Seven years ago today, Israeli commandos attacked a six-boat flotilla en route to Gaza, to break the Israeli siege and to deliver humanitarian supplies to Palestinians effectively cut-off from the outside world.
Seven years later there has yet to be proper accountability for the Israeli attack in international waters, which left 10 civilians dead, including 18-year-old American citizen, Furkan Doğan. According to a United Nations report, Furkan was shot five times by Israeli commandos including once point blank in the face.
And seven years later, the siege of Gaza continues, with Israel continuing to control the movement of people and goods into the 25-mile long Gaza Strip. Palestinian human rights organizations recently urged the International Criminal Court to open an investigation of the crime against humanity of persecution, i.e., the denial of fundamental rights to Palestinian civilians, resulting from the siege, which began in 2007. The closure has destroyed the economy, separated families, limited employment and educational opportunities, prevented Palestinians in Gaza from accessing medical care, and decimated public infrastructure.
But Furkan Doğan’s family has not given up on accountability. Last year, his parents filed a lawsuit in California, under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) and the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA) against Ehud Barak, the former Israeli Minister of Defense. Earlier this year, however, the district court dismissed their claims of extrajudicial killing and torture, despite the fact that the International Criminal Court has found that war crimes were committed in the course of the raid.
The dismissal was, effectively, at the request of the Israeli government, which sent a letter to the U.S. State Department requesting the U.S. government file a “suggestion of immunity” for Barak, which the U.S. did. The case is now on appeal in the Ninth Circuit. Last week, CCR and the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice filed an amicus brief urging the court to deny immunity, as to do so conflicts with U.S. obligations to prevent and punish extrajudicial killing and torture, and to provide a remedy to victims of human rights violations.
This is only the latest case of the U.S. supporting impunity for Israeli officials, even when it concerns the serious injury or killing of American citizens. The U.S. government has previously supported immunity for Avi Dichter, the former director of Israel’s Internal Security Agency, in a war crimes case arising out of his approval to drop a one-ton bomb on a Gaza apartment building, killing 15 people – including eight children – and injuring over 150 others. The U.S. also supported the dismissal of a case against Caterpillar corporation. The case alleged the company aided and abetted war crimes by providing Israel specialized bulldozers that it knew were used in the demolition of houses in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and that civilians had been killed and injured during these operations. It was brought by the parents of American peace activist Rachel Corrie, who was crushed to death by a Caterpillar bulldozer while protesting the demolition of Palestinian homes in Gaza, and four Palestinian families who had members killed or injured during home demolition operations.
Through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation, the Center for Constitutional Rights has sought to find out what the U.S. knew about the flotilla attack, and what actions it took in the aftermath. This litigation has compelled the production of more than 15,000 pages, including documents demonstrating that despite the killing of an American citizen and the forceful boarding of U.S.-flagged ships by a foreign military, the United States declined to conduct an independent investigation into Furkan Doğan’s death and undermined efforts for accountability at the international level.
On this somber anniversary of the attack on a humanitarian convoy, our eyes turn to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which the opportunity to demonstrate that justice and accountability are indeed available to all. Let us hope that history will not repeat itself, and that the court of appeals allows the case to proceed to be decided on its merits.