Israel’s fatal mistake

The Israeli attack on an international aid flotilla to Gaza on May 31, which resulted in the killing of nine peace activists, is a turning point in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Israel’s relations with the world. The international response to the raid and the worldwide condemnation of the Netanyahu-Lieberman government underlies that ...

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

The Israeli attack on an international aid flotilla to Gaza on May 31, which resulted in the killing of nine peace activists, is a turning point in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Israel's relations with the world. The international response to the raid and the worldwide condemnation of the Netanyahu-Lieberman government underlies that this is not only an issue between Turkey and Israel -- but the relations between these two countries will not be the same going forward.

Let's get the facts first. The Israeli government clearly violated international law when it attacked a civilian aid flotilla in international waters about 77 miles off the coast of Gaza. By taking over the ships and confiscating the property belonging to the aid group, Israel has committed piracy. Initial reports and eye-witness accounts confirm the brutal use of force against unarmed civilians coming from some 50 countries. The killing of nine people during the raid is a clear case of murder, while treatment of the injured by Israeli forces during and after the raid constitutes a violation of international law and the fundamental principles of human dignity. This whole incident must be investigated and tried at an international court without delay.

The Israeli attack on an international aid flotilla to Gaza on May 31, which resulted in the killing of nine peace activists, is a turning point in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Israel’s relations with the world. The international response to the raid and the worldwide condemnation of the Netanyahu-Lieberman government underlies that this is not only an issue between Turkey and Israel — but the relations between these two countries will not be the same going forward.

Let’s get the facts first. The Israeli government clearly violated international law when it attacked a civilian aid flotilla in international waters about 77 miles off the coast of Gaza. By taking over the ships and confiscating the property belonging to the aid group, Israel has committed piracy. Initial reports and eye-witness accounts confirm the brutal use of force against unarmed civilians coming from some 50 countries. The killing of nine people during the raid is a clear case of murder, while treatment of the injured by Israeli forces during and after the raid constitutes a violation of international law and the fundamental principles of human dignity. This whole incident must be investigated and tried at an international court without delay.

By ordering and defending the attack, the Netanyahu-Lieberman government has scored a moral low point, though perhaps not surprising given their support of an illegal and immoral continuation of the blockade of Gaza and the settlement activities in Palestinian territories. Efforts by the Obama administration, Europeans, and Arabs to stop the settlements have fallen on deaf ears in Israel. The destruction of Gaza at the end of 2008 resulting in the killing of more than 1,400 Palestinians remains a black stain in the history of Israeli occupation. By continuing the blockade of Gaza, the Israeli government has not only subjected 1.5 million residents of Gaza to an inhuman suffering, but also shown that it has no interest in peace. All reasonable parties around the world confirm that there will be no peace without including Gaza and Hamas in the process.

The flotilla raid and the killing of nine people — eight of whom are Turkish citizens in addition to a U.S. citizen of Turkish origin — has caused irreparable damage to Turkish-Israeli relations, which had already been under strain since the aforementioned Gaza war. Until that conflict, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had maintained good relations with successive Israeli governments with the hope of contributing to regional peace. Erdogan himself conducted the indirect Syrian-Israeli talks in 2008 and spent hours with Ehud Olmert, the former prime minister of Israel, at his residence. Yet only days after leaving Ankara, Olmert launched the war on Gaza without warning. In the time since, the Turkish government has taken a firm stance against the deteriorating situation in Gaza and Israeli manipulations of division between Palestinian groups.

Those who accuse our government and our ruling Justice and Development Party of harboring an anti-Israeli agenda should remember that it was our government that facilitated the talks between Israel and Syria. Some want us to forget who betrayed the trust that we had worked so hard to build between the parties. The same groups are now accusing us of secretly supporting the Gaza aid flotilla to "provoke" Israel into violent action. This is a typical example of propaganda and an attempt to cover up Israel’s brutality and gross violation of international law and basic human decency. Instead of trying hopelessly to portray the aid flotilla as a radical group and accusing us of anti-Semitism, the Netenyahu-Lieberman government should instead explain to us and the world, if it can, this immoral and inhuman act. We fully know that the Israeli PR machine will now make baseless allegations against us, claiming that the Justice and Development Party is taking Turkey back to the Middle Ages, that it is turning Turkey away from the West, undermining secularism and establishing a religious republic. But such nonsense will be a waste of time because no one with a sound mind will believe them.

Instead, the Netenyahu-Lieberman government should come to terms with the reality that it has committed a terrible mistake, shed human blood, and isolated itself politically and morally. Israel must now formally apologize to Turkey, pay compensation to the injured and the families of the deceased, fully cooperate with international investigation, and lift the blockade in Gaza.

Omer Celik is vice chairman of Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) and chairman of Foreign Affairs.

More from Foreign Policy

A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.
A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.

Lessons for the Next War

Twelve experts weigh in on how to prevent, deter, and—if necessary—fight the next conflict.

An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

It’s High Time to Prepare for Russia’s Collapse

Not planning for the possibility of disintegration betrays a dangerous lack of imagination.

An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.
An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.

Turkey Is Sending Cold War-Era Cluster Bombs to Ukraine

The artillery-fired cluster munitions could be lethal to Russian troops—and Ukrainian civilians.

A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol  January 8, 2009 in Washington.
A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol January 8, 2009 in Washington.

Congrats, You’re a Member of Congress. Now Listen Up.

Some brief foreign-policy advice for the newest members of the U.S. legislature.