On 12th February 2017 TIKA Gaza Office staff Mohammed Mortaja, who was supposed to participate in a training in Turkey, was detained in Israel Erez checkpoint regardless of his official permits granted by Israel. Mortaja was held in custody and interrogated to this day by Israel Intelligence services while prohibited from seeing his lawyer and from using any kind of communication without any official explanation or comment. Mortaja, who is married with four children, has been working for TIKA since 2012.
In its bill of indictment announced on 21st March, 2017 Israel issued arrest warrant for that Mohammad Mortaja based on the allegations of “supporting terrorism.” The indictment claims that TIKA staff Mortaja’s list of needy families in Gaza includes the families of Hamas military wing members. However the indictment does not explain as to how the military forces utilized the relief aid delivered to the poor families. The same indictment accused IHH for its relief operations in Gaza. IHH Gaza representative Mehmet Kaya is accused of supporting terrorism by getting in touch with Hamas leader Ismail Haniye and delivering cash aid. Around the same time Mortaja was detained in the checkpoint Israel intelligence services summoned Mehmet Kaya to Erez checkpoint in a covert scheme to detain him as well. However Mehmet Kaya did not show up thus evaded detention. While Mortaja was detained Israel Foreign Office spokesperson told the press that “International aid funds are funnelled to Hamas in the guise of humanitarian aid and Turkey is the latest victim through terrorist group IHH’s involvement in this scheme”
We are extremely upset and anxious because of TIKA staff and aid worker Mohammad Mortaja’s unjustifiable arrest. However we are not surprised by the allegations. Because from Israel’s point of view “whoever lives in Gaza is a terrorist and whoever aids Gaza supports terrorism.” The reason of several bombardments of civilians living in Gaza and the final deadly blockade by Israel is its belief that Hamas is a terrorist organization, is not it? Meanwhile we also know that Israel has made the same allegations not just for Turkish Aid Agency or IHH but also for several international organizations including UNRWA and UN affiliated organizations.
The irony is that Turkey’s aid worker which has required permits and approvals from Israel is detained at the checkpoint during the normalization (!) Turkey-Israel relations following the agreement between two countries.
The allegations cited in the bill of indictment by Israel do not look more than a trap and cunning scheme as expected because Israel has vowed to take the revenge of Mavi Marmara. Israel will of course waste no time to take advantage of all the opportunities coming up following the agreement between two countries especially after passing the terrorist organizations list in the knesset. Nevertheless IHH will not stop its aid to Palestinians nor will it give up on its efforts for removal of blockade in Gaza regardless of Israel’s cunning schemes, traps and unfounded allegations. The continuity of aid depends on Turkish people’s will to send aid to Gaza not on Israel’s will. Israel is well aware that IHH came clean after all interrogations and unfounded allegations facilitated through its pawns and that it failed to abort IHH’s relief operations. IHH’s all aid activities be it in Gaza or else where are up to the international standards and in compliance with international law. The foundation is one of the NGOs that established the most efficient humanitarian aid system in the world and institutionalized it. IHH’s stance on Palestine and Jerusalem suffices for Israel’s terrorism allegations. In its 25th year, IHH will continue to deliver the aid donated to Palestine by charitable people as it has been doing since its establishment without compromising its principles and wavering its stance.
IHH regards Gaza blockade as a tool of oppression and calls everyone to join in the effort to remove it. The foundation also calls for donations to Gaza regardless of mounting threats.
Although Israel does not comply with any law international law protects humanitarian and and aid workers even in wartime. The governments are liable to protects aid workers and ease the things for them let alone preventing them from doing their job. Israel can be regarded as a mandatory by-pass point in aid to Gaza. It is not by any means an authority of approval for the aid headed to Gaza.
Based on the abovementioned reasons, Mohammed Mortaja’s arrest and prosecution is unacceptable. We would like to call out to all humanitarian relief organizations, human rights associations and aid workers from around the world to show solidarity with Mohammed Mortaja. We would like to call relevant officials and authorities to put in efforts for the immediate release of Mortaja, Turkey’s aid worker helping Palestinian people. We would kindly remind the Turkish lawyers of the importance of attending Mortaja’s trial as an observer to make sure his rights are protected as Israel courts have a notorious track record on that.
As for Gaza and all countries trying to help Gaza including Turkey, we hope and pray that the day we can reach Gaza without having to pass through Israel is near.