BICOM Briefing: The Palmer Report


Key Points

  • The Palmer Report, the UN inquiry into the May 2010 Mavi Marmara incident, expected to be published today, will uphold the legality of the Israel’s maritime closure of the Gaza strip.
  • According to a leaked copy of the report published by the New York Times the report accuses the flotilla activists of acting ‘recklessly,’ and questions the ‘conduct, true nature and objectives’ of the IHH, the Turkish Islamist group which led the flotilla.
  • The report concluded that IDF commandos acted in self-defence when faced with ‘organised and violent resistance’ but in doing so used ‘excessive and unreasonable’ force, resulting in the deaths of nine Turkish activists.

What is in the report?

  • According to press reports and Israeli official sources the 105-page UN report includes the following conclusions:
  1. Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza is legal, as was the interception of vessels trying to breach it. According to the New York Times, which received a leaked copy, the Report concludes that ‘Israel faces a real threat to its security from militant groups in Gaza,’ that, ‘the naval blockade was imposed as a legitimate security measure’ and that ‘its implementation complied with the requirements of international law.’
  2. The IHH activists who organised the flotilla wanted to provoke a violent confrontation and ‘acted recklessly’. The Report questions the ‘conduct, true nature and objectives’ of the IHH.
  3. Although the Turkish government made efforts to persuade the IHH organizers to avoid an encounter with Israeli forces, the report concludes that ‘more could have been done’ by the Turkish government.
  4. The IDF soldiers defended themselves against ‘significant, organised and violent resistance.’ Some IDF soldiers did, however, use ‘excessive and unreasonable’ force in defending themselves. The report also criticizes ‘abusive’ aspects of Israel’s subsequent treatment of the passengers.
  5. The report does not recommend any steps against Israeli soldiers but does ask Israel to issue ‘an appropriate statement of regret’ – something Israel has offered to Turkey.

 Who conducted the Report and why?

  • The four-member panel was chaired by former New Zealand prime minister Geoffrey Palmer, and included an Israeli and a Turkish representative.
  • UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon established the Palmer Committee in August 2010 to examine the Gaza flotilla incident of May 2010. Both Israel and Turkey submitted their own reports to the committee, which was then asked to evaluate them and also take into consideration any other required information.
  • Israel also set up an independent public commission known as The Turkel Committee. It reported in January and included two international observers Lord David Trimble and Canadian Brigadier General (Ret) Kenneth Watkin.

What has Israel done to learn lessons from the Mavi Marmara incident?

  • In June 2010, Israel’s government established the Turkel Committee, an independent Israeli public commission led by Israeli former Supreme Court Justice Jacob Turkel, to investigate the flotilla incident. The committee included Lord David Trimble as one of two international observers. Its first report, released in January 2011, found that Israel’s blockade of Gaza is lawful, as was the capture of the flotilla. The report found that the Israeli commandos who boarded the Mavi Marmara ‘acted professionally and in a measured manner in the face of extensive and unanticipated violence’ They were met with force from Turkish Islamist IHH activists that was ‘planned and extremely violent.’
  • The two international observers on the commission, Lord David Trimble and Canadian Brigadier General (Ret) Kenneth Watkin, are signatories to the report and described it as independent and rigorous. Two international legal experts who advised the inquiry, including the UK-based Professor Michael Schmitt, endorsed its legal conclusions.
  • Responding to international demands after the Mavi Marmara incident, Israel decidedin June 2010 to drop all import restrictions on its border crossings except for ‘dual-use’ goods that could be used by Hamas and other groups for terrorism. Since this change, the number of truckloads entering Gaza daily via the Kerem Shalom crossing has increased by 92%.
  • When faced with a possible second flotilla in July 2011, Israel proved better prepared both diplomatically and militarily. With the help of the international community, the flotilla was prevented through legal and diplomatic means from approaching the Gaza coast, and a violent confrontation was avoided.

Further reading