendment.

Cebeci said Israeli commandos took all of the ships’ passengers personal belongings, including credit cards, laptops, wallets and cameras. “They never returned them. Shamefully, they gave the credit cards to thugs, who then withdrew money,” he told deputies at PACE. At the end of the session, the assembly changed the resolution to reflect a call on Israel to “return personal goods confiscated from those on the ships of the flotilla to the rightful owners.”

Ruhi Açıkgöz, another Turkish deputy, lambasted Israel over its failure to show any sign of remorse. “What makes this brutal action unprecedented is the tragic fact that the perpetrators are extremely satisfied with the result and show no sign of remorse or regret. On the contrary, they have unashamedly tried to justify their actions, setting in motion a propaganda campaign and displaying some personal belongings that the people had desperately used in self-defense.” “I strongly condemn this murder conducted by a state. It has no excuse, no justification whatsoever,” Açıkgöz added.

Turkish deputy Özlem Türköne rebuffed Meir Sheetrit, a representative of Israel, which holds observer status. Sheetrit had claimed that Turkey was killing thousands of Kurds in northern Iraq. “Can they [Turkish deputies at PACE] explain to me why the Turks are killing thousands of people in northern Iraq in the fight against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party [PKK]? Nobody cares. I’d like to hear comments from those present today,” Sheetrit said during the debate. “I was really disappointed by the speeches of the two observers from Israel,” Türköne said, who said the deputies are trying to confuse matters in order to hide their own crimes.

PACE President Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu had no voting rights at the assembly, but his critical remarks condemning the attack on the flotilla obviously made a difference and helped convince skeptics at the assembly.

Turkish deputies fared well overall but could pursue the matter further by offering more amendments either at the committee or on the floor. The following Turkish deputies were present during deliberations: Açıkgöz, Lokman Ayva, Cebeci, Birgen Keleş, Nursuna Memecan, Yüksel Özden, Mehmet Tekelioğlu, Türköne and Mustafa Ünal. Haluk Koç, Tuğrul Türkeş and Ertuğrul Kumcuoğlu were absent.

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