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Turkey, once a friend, now accuses Israel of committing war crimes

Turkey's President Tayyip Erdoğan presents economic program forecasts in Ankara, Turkey, Sept. 6, 2023. (Photo: Murat Cetinmuhurdar/PPO/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo)

There was a time, not so many years ago, when Turkey was the holiday destination of choice for Israelis, and why not? The flight was about 50 minutes long, the luxurious resorts and hotels were a fraction of the price to those in Israel, the food was second to none, and the magnificent landscapes were jaw dropping. 

In fact, most shop owners in the endless rows of shuks and other markets were known to speak a bit of Hebrew as a result of their constant exposure to Israelis who are notorious shoppers and beloved by these merchants whose businesses flourished during this open-door tourism period that did so much for their economy.

But then the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident occurred, which resulted in the death of at least nine passengers when Israeli commandos raided the Turkish ship as it sought to break Israel’s blockade of then-Hamas-controlled Gaza. As a result, the once close relations enjoyed by Israel and Turkey became terribly strained, causing Ankara to completely break off relations with Jerusalem. Needless to say, Israeli tourism all but completely disappeared for a while. 

It wasn’t until sometime in 2022, when Israeli President Isaac Herzog visited Turkey to meet with their president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that things started to shift. That same year, acting Prime Minister Yair Lapid announced that Israel and Turkey decided to restore full diplomatic ties, which included the return of their ambassadors to one another’s country. 

Although there were still concerns here and there, one of them being the arrest of an Israeli tourist in 2021 for innocently photographing Erdoğan’s palace during a boat trip, Israelis continued to travel to the bevy of vacation spots for which the country is well known. 

Those days have now come to a screeching halt as Israel has recalled their diplomats and warned its citizens to immediately leave Turkey on the heels of Erdoğan declaring that “Israel has been openly committing war crimes in Gaza.” 

In addition, the Turkish president “reiterated his remarks that Israel is an ‘occupier,’ and Hamas was ‘not a terrorist organization.”

Such statements have necessitated a “reevaluation of the relations between Israel and Turkey,” per Israel’s Foreign Minister Eli Cohen’s post on X. Erdoğan is now on a mission, warning: “Israel, we will proclaim you as a war criminal to the world. We are making our preparations, and we will declare Israel to the world as a war criminal.”

But Erdoğan’s short memory will end up backfiring on his own country, many of whose citizens greatly appreciated the warm relations that were had between the two countries. Even amidst the massive, devastating Turkish earthquake of 2011, Israel graciously offered to provide aid in the form of prefabricated houses, but their response was that “it will not change Ankara’s principled demands from the Israeli government nor will it alleviate tense ties between the two countries.”

Then again, in 2023, when yet another devastating earthquake occurred, this time in the southern part of the country, Israel organized Operation Olive Branch, an earthquake disaster relief effort which included search and rescue teams, as well as the setting up of an operational field hospital, within 24 hours. 

One has to wonder how tangible gestures of caring, sympathy and needed manpower are returned with the proverbial slap in the face by calling us war criminals as we try to defend our citizens from the murderous terrorists whom Erdoğan represents as freedom fighters. It really makes you wonder about the type of values that he holds, as he’s able to turn a blind eye to the well-documented, monstrous atrocities, which are the work of brutal savages who have no regard for human life. 

If the same acts had been perpetrated upon his own people, would he not have immediately declared a full out war on the terrorists who invaded Turkey in order to shed innocent blood and take over 200 hostages, including babies, young children and the aged? Who, on earth, is Recep Tayyip Erdoğan? Because surely the Turkish people deserve better in a leader!

In a May 11, 2023 article entitled: “Turkey’s choice could not be starker: more cruelty under Erdoğan, or the return of justice and hope, the writer, Turkish journalist Ece Temelkuran, describes Turkey as having been in a straitjacket that it has worn for years, stating, “If the regime wins, we will be mourning a country that once was, that could have been.” He likened the upcoming election to “a clash between the forces of autocracy and democracy, between cruelty and basic morals.”

But despite the formation of six opposition parties coming together, Erdoğan still pulled off a win. They say that he has set up massive prisons where dissidents are sent after mock trials. For those who ever saw the film, “Midnight Express,” those images still conjure up fear and horror of what awaits anyone who meets that kind of fate. And it could happen to anyone, since Erdoğan refers to “half the nation as the enemy within.”

Being himself accused of having committed war crimes in Syria, he cannot afford to lose his grip on Turkey because he could end up being tried in international courts, so he continues to rule with an iron fist, projecting on Israel, a democratic country the very same thing of which he has been accused. Given the fear that he exudes, we can only imagine that the opposition is kept in check by the kind of cruel ruler that he is. But history has shown that even his ilk has a shelf life, and once it expires, the people of Turkey may very well return to the warm friendship our two people enjoyed for so many years.

Erdoğan has proven that he is able to viciously turn on his neighbors in a nanosecond, because even his own people, short of his loyal constituency, mean nothing to him. It is in the midst of his noxious, disgusting rants that I wish the Turkish people the end of their nightmare with a heartless, unconscionable tyrant who has shown us all that with friends like him, you don’t need enemies! 

A former Jerusalem elementary and middle-school principal and the granddaughter of European Jews who arrived in the US before the Holocaust. Making Aliyah in 1993, she is retired and now lives in the center of the country with her husband.

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