Israeli court gives Tirkel committee OK to question soldiers 13Jul10 July 14, 2010

Ma’an News Agency -  13 July 2010

Rights groups recorded a second victory in pursuit of a credible investigation of the Israeli attack on the Freedom Flotilla, winning a court order enabling the Tirkel Committee to investigate military personnel.

On Monday, the same day an internal Israeli military team found little fault with operations on 31 May that ultimately killed nine civilians aboard a Gaza-bound ship, the country’s High Court of Justice ruled in favor of a petition filed by Israeli peace group Gush Shalom, requesting extended powers for the committee charged with a civil investigation of the attack.

The result was a compromise, however, as the initial petition sought to dismantle the committee, calling it ill-equipped to investigate the attack.

In late June, however, head of the committee Judge Ya’akov Tirkel threatened to resign unless the government agreed to widen the scope of his inquiry. On 30 June, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to the expanded mandate, and the Israeli court postponed the hearing on the petition, given the changed mandate of the committee.

The Gush Shalom petitioners said they reached a compromise with state prosecutors, with the decision mandating the issue back to court if Israel refuses permission to question military staff.

Gush Shalom founder Uri Avnery called the decision a “big victory. We managed to stop the dangerous attempt to turn the army into an enclave, immune to outside critisicm.”

A statement from the peace group said Justice Naor, who heard the petition, reasoned that “from the moment that the government decided to turn the Tirkel Committee into a State Commission of Inquiry, this commission cannot be prevented … from summoning anyone whose testimony is deemed necessary to the issues under inquiry – be they civilians or military personnel.”

“For the first time, it was established that the High Court of Justice can interfere with government decisions regarding Inquiry committees. Until today, the court avoided doing that. Also, the dangerous attempt to turn the army into an enclave, immune to outside criticism, was blocked,” Averny commented in a statement.

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