JERUSALEM, Israel - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu testified before the Turkel Commission on Monday, the committee examining the circumstances that lead up to the confrontation aboard the Turkish-owned Mavi Marmara on May 31.
Nine pro-Palestinian activists on board the flagship were killed after attacking Israeli navy commandos with knives, stun grenades, chains, metal pipes and guns as they boarded the vessel.
Netanyahu began by affirming that the investigation would "uncover all the facts and bring the truth to light."
"I am convinced that at the end of your investigation, it will be clear that the State of Israel and the Israel Defense Forces conducted themselves in accordance with international law and that the IDF fighters who boarded the Marmara displayed rare courage in fulfilling their mission and in defending themselves against a real threat to their lives," Netanyahu began.
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In order to understand the events leading up to the incident, the prime minister said it was important to clarify the government's "policies concerning the Hamas regime in Gaza, on which we based our actions regarding the flotilla."
Netanyahu pointed out that for the past decade, Hamas has been the recipient of increasing amounts of "assistance" from Iran - a nation vowing to wipe Israel off the map - in the form of thousands of rockets, missiles and other weapons."
"In addition, Iran provides Hamas with intelligence assistance, military training, political support and significant funding," he said.
"Hamas has transformed the Gaza Strip into a terrorist enclave sponsored by Iran," into a "Hamastan," Netanyahu said.
Since its takeover of Gaza in June 2007, Hamas has fired thousands of rockets, missiles, and mortars in southern Israeli towns and cities.
"Since this committee is dealing with the question of international law, I want to point out that Hamas is in violation of at least four war crimes: the call for genocide, directed fire at civilians, the use of civilians as human shields, and preventing the Red Cross from visiting kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit," the prime minister said.
Netanyahu said that his government has based its policy toward the Gaza Strip on four primary areas:
- Acting to secure the release of Gilad Shalit
- Immediately responding to firing on Israel from the Gaza Strip
- Acting to prevent the entry of weapons and war materiel into Gaza
- Preventing a humanitarian crisis in Gaza
The prime minister outlined steps the government has taken in each of these areas, pointing out that despite extensive efforts to dispel the myth of a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, "the perception in the international community…increasingly took root."
Netanyahu also pointed out that despite the Gaza Strip being "controlled by a hostile terrorist force that calls for our destruction, Israel did not stop supplying electricity, water or fuel to Gaza."
In addition, Israel has continued to transport a monthly average of 1,500 patients and accompanying family members to Israel for medical treatment in Israeli facilities.
"There is nothing that more clearly proves the absurdity of the claim that Israel is acting inhumanely toward Gaza," Netanyahu said.
"If only Hamas' terrorist regime would act toward Israel's population and our kidnapped soldier, Gilad Shalit, with a fraction of the humane sentiment Israel has shown toward the population of Gaza and toward the prisoners of Hamas," he said.
Diplomatic Efforts with Turkey
Netanyahu then spoke of the government's extensive diplomatic efforts with senior Turkish officials, including Defense Minister Ehud Barak's communiqués with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, aimed at preventing a confrontation at sea.
"Despite our continuous diplomatic efforts, ultimately the Turkish government did not prevent the attempt by the Marmara to violate the naval blockade. All our suggestions to re-route the ship's cargo to undergo a security inspection in Ashdod and then be transferred to Gaza through the land crossings were in vain," Netanyahu said.
"We also did not hear a public message from the Turkish government to cool the heated tempers of the activists on board," he said.
"Regarding the IHH activists, not only did they not prevent a confrontation, they announced their intention to seek one - they announced that they wanted to break the blockade and that 'the Jews need to go back to Auschwitz,'" he said.
None of the diplomatic efforts were successful.
From that point on, Israel took steps to ensure that if the IDF had to board the ships, whatever took place would be documented.
"I wanted to ensure that there would be complete coverage of what would happen when our soldiers boarded the ships because I was afraid that, once again, there would be an attempt to try to slander IDF soldiers as part of the ongoing propaganda war against Israel," Netanyahu said.
"It started to happen on the morning of May 31. Preliminary reports of the event published around the world claimed that our soldiers killed innocent peace activists.
"It was only when videos were distributed several hours later that this lie began to be exposed. Imagine what would have happened if we did not have these videos," the prime minister said.
"Once they were published, fair-minded and honest people around the world began to understand that the Marmara was no love boat and that the IHH activists were not exactly innocent peace activists.
"It was only then that many people understood that our soldiers faced a very real danger to their lives from brutal attacks with clubs, metal rods, knives - and as you have no doubt learned - from live weapons.
"IDF soldiers acted in self-defense. We made tremendous efforts to prevent injuries, but the IDF soldiers have the right to defend themselves," he said.
Netanyahu concluded his remarks by saying that once all the facts come to light, "the slanders related to the flotilla that have been directed at the IDF will dissipate."