The Gaza Flotilla: Can Israel Judge Itself?

Today, there’s a lot of back and forth about the validity of Israel leading the investigation into the Gaza Flotilla deaths. You know, whether it can fairly judge the legality of its own blockade or the actions of its Navy SEALS. To those against the idea, it boils down to whether the accused can also be the prosecutor, judge and jury. But, is that really all there is to the question of whether a country, or any political component, can judge itself?

If history is any judge, there’s quite a bit more to the question. First off, it’s not fair to characterize Israel as the “accused” anymore than to label those killed as “terrorists”. The whole point of an investigation is to determine what happened, not pre-assign roles. So, the Turkish Foreign Minister’s characterization of Israel as the “defendant” is wrong. Turkey may be excused its bias since most of those killed were Turkish citizens. But, that bias, and the political pressure that comes with it, spells big trouble for a just international inquiry.

More on that later. Let’s turn to history. Just yesterday, the British released the report of an investigation into the deaths of 13 people killed by British paratroopers in Northern Ireland in 1972. That’s right. 38 years ago. Known as Bloody Sunday, those killed in the incident were unarmed civilians, mostly teen-agers in fact. They died when the paratroopers opened fire on a crowd at a civil rights demonstration. The report, produced by an internal commission, found the actions of the Army wrong and “shocking” and vindicated the dead as innocent victims. The report is being criticized in Britain for taking too long to produce and, at $280 million, costing too much. Even so, the commission’s findings put its own Government squarely in the crosshairs.

How about a little history closer to home? Each branch of the U.S. Government judges itself all the time. In fact, our Constitution mandates that the Senate investigate charges of unethical member behavior internally. Ditto for the House. Why? Back in the day when the Constitution was written, our leaders wanted to safeguard each branch from the overreaching of other branches.

In keeping with that view, Inspectors General were created in the 1970s to investigate questionable activities within their own Executive Departments. Then there’s the Special Counsel, which replaced the Independent Counsel in 1999, and Special Prosecutors, all connected to the Justice Department, and so on. There’s a very good NPR radio broadcast from six years ago, detailing all this and more. Take a listen for yourself.

The Obama Administration currently supports Israel’s internal investigation, which, everything considered, is the way to go. The notion of an international commission of inquiry does not send out any fairness warm and fuzzies. There are too many international politics involved, with too many personal agendas running around out there. Exactly the type of thing our forefathers cautioned against in our own internal political structure. Let’s at least give Israel the same consideration on the international stage. If they fail the fairness test, we can always do over.

See you in the mirror.