On May 31, 2010, after numerous warnings, IDF naval forces intercepted six ships enroute to Gaza, sponsored by the Free Gaza Movement (FGM), several European Palestinian solidarity organizations and Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH), an Istanbul-based Islamic charity with ties to Hamas, which intended to break the blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza.
The Government of Israel and the IDF made repeated attempts to avoid confrontation with the flotilla. The IDF repeatedly radioed the ships and appealed to the group's organizers to redirect the flotilla to an Israeli port, where the goods and humanitarian aid onboard would be delivered to Gaza by established routes. The flotilla organizers, intent on sensationalist publicity and confrontation with Israel, refused these entreaties. Weeks prior to the launching of the flotilla, Israel repeatedly offered the Government of Turkey the opportunity to send humanitarian aid to Gaza via established overland routes. Turkey refused, and continued to support the flotilla effort.
During the operation, flotilla members on one ship, the Mavi Mamara, violently attacked the IDF personnel with weapons, including knives, metal rods, clubs, and reportedly with live gunfire. In the resulting confrontation, at least nine flotilla members were killed and more were wounded. At least seven Israeli soldiers were wounded, two in critical condition. This loss of life is greatly regrettable and could have been prevented had the activists refrained from violence. The IDF forces had no choice but to defend themselves from the violent onslaught.
People on the other five ships in the flotilla did not react with violence to Israeli naval personnel. Their ships sailed to the Israeli port city of Ashdod and they were all deported to their home countries. Those on the Mavi Mamara, a ship registered in Turkey, whose passengers included members of the Turkish militant Islamist organization, the IHH, confronted the Israeli naval personnel with violence. In light of this violence, the IDF naval forces were forced to act defensively.
The incident aboard the Mavi Mamara resulted in extremely heightened tensions between Turkey and Israel.
In the aftermath of the incident, Israel established an investigatory commission, under the leadership of former Supreme Court Justice Jacob Turkel. Along with other esteemed Israeli figures from legal and academic circles, the so-called Turkel Commission includes two “international observers” who will take part in the committee’s deliberations. The IDF is also conducting its own investigation about the planning and implementation of the operation.
In addition, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced the establishment of a four-person panel on the incident, to be chaired by former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Geoffrey Palmer, and the outgoing President of Colombia, Alvaro Uribe, as Vice-Chair, and to include an Israeli and Turkish representative.
The United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva established its own investigatory committee which was set to begin work in August 2010.