One minute in Gaza

Gazans will gladly welcome Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan if he visits – but will they get the chance?

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stormed out of an impassioned debate with Israeli President Shimon Peres about the Gaza War in 2009 [AFP/Getty Images]

What do January 2009, January 2010, and March 2013 have in common?

They all saw Israel apologise to Turkey – in 2009 over the Davos “One Minute” incident, in 2010 over the Ayalon incident, and in 2013 for the massacre of nine Turkish citizens on board the aid-ship, Mavi Marmara.

They are all examples of how Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has consistently defended Palestinian issues, especially Gaza. They are all concrete – and rare – examples of a nation upholding universal principles against the murderous excesses of the rogue state of Israel.

And they are a fine example of a leader turning his back on the questionable distinction of being the first majority-Muslim country to recognise the state of Israel, and go about setting the record straight, trying to right the wrongs.

During a panel discussion titled Gaza: The Case for Middle East Peace at the 2009 World Economic Forum in Davos, Prime Minister Erdogan refused to be silenced by the moderator, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, when attempting to respond to Israeli President Shimon Peres’ justification of Operation Cast Lead.

“One minute … one minute … one minute,” Erdogan said to Ignatius, then addressed Peres. “You kill people, I remember the children who died on beaches … I remember two former prime ministers in your country who said they felt very happy when they were able to enter Palestine on tanks … I find it very sad when people applaud what you have said because there have been many people that have been killed … I think that it is very wrong, and that it is not humanitarian to applaud any actions which have had that kind of a result,” he managed to say before Ignatius – who allowed Erdogan only 12 minutes of speaking time, while giving Peres 25 minutes – cut him off. To his credit, Erdogan walked out in disgust.

Five minutes later, the Israeli president called the Turkish prime minister to apologise.

Gaza is still waiting for its apology. In his tirade to Erdogan, Peres claimed there was no humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and that Israel supplies all the water, fuel and electricity that Gaza needs. He said that if there is a problem, he and his government intervene to correct it. It is now almost five years since he made that claim, and Gaza is still waiting for the adequate provision of potable water, of fuel, of electricity.

A year later, President Shimon Peres was orchestrating yet another apology to Turkey, this time following a televised stunt by Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon designed to humiliate the Turkish ambassador to Israel, Ahmet Oguz Celikkol.

Gaza was again central to the incident. In response to Turkish television channel TRT1 screening a drama series about a love story during the Israeli offensive against Gaza, Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Danny Ayalon, summoned Turkey’s ambassador Ahmet Oguz Celikkol to an urgent meeting.

Having taken offence at the way Israeli soldiers were (realistically) portrayed in the TV show, Ayalon instructed cameramen covering the meeting with the Turkish envoy to “pay attention that he is sitting in a lower chair … that there is only an Israeli flag on the table, and that we are not smiling”.

Turkey did not accept Ayalon’s informal apology for this gross transgression of diplomatic protocol, considering it insufficient. It took a day of Turkish hard-ball, and Peres’ best efforts, before Ayalon finally caved in and made a formal apology to the Turkish ambassador.

Gaza is still waiting for its apology, for the war crimes committed against them during the offensive portrayed in the TV series.

Three years later, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu made a phone call to Prime Minister Erdogan from the tarmac at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, with US President Barack Obama breathing down his neck.

Yet again, Gaza was centre-stage. As Air Force One stood by, Netanyahu and Obama sat in a trailer apologising for the loss of nine Turkish lives in international waters off the coast of Gaza as a result of Israel’s attack on the Turkish aid ship, Mavi Marmara, which was carrying international humanitarian assistance and activists in an attempt to break the blockade of the Gaza Strip.

The Turkish government accepted the apology – although many Turks, including some families of the dead, did not.

Gaza is still waiting for its apology – and for the lifting of the Israeli blockade.

Since Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s very public, principled stands in defence of Gaza and of Palestine – and equally public Israeli apologies – other Arab countries have followed suit.

Qatar’s Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani became the first Arab head of state to visit Gaza, making the trip in October 2012. Former Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandil and Tunisian Foreign Minister Rafik Abdesslem were hot on his heels, both arriving during the Israeli military offensive against Gaza in November.

Now it is Erdogan’s turn to arrive. But his uncompromising stand on Palestine may see his trip as rudely interrupted as his speech at Davos.

Turkey was the first country in the world to appoint an ambassador to the newly UN-recognised state of Palestine – a recognition ferociously opposed by Israel and the United States. Sharing borders with both Syria and Iran, and hosting the closest NATO airbase to Syria, Turkey is in the hot-seat.

And a hot-seat it is. On June 26, Israeli columnist Shimon Shiffer wrote:

In light of Turkey’s conduct, Israel is considering the possibility of exacting a diplomatic price from Ankara with the help of a pro-Israeli congressman. ‘After they fed us smelly fish and ran us out of town, it’s time that the Turks pay a price for their nasty behaviour,’ a senior official said.”

Gaza is still waiting for Israel to pay a price for their nasty behaviour – and for the arrival of Erdogan, the man who has thrice wrested apologies from the state that has acted with such murderous impunity towards them.

Gazans will gladly give him more than a minute of their time. The question is, will they get the chance?

In a few more minutes, we will know.

Julie Webb-Pullman is a freelance journalist from New Zealand who has been living in and writing from Gaza since 2011. She contributes to SCOOP Independent News, Palestine Chronicle, and other online news sites.