Erdogan: Israel must lift Gaza blockade for normalized ties

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he will not normalize relations with Israel until Israel completely lifts its blockade against Gaza.

Erdogan made the statement on Tuesday, according to the Andadolu Turkish news agency. It came two days after Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in a television interview that his country and Israel are close to normalizing bilateral relations for the first time since the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident.

Israel has eased the blockade on goods entering and leaving Gaza, but has not entirely lifted it.

“About the negotiations, we have not reached any agreement,” Erdogan reportedly said.  “As long as the siege on Gaza isn’t lifted, it won’t happen. The siege must be lifted, and that must be part of the protocol, signed and agreed upon.”

The two sides also are still negotiating the amount of compensation that Israel will pay to the families of the victims of the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident, though the sides have moved closer to an agreement, according to reports.

Turkey downgraded diplomatic ties with Israel and then expelled Israel’s ambassador after the 2010 incident, in which Israeli troops killed nine Turkish nationals in clashes while trying to stop the Mavi Marmara from breaking Israel’s blockade of Gaza.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan last March, after which representatives of the countries met for reconciliation talks.

International court to look into Israel’s 2010 Gaza flotilla raid

The International Criminal Court prosecutor said she would open a preliminary examination into the 2010 Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla, which left nine Turkish activists dead.

The prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said in a statement Tuesday that she was obliged to open a preliminary examination following a referral from the Indian Ocean island nation of Comoros, where one of the vessels that were raided was registered, Reuters reported.

Few preliminary examinations ever lead to a full investigation, let alone a trial. Activists have repeatedly attempted to involve the court in The Hague in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but it has so far declined to investigate events in the Palestinian territories.

The raid, in which Israeli special forces rappelled down onto the ships of activists who were seeking to break an Israeli blockade of Hamas in Gaza, caused a breakdown in relations between Turkey and Israel.

“My office will be conducting a preliminary examination in order to establish whether the criteria for opening an investigation are met,” Bensouda said.

The referral from the Comoros was relayed to the ICC by a Turkish law firm, Elmadag, according to Reuters.

The United States has been promoting a reconciliation between Israel and Turkey, two of its allies. Since then, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has apologized to Turkey for “any error that may have led to loss of life” and talks have begun on compensation.

Israel-Turkey rapprochement Accepting an apology graciously

“Turkey was the first to recognize Israel from the Muslim world. Since the 15th Century, Turkey was a shelter for the Jewish people. I can think of about 1,000 reasons why Turkey and Israel should be friends. There is an affinity in history; there is a closeness in geography.” These were the very first words of Israeli President Shimon Peres after Israel's apology to Turkey in an interview with a Turkish daily. I could not agree more with him.

First of all, I would like to start by saying that we — the people of Turkey — deeply cherish Israel's historic friendship with Turkey and deciding on an apology and compensation. These are surely momentous times in diplomacy, a turning point, but what is far more important is the meaning and message for our two people. An apology is a message from our Israeli friends saying that the friendship between Turkey and Israel is important to them and they wish to continue this friendship.

In the past, when my Israeli friends asked me whether I thought an apology was necessary, I always told them that I cannot decide such matters on behalf of the people of Israel, and that it was entirely up to them and their leaders to decide how to approach such issues. I, for one, do not place preconditions on an apology as it should be sincere, and cannot be done under compulsion.

Consequently, Israel chose to overlook the mistakes of Turkey regarding the Mavi Marmara incident, and apologized for her operational mistakes and promised to pay compensation to the families of those who died because she wants to put this incident behind her and continue with our long-established frienship.

Apology is an honorable, graceful act, and in my opinion it will increase people's respect for Israel. Apology is a courtesy, a great beauty, and thus it can never be degrading, humiliating or aggrieving. Israel did the right thing, and we deeply appreciate it.

However we should expect that some circles will attempt to make news just for provocation and attempt to ruin or interrupt this process of healing diplomatic ties. Nevertheless, we hear the voices of negative people who want to put Israel in a difficult position. So I would like to turn to my fellow Turks and criticize these voices that speak about this as though we made them cave in and apologize. It is absolutely wrong to attempt any kind of humiliation out of this and use this virtuous act as a tool for propaganda to incite anger. Israel is doing this for friendship. It is outrageous to use inflammatory language or condescend to using it as something against Israel. It is simply a humiliation upon those hateful voices for not knowing how to graciously appreciate this apology.

I also do not approve the billboards that the Ankara municipality has put up to thank Prime Minister Erdogan for allegedly compelling Israel to apologize. I do not think that either putting up such ads nor their gloating tone is right. This is not the way to accept an apology.

If one has apologized, then you must accept it right away. If someone apologizes, they are not to be dishonored. Someone who apologizes should be treated kindly, and gracious behavior should be shown. The kind of behavior that shows you accept him as a friend, and also shows your maturity, quality and worth. There is no place for such gloating in our tradition. That is why I find it deeply unbecoming to stooping to use this gracious act as something disadvantegous for Israel.

If this kind of humiliating rhetoric is used, then no friendship would be left. If one uses such inflammatory language, then it would mean consigning the friendship of Israel to the back burner and that would be a terrible mistake. Frankly I see this as an act to eliminate friendship so I condemn those who try to take this apology and twist it in such a way to dishonor Israel.

As to the issue of the Gaza blockade, it is unfortunate that this matter is still the source of a rift between Turkey and Israel, nor should it have been made a condition of Turkish-Israeli relations. Of course I look forward to the day when the blockade is lifted; I don't wish to see the Palestinians confined to their territories. But the Israelis have legitimate security concerns of rockets falling upon them being fired from Gaza, and they are deeply concerned about weapons being smuggled into Gaza via the Mediterranean. Consequently, we — as Turkey — must express that Israel's security is important to us as well, while also expressing our concern for the well-being of the citizens of Gaza. Justice is, after all, not one-sided.

We must not forget that Israel is a unique country dealing with existential threats on a daily basis. Throughout their history as a people, they have been beaten, driven out, chased, burned, hung and slaughtered. They have faced seemingly endless persecution, from the Roman Empire to the Spanish Inquistion, from the pogroms of the Tsars to the ravine at Babi Yar, from the mindless slaughter of the Crusaders to the mechanized factories of death which shall be forever remembered with horror; Auschwitz, Sobibor, Chelmno and others. The Israeli people have no wish to live worrying that fanatics, motivated by an irrational prejudice and hatred will kill and maim and bomb them and their children. Let us provide assurance so they can relax, and lift this nonsensical prejudice against them. We, as Muslims, must be able to guarantee the people of Israel that there will be no more of this madness.

So let me express this on behalf of Turkey: Of course we want security for Israel, and we want you to live in peace and prosperity. You must live in peace in your historic motherland which has been your home for thousands of years; we are not at all uneasy at your presence there. May God bestow peace and prosperity upon you till the End of Days. You are the children of prophets. There is plenty of land everywhere. It is one of our basic convictions to establish a unity in the whole region that will include Russia, Armenia and Israel, to live in peace and brotherhood, to ensure the independence of states within themselves and survival of their own governments, to advocate a fully-formed, mature democracy and the implementation of secularism with meticulous care. God willing, Israel will see their finest and their best days under this unity, side by side with Muslims, as brothers and sisters.

The author is a political and religious commentator from Turkey, and an executive producer at a Turkish TV. She is also the spokesperson of a prominent international interfaith organization. She can be reached on and

Israel to allow Turkish construction material into Gaza

Israel has agreed to allow Turkish trucks carrying construction materials into the Gaza Strip for the construction of a hospital.

The Turkish Hurriyet Daily News reported Monday that the construction of the Turkish-Palestine Friendship Hospital, which it called “the most symbolic Turkish humanitarian assistance to date for the people of Palestine,” will be complete within the year. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to attend its official opening.

The hospital will have 150 beds, making it the largest hospital in Gaza and Ramallah.

Israel's permission to bring in the construction materials came “as part of Israel’s decision to soften its embargo over Gaza,” the newspaper wrote. It also noted that easing the blockade on goods allowed to enter Gaza is part of Turkey's conditions for normalizing relations with Israel, which have been on hold since Israel's raid of the Mavi Marmara, a ship attempting to break the naval blockade of Gaza. Nine Turkish citizens were killed in the ensuing violence.

Turkey also has demanded that Israel apologize for the raid and compensate the families of those killed.

Israel eases Gaza blockade

Israel is easing its blockade on Gaza, the Defense Ministry confirmed to local media.

Israel will allow previously banned construction material into the coastal strip, it was reported Wednesday. The loosening of restrictions comes following the Egyptian-mediated truce last month between the Palestinian leadership in Gaza and Israel that ended Israel's Operation Pillar of Defense.

Prior to the truce, only international aid groups could bring in certain construction material.

Beginning next week, gravel for construction is scheduled to enter Gaza for the first time in five years, a Palestinian official told the French news agency AFP.

The building materials had been banned due to fears that they would be used to create rockets to be fired at Israel.

Israel, Hamas teams in Cairo for more truce talks

Egyptian mediators began separate talks on Monday with Hamas and with Israel to flesh out details of a ceasefire agreed last week that ended eight days of fighting in the Gaza Strip.

An Egyptian official told Reuters the talks would discuss Palestinian demands for the opening of more Israeli crossings into Gaza – a move that would help end six years of blockade of the coastal enclave ruled by the Islamist Hamas.

The Egyptian-brokered ceasefire came into force last Wednesday, ending hostilities between the two sides that cost the lives of 167 Palestinians and six Israelis.

However, the text of the truce stipulated that issues such as access to the borders, free movement for Gazans and the transfer of goods would be dealt with “after 24 hours.”

Israel imposed restrictions on Gaza in 2006, following an election victory by Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist. The curbs were tightened, and backed by Egypt, after Hamas seized control of the enclave in a civil war.

Some of the import and export limits have since been eased, but Israel still prevents a long list of goods into the territory – including many items needed for construction – arguing they could be used for the manufacture of weapons.

Senior Hamas leader Mahmoud Al-Zahar told reporters on Saturday that the group wanted to see the opening of all four goods crossings with Israel that used to operate before 2006.

Only one operates at present, with a second passenger terminal reserved for the handful of Palestinians and foreigners who are allowed in and out of the territory.

The Egyptian official said Cairo would also urge both sides to cement their commitments to the ceasefire agreement.

Israeli soldiers shot dead a Palestinian man on Friday after he approached the Gazan “no-go” border area, apparently in the belief that under the terms of the ceasefire deal he was unable to go up to the heavily patrolled fence.

Alarmed by the prospect of the truce failing, Egypt encouraged Hamas police to be deployed along the border line to keep Gazans away and prevent further violence.

A day later Israeli troops avoided interfering when Gaza farmers neared the fence to tend to their land, and Israel also eased its restrictions at sea, permitting Gaza fishermen to head farther away from the coast than in the past three years.

Israel launched its air offensive against the Gaza Strip on November 14 with the declared aim of deterring Islamist militants from firing rockets into its territory.

The Israeli military also says its soldiers have come under increasing attack from the border area this year, including earlier this month when a jeep was hit by an anti-tank missile.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told an Austrian newspaper in remarks due for publication on Tuesday that “the most important thing right now is ensuring that there are no illegal deliveries of rockets and weapons to Hamas” and “free access and freedom of movement in Gaza”.

Ban thought the Gaza crisis also showed “the status quo is no option” and urged a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks stalled since 2010, though Hamas has had no role in those negotiations as it rejects any recognition of Israel.

Reporting by Nidal Almughrabi; Additional reporting by Michael Shields, in Vienna; Editing by Alison Williams

Israel seizes pro-Palestinian activist ship, Estelle off Gaza

The Israeli navy seized an international pro-Palestinian activist ship on the Mediterranean high seas on Saturday to prevent it breaching Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip, a military spokeswoman said.

She said no one was hurt when marines boarded the SV Estelle, a three-mast schooner, and that it was rerouted to the Israeli port of Ashdod after it ignored orders to turn away from the Hamas-governed Palestinian enclave.

The Estelle was carrying 30 activists from Europe, Canada and Israel, humanitarian cargo such as cement and goodwill items such as children's books, a mission spokesman said on Saturday.

Shipboard activists could not immediately be reached for comment on the interception, which was carried out in international waters as they were on their final Gaza approach.

Greece, five of whose citizens were among the activists, said in a statement issued by the Foreign Ministry in Athens that all of the Estelle's passengers were in good health.

Citing a need to stem arms smuggling to Hamas and other Palestinian militants, Israel maintains a tight naval blockade of Gaza. Israel and neighbouring Egypt also limit overland traffic to and from the territory.

Palestinians describe the curbs as collective punishment for Gaza's 1.6 million residents, and their supporters abroad have mounted several attempts to break the blockade by sea. Most were stopped by Israel, and detained foreign activists repatriated.

In a May 2010 interception, Israeli marines killed nine Turkish activists in clashes aboard their Gaza-bound ship.

An inquiry into that incident commissioned by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon found the Gaza blockade legal but faulted the Israeli navy for excessive force.

Document shows Israel counted Gazans’ calories

An Israeli document shows that Israel calculated the number of calories Palestinians in Gaza would need in order to avoid malnutrition.

Titled “Food Consumption in the Gaza Strip — The Red Lines,” the study estimated that each Gazan would need 2,279 calories a day. The study was prepared in January 2008, months after Israel intensified its blockade of Gaza following the Hamas takeover of the coastal strip.

The study indicates that Israel's blockade of Gaza was designed to hurt not only Hamas but civilians as well, so that they would put pressure on the Hamas government. 

Israel's Supreme Court ordered the release of the document after the Israeli human rights organization Gisha requested access to it and filed a Freedom of Information petition with the Defense Ministry.

The plan formulated in the document was never implemented, according to the Defense Ministry.

Mavi Marmara victims’ families sue Israel

Relatives of nine Turkish citizens killed in the raid aboard the Mavi Marmara ship filed a lawsuit against Israel, according to Turkish reports.

The lawsuit was filed last Friday in a Turkish court by more than 30 relatives of Turkish citizens killed in the May 31, 2010 raid, as well as 30 others injured in the attack, according to the Hurriyet Daily News and the Anatolia news agency. They are calling for about $5 million in compensatory damages.

The trial against four Israeli commanders in the raid, including former Israeli Chief of Staff Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, is scheduled to begin in a Turkish court in early November.

Israeli Navy commandos on May 31, 2010 boarded the Mavi Marmara, which claimed to be carrying humanitarian aid, after warning the ship not to sail into waters near the Gaza Strip in circumvention of Israel's naval blockade of the coastal strip.

Israel's government-appointed Turkel Commission found in its investigation that the government and the military behaved appropriately, and that the blockade of Gaza was legal.

The United Nations' Palmer Committee also found the blockade to be legal but said Israel used excessive force while boarding the vessel.

Turkey's inquiry deemed the Gaza blockade and the Israeli raid to be illegal. Ankara has called on Israel for an official apology and compensation for the raid, and to lift the Gaza blockade. The two countries have severed diplomatic relations and military agreements since the incident.

Aid groups urge Israel to lift Gaza blockade

Fifty international aid groups and United Nations agencies issued a joint appeal on Thursday calling on Israel to lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip, which is ruled by Hamas Islamists.

“For over five years in Gaza, more than 1.6 million people have been under blockade in violation of international law. More than half of these people are children. We the undersigned say with one voice: ‘end the blockade now,’” the petition said.

Amongst the signatories were Amnesty International, Save the Children, the World Health Organization, Oxfam, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and five other U.N. bodies.

Israel imposed restrictions on trade to Gaza in 2001 following the outbreak of a Palestinian uprising and tightened them further in 2007 after Hamas seized power in the coastal enclave adjacent to Egypt, which also enforces a blockade.

It has relaxed them over the past two years in the face of heavy international pressure, but insists on checking all goods entering the territory to prevent arms, or weapons-making equipment, from reaching Hamas.

“All cargo going into Gaza must be checked because Gaza is controlled by Hamas, an internationally recognized terrorist organization,” said Mark Regev, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Just this morning an Israeli farmer who was ploughing his field was shot at from Gaza. Is it really fair to expect Israel to remove the restriction on military use items while the regime in Gaza is as hostile and aggressive as it is to Israel?”

Hamas’s founding charter calls for the destruction of Israel, but its leadership has raised the possibility of entering into a prolonged truce with Israel after years of bloodshed.

Reporting by Crispian Balmer, Editing by Jeffrey Heller

Israel mishandled Gaza flotilla incident, comptroller report finds

Israel’s State Comptroller issued a report highly critical of the government’s handling of the Mavi Marmara Turkish aid flotilla to Gaza in 2010.

The report, issued Wednesday on the eve of Micha Lindenstrauss’ leaving his position, said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision-making process was flawed and that the strategy did not follow the recommended protocol.

In addition, the report said, key agencies were kept in the dark about what was happening and the possibility of extreme or fatal violence was ignored. There also was no proper documentation of discussions surrounding actions taken against the flotilla nor the decisions that were made.

“Israel’s democratic process includes institutional mechanisms for independent oversight and we thank the State Comptroller for his work,” Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev said in a statement.

“We reiterate that the panel established by the UN Secretary General to investigate the flotilla incident clearly ruled that the maritime blockade to prevent weapons reaching the terrorists in Gaza is legitimate self defense and that Israel’s decision to intercept the flotilla was indeed legal under international law. Ultimately, weapons that reach Hamas in Gaza end up being used against Israeli civilians.”

Israeli Navy commandos on May 31, 2010 boarded the Mavi Marmara, which claimed to be carrying humanitarian aid, after warning the ship not to sail into waters near the Gaza Strip in circumvention of Israel’s naval blockade of the coastal strip. Nine Turkish nationals, including a Turkish-American man, were killed in clashes during the raid.

Lindenstrauss also criticized Defense Minister Ehud Barak for not looking into whether the army was prepared to deal with a violent response from the Marmara’s passengers.

The report also criticized Israel’s public response to the incident, saying it maintained silent for too long while Palestinian supporters capitalized on the tragedy in the media.

Israel’s government-appointed Turkel Commission found in its investigation that the government and the military behaved appropriately, and that the blockade of Gaza was legal.

The United Nations’ Palmer Committee also found the blockade to be legal but said Israel used excessive force while boarding the vessel.

Turkey’s inquiry deemed the Gaza blockade and the Israeli raid to have been illegal. Ankara has called on Israel for an official apology and compensation for the raid, and to lift the Gaza blockade. The two countries have broken off diplomatic relations and military agreements since the incident.

Amnesty International report raps Israel for Gaza blockade

Amnesty International blasted Israel for its blockade of the Gaza Strip in its annual report on the state of the world’s human rights.

According to Amnesty International Report 2012, which came out Thursday, Israel is “prolonging the humanitarian crisis” in Gaza Strip with its blockade.

In addition, the human rights group criticized Israel for its expansion of settlements in eastern Jerusalem, which the group said is a breach of international law.

The report also said that “The Israeli army frequently used excessive, sometimes lethal force against demonstrators in the West Bank and civilians in border areas within the Gaza Strip.”

Israeli military forces killed 55 civilians in Gaza and the West Bank, including 11 children, according to the report.

In its section on the Palestinian Authority, the report noted that “Despite announced cease-fires, Palestinian armed groups in Gaza fired indiscriminate rockets and mortars into Israel, and Israeli forces carried out air strikes that they said targeted Palestinians in Gaza involved in attacking Israel.”

The report also noted that the Palestinian Authority and Hamas restricted freedom of expression and association, and their security forces used excessive force against demonstrators.

Some 155 countries were profiled in the report.

Australian lawmaker’s call against Israel criticized

The head of Australian Jewry scolded a left-wing parliamentarian who demanded that an Australian member of a Gaza-bound flotilla be immediately released.

Executive Council of Australian Jewry president Dr. Danny Lamm chastized Greens Sen. Lee Rhiannon Monday after she called on the Israeli government to release Sydney resident Michael Coleman, one of 27 pro-Palestinian activists arrested Nov. 4 by the Israeli Navy as they trief to break Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza.

“It is the Israeli Defense Forces that have acted illegally as the boat Mr. Coleman and other Freedom Waves participants were on was in international waters when intercepted,” said Rhiannon, a vocal supporter of the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel.

But Lamm retorted: “Senator Rhiannon’s characterization of the blockade of Gaza and the boarding of vessels that are used to break the blockade as ‘illegal’ is mendacious nonsense.

“The people who want to break the blockade are not interested in providing humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians,” Lamm added. “If that was their fundamental aim, they could send their supplies in by land via Israel.  Their main purpose is to harm Israel and her people.”

U.N. panel’s report says Gaza blockade was legal

A long-awaited U.N. report on a May 2010 Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound ship that killed nine Turks says that Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip was legal, the New York Times reported on Thursday.

The report by a panel of investigators, which was due to be released on Friday but was leaked in full to the Times, also said that Israeli commandos faced “organized and violent resistance from a group of passengers.”

It also had some criticism of Israel. It said the amount of force used by the Israelis on board the Mavi Marmara, the largest in a flotilla of six ships that the crew said were delivering aid to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, was “excessive and unreasonable.”

The release of the so-called Palmer report was delayed repeatedly to allow for Israeli-Turkish rapprochement talks. Washington has been concerned at the rift between two countries that had been strategic partners in an increasingly stormy Middle East.

The report, prepared by a U.N. panel headed by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer, was originally expected to be completed in February.

But the Turks and Israelis were never able to reach an agreement on what happened and what the conclusions of the report should be, diplomats and U.N. officials said. As a result, one U.N. official said, the report is not a “consensus document.”

Israel, however, expressed some satisfaction.

“The bottom line is that the Israeli actions were legal,” a senior Israeli official told Reuters on condition of anonymity. “It (the report) says the naval blockade was legal under international law.”

It is also significant that the report confirmed Israel’s right to search ships in international waters, the official said. He said he hoped Israel and Turkey could put the flotilla incident behind them and rebuild their once-strong ties.

“I hope that we (Israel and Turkey) can … go forward forward in our relationship,” he said.

The Israeli foreign ministry, however, declined to provide any official reaction to the report.

“We will only make a public comment once the report is officially released,” ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said.

Turkey’s U.N. mission had no immediate reaction either.

Ankara has demanded that Israel apologize for the raid, but the Israeli government has made clear it will not issue a formal apology.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has voiced regret over the killings, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, a centrist in the conservative coalition government, has stirred debate inside the cabinet by proposing Israel offer a diluted apology in hope of restoring ties with Turkey, once an important Muslim ally.

Barak had also thought such a step would help indemnify Israel’s navy personnel against lawsuits abroad.

Israel calls its Gaza blockade a precaution against arms reaching Hamas and other Palestinian guerrillas by sea. Palestinians and their supporters say the blockade is illegal collective punishment, a view some U.N. officials have echoed.

Reporting by Louis Charbonneau, additional reporting by Mayaan Lubell in Jerusalem; Editing by Eric Walsh