Ziyad Patel, a South African lawyer representing one of the victims of the Israeli raid on the Mavi Marmara ship in 2010, has urged Turkey to act upon a red alert notice issued by Interpol calling for the arrest of four senior Israeli officials who allegedly ordered the raid.
The Turkish-owned ship MV Mavi Marmara was raided by Israeli commandos in international waters in the eastern Mediterranean on May 30, 2010, as it was sailing as part of an aid flotilla to the Gaza Strip sent by the Turkish charity IHH to deliver much-needed supplies to Palestinians living under an Israeli-enforced land and naval blockade.
During the raid, nine Turkish citizens, including one with dual American citizenship, were killed as Israeli commandos fired live ammunition on unarmed activists from a range of countries. A tenth Turkish man died in hospital four years later, having been in a coma ever since the attack.
As a result, relations between Turkey and Israel were severely strained until Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologised for the raid in March 2013, paving the way for a gradual normalisation process between the two nations.
Nonetheless, in 2014 Istanbul’s 7th High Criminal Court initiated the trial of Israel's former Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, former Navy Chief Eliezer Marom, former Head of Military Intelligence Amos Yadlin and former Air Force Intelligence Chief Avishai Levy for their alleged role in ordering the raid.
Istanbul’s public prosecutor’s office demanded that the suspects, all of whom are being tried in absentia, be sentenced to prison terms amounting to a total of 18,032 years.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with TRT World, Ziyad Patel, a lawyer to activist Khadijah Davids, a South African citizen and Cape Town resident who was on board the Mavi Marmara ship when it was raided, said that as a result of his case, the door was opened for “mutual cooperation” between South African authorities and the authorities in Turkey so that the accused Israeli officials are arrested if they ever come to South Africa.
“This door of mutual cooperation was very important in terms of the police investigative work that was required. Subsequent to that decision, there have been a number of attorneys, including myself (and) other attorneys that were involved in the case whom were invited by the IHH organisation to attend some of the court hearings that were unfolding in the Istanbul Criminal High Court. South African lawyers and legal representatives attended these hearings,” Patel said.
“Our authorities found that the two cases were very interlinked and had decided to act upon the issuing of the Turkish warrants of last year. On 10th November 2015, I received a letter from the South African police services (and) the Directorate of Priority Crimes Investigation Unit to confirm the following: The first is that the four Israeli high commanders would be arrested if they entered South African territory in anyway whatsoever, so there’s a status alert for arrest,” he added, emphasising that there is no “status of being in detention or in custody but the status alert is for arrest.”
“The second decision that was made is that South African Interpol must communicate with Turkish Interpol to have the four Israeli high commanders placed on a red alert for arrest. This has to come from Turkey Interpol since the warrants of arrest were issued from a Turkish Criminal High Court. The third part of the arrest is that South African Interpol must inform our authorities in South Africa if any of the accused - I call them fugitives from justice - if they enter the borders of the republic, they would be arrested in order for them to be extradited to Turkey, to the Istanbul Criminal High Court to face criminal charges for the attacks upon the Gaza aid flotilla mission.”
When asked about recent conflicting reports coming from South Africa regarding the issuing of an arrest warrant for Prime Minister Netanyahu, Patel said that he was aware of such reports, which stem from the publishing of two separate press releases by the South African authorities, one of which incorrectly conveyed information about the case, adding that the authorities were working on clarifying the situation.
“I would like to state unequivocally, I am the attorney of record, I represent Khadijah Davids, I have represented the case to the required authorities and I am in position of the confirmed decision regarding this matter. So I would believe that everything will be cleared up,” Patel said, without elaborating further.
However, Patel went on the say that he believed an arrest warrant for Netanyahu recently issued by a court in Spain may be interlinked with the Mavi Marmara case, while underlining that the connection between his case and the case unfolding in Turkey could build up international pressure against Israel.
“We must come back to understand that the process that is unfolding in South Africa is directly linked to the process in Istanbul, in Turkey, where there is the indictment for the four Israeli commanders, and I think this decision is so important that is coming out of South Africa as it provides the necessary hope as well as the pressure that is required for the Turkish authorities to now act on the arrest warrants that were issued out of the Turkish court and in fact place the red alert notices for the Israeli commanders through Turkish Interpol,” he said.
“Such a decision as that has arrived out of South Africa is extremely, extremely important. The reason I say that is two-fold. The first is that it will now prompt South African authorities to take the necessary steps should these Israelis accused ever come to South Africa, it creates the cooperation that was discussed earlier in terms of having Turkish Interpol apply the red alert notice for these four commanders, and also the diplomatic relations that comes out of it,” he continued.
“You can see the shift, and now with the arrest warrants, now with the decision to arrest the four commanders, it sends out a clear message to the rest of the world that criminals can be held accountable, there is a process of justice, victims of these attacks have recourse to legal systems, especially in the international criminal law domain as well as in terms of domestic law, and we’re hoping that this becomes an inspiration for other countries to also exercise their rights on behalf of their citizens, in order to seek justice for their citizens.”
Patel also expressed his support for the growing boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, which he said “adds credence to say that apartheid Israel should be boycotted, should be divested and there should be sanctions imposed till the political order in Israel is changed and there is a free and liberated Palestine.”
ICC undecided on case
Judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) earlier this month restated that the court’s prosecutor Fatou Bensouda should reconsider her previous decision not to investigate the Mavi Marmara case.
Global media accounts have stated that the ICC decision will force Bensouda to scrutinise the case in more detail, significantly increasing the possibility of opening a “full investigation” by the chief prosecutor, which could pave the way for the prosecution of Israelis connected to the raid on the Mavi Marmara.
Despite Bensouda stating in November 2014 that “the information available provides a reasonable basis to believe that war crimes under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court were committed on the Comorian-registered vessel, the Mavi Marmara, when Israeli Defence Forces intercepted the Gaza Freedom Flotilla,” she concluded that “the potential cases likely arising from an investigation into this incident would not be of ‘sufficient gravity’ to justify further action by the ICC.”
However, on May 7, the Pre-Trial Chamber of the ICC decided to hear the testimony of relatives and attorneys of the Mavi Marmara victims, after Turkish attorneys filed an appeal against the decision by Bensouda.
Furthermore, the ICC judges requested her to take up the case again in July, outlining that she committed “material errors in her determination of the gravity,” which plays a critical role in determining if Israeli actions constituted a crime.
Bensouda appealed the decision of the ICC, but it was refused by a 3-2 majority of the five-judge chamber on Oct. 6, on the grounds that her appeal is not acceptable according to the formal procedures of the court.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also undertook another investigation called the Palmer Report, which concluded that the Israeli actions on the Mavi Marmara were "excessive and unreasonable.”
Author: Ertan Karpazli