June 17, 2010, New York – Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), working with an international coalition, submitted a letter and statement to the U.S. State Department regarding the May 31, 2010 attack by Israel on the flotilla of vessels that was attempting to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza.
The statement requests that the United States join other nations to call for an independent inquiry into the matter by an impartial tribunal and demand that Israel immediately release property appropriated from the flotilla, in particular, the many cameras, camcorders and mobile phones that may contain evidence of crimes committed, including shootings. While other groups and individuals submitted similar letters to other governments, CCR was the group in the U.S. to do so.
Fourteen United States citizens were part of the flotilla, five of whom were on the U.S.-registered vessel Challenger I and one of whom was killed on another vessel. United States citizens were beaten, and their property, which includes video and photographic evidence, was seized and appropriated by Israel and has not been returned. CCR demands that the United States insist that Israel release this property forthwith.
Below is the press release of the Freedom Flotilla coalition with further details.
Flotilla Passengers to Israeli Government: “Release all illegally-seized evidence of the shootings as well as all personal property”
(London, 17 June 2010) Passengers from the flotilla from several countries (listed below) are urging their governments to demand that Israel release the property illegally seized from the passengers in international waters on May 31, in particular the many cameras, camcorders, mobile phones etc. that contain evidence of at least the beginning of the shooting of civilians by Israeli soldiers. (This demand is for property only and is independent of the many legal briefs already being worked on due to death and wounding of the passengers.)
That evidence will be vital to any search for the truth concerning the events on all six boats and must be secured urgently if Israeli military personnel are ever to be held to account for the deaths of at least nine civilians and the gunshot wounds of at least 40 others who were aboard the Mavi Marmara ship.
Israel's May 31, 2010 attack on the civilians on the Freedom Flotilla had terrible consequences, resulting in the death of (at least) nine civilians and the wounding of over 40. It was unprovoked, unwarranted, and illegal.
As recognized by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the United Nations (UN) and every government in the world, Israel remains the occupying power in Gaza. When Israeli military forces took control of the six ships in international waters on May 31, 2010, the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 then applied to the civilians on board.
The early testimonies of those participating in the flotilla and the video evidence that activists managed to prevent being seized by the Israeli military, provides prima facie evidence of the commission of grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention (i.e. war crimes) by Israeli military personnel involved in the attack on the flotilla and in the detention of its passengers. That evidence suggests that the following crimes were – and/or continue to be – committed:
• willful killing
• inhuman treatment
• willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health
• unlawful deportation or transfer
• unlawful confinement
• taking of hostages
• extensive appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly
• theft by use of credit cards of some of the passengers by Israeli military personnel
Therefore, on behalf of the main organizers of the six-vessel Gaza flotilla carrying approximately 700 human rights activists, journalists, members of parliament and other civilians and crew, the Freedom Flotilla coalition calls on all governments to comply with their duties under article 1 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 and take the following action due to Israel’s theft of the property of those participating in the flotilla. We call on all governments to join us in urgently demanding that Israel:
• immediately relinquish control of all the property seized on May 31, 2010 during its illegal boarding of our ships;
• release the property that constitutes evidence and send all those items of property seized on the six boats on May 31, 2010 to the UN by June 30, 2010, including all cameras, mobile phones, laptops and recording devices which recorded the events aboard the six ships;
• release the remainder of the property (including clothes, credit cards and hard currency) to its rightful owners; and
• account for every stolen credit card or mobile or satellite telephone usage, which, if true, appears to have turned acts of illegal appropriation of property into straightforward pillage.
We also call on all governments to urgently demand from Israel that:
• It will preserve all evidence in its possession in its original form (i.e. computer disks, hard-drives, SIM cards, memory cards, as well as any other physical evidence which could be considered relevant to any investigations) for handing over to the independent, impartial investigation ordered by the Security Council and/or UN Fact Finding Mission ordered by the Human Rights Council and in anticipation of the opening of criminal investigations.
• It confirms that none of the film and photographic evidence seized on 31 May 2010 has in fact been destroyed and that it will not do so and to account for every single destroyed or disappeared item.
These crimes have focused international attention on the illegal blockade of Gaza, leading to a welcome international review of the policies of governments across the world towards the closure. There is no natural disaster in Gaza.
Therefore, Gaza does not need long-term humanitarian aid, but instead needs to be allowed to rebuild its economy and trade normally with the rest of the world. It cannot do this while the closure and naval blockade continue.
The detailed statement sent to several governments today can be accessed on the front page of our website for the next week and in survivor testimonies: http://www.freegaza.org/en/testimonies-from-israeli-jail/1230-demands-to-israel-regarding-property or at http://www.freegaza.org/en/testimonies-from-israeli-jail/1230-demands-to-israel-regarding-property. The countries where the full statement is being sent to governments are: Turkey, United Kingdom, Spain, Netherlands, Jordan, Ireland, USA, France, Germany, Sweden, Belgium, Holland.