Published On: Wed, May 15th, 2013

Will Israel-Turkish Relations Go Back to Normal Again?


By Ece Koç*

Morocco News Tribune

Ankara, Turkey | On March 22nd, Prime Minister Netanyahu apologized to Turkey for the killing of nine Turkish citizens and one dual American citizen on the Mavi Marmara flotilla three years ago. The Turkish Prime Minister accepted this apology.

Thus the three year-story that put a strain on the friendship of two good old friends came to a happy ending. This was great news not only for these two countries, but it was a historical moment for the region as well. Both countries are allies of the United States and they surely will play a key role in the stability of the Middle East. No one can deny the importance of the alliance between these two strong and stable countries in the region in terms of ending the various conflicts in the region and bringing democracy. Turkey is a great Muslim country with its democracy, contemporary lifestyle, and its interpretation of Islam. These qualities make it a very strong and important ally for USA, Europe and Israel in the region as it can be a bridge between Muslims and the rest of the world. Israel on the other hand is a democratic country that has the right to live in their fathers’ lands and they need a strong, reliable, sensible and peaceful friend such as Turkey to ensure their security and peace in the region.

And that’s not all; Turkey also has the potential to be a role model for other Islamic countries with the peaceful and democratic structure it has. Furthermore, it can be a leading light in the democratization of the region and its tradition of love and protection for others and take the lead in making the region the beautiful, peaceful and safe place it deserves to be.

The apology might have come after a long wait by the people on the both sides; nevertheless the events that unraveled could not impair the deep-seeded love the two sides had for each other. Indeed, the two people never really lost the love they had for each other. The friendship and history was too strong to be smothered by one incident.

That’s why when I first heard about this, although I wasn’t completely surprised, I still felt great joy and hope and I immediately shared the news with my friends. Everyone was very happy to hear it, because the simple truth is the Israelis and the Turks wanted to move on and leave that artificial political problem behind a long time ago. My joy was shared by my Jewish friends as they kept flooding my inbox with good messages of hope and congratulations.

It wasn’t only us; the people of both sides had waited for this good news. World leaders, the rest of the world wanted it too and not just that, they most likely could tell it was coming too. And it was the right decision, the sensible one, because no sensible leader would allow this untoward incident to impair and sever the ties we have had for such a long time, especially when the region very much needs our solid friendship, for its security and stability.

So what about some news on the mainstream media about the alleged alienation between the two peoples? Is there any truth to that? I personally think that the affect was minimal and only in the beginning. The truth is Turks never hated Israelis nor did the Israelis hate the Turks. On the contrary, throughout their history , they always loved one another and considered each other as brothers.

Indeed, contrary to the misconceptions prevalent in the media, Muslims always had great love, respect and compassion for the People of the Book, due to the commands of the Qur’an ordering love and respect for them. For instance, in the time of the Prophet Mohammed, he once had Jewish guests and he took off his cloak and laid it on the floor so his Jewish guests could sit on it before they started their conversation. And obviously the Prophet Mohammed is, and should be, the role model for every Muslim. Furthermore, he had both a Jewish and a Christian wife. During the time of the Caliphate of Umar, Jews, Muslims and Christians lived side by side peacefully.

In 638, when Jerusalem was surrendered to the Muslims, Umar (the first caliph), requested to be led to the Temple Mount, an acknowledgment of Islam’s acceptance of the Hebraic prophetic tradition. After reaching the Temple Mount, the caliph found himself disgusted on seeing that some people had heaped garbage in the sacred enclosure to express their contempt for the Judaic faith. Umar, out of respect for the Jews, ordered the area to be cleansed, an act which also prepared the sacred Jewish site for Muslim worship. And from time to time, he personally helped clean the area. Umar fulfilled the hopes of Jews by refusing the church’s request to continue the ban against Jewish residence and invited them back into the city. After approximately 500 years Jerusalem again included a Jewish community. Jews, long banned from living in Jerusalem by Christian rulers, were permitted to return, live, and worship in the city of Solomon and David.

Another example of Muslims’ respect for People of the Book, was when Umar was given a tour of the city, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. When the time for prayer came, Sophronius invited Umar to pray inside the Church, but Umar refused. He insisted that if he prayed there, later Muslims would use it as an excuse to convert it into a mosque – thereby depriving Christendom of one of its holiest sites. Instead, Umar prayed outside the Church, where a mosque (called Masjid Umar – the Mosque of Umar) was later built.

During the Spanish inquisition, when the Jews were persecuted, the Ottoman Empire opened their doors to them and hosted them in the most decent and beloved part of their lands; the beautiful city of Istanbul. Turks offered a hand of friendship and brotherhood to the Jews, and Jews returned the favor with loyal love and friendship. Turkey was also the first Muslim country to recognize state of Israel in 1948. nNo one should overlook the fact that in May 2010, Turkish President Abdullah Gul called upon Hamas to recognize the State of Israel. So no matter who says what, the love of Turks for the Jews is a fact. This is a tradition for us. The love, compassion and protection we felt and showed for Jews is an undeniable historical fact, and it will not stop because of one regrettable incident .

The same thing goes for the Jewish people. I know very well that Israelis have a profound love and respect for the Turkish nation. One of my guests on my show ‘Building Bridges’ said that Jews’ love for Turks is very warm and deep and he even saw one shop in Jerusalem which found a way of boosting its sales by promoting its bakery as the ‘Turkish borek’. The two people even have similar characters, traits, tastes. This could be put to a test with a poll; I am sure that such a poll would clearly prove to the whole world, the real love felt by the people on both sides, despite any seeming rifts between the leaders.

Indeed, although diplomatic relations suffered after the incident, the trade between the two countries increased .In 2011, Israel exported $4 billion U.S. dollars worth of commodities to Turkey, which exceeded what Israel exported to Canada. In 2013, it is forecasted to be $5 billion U.S. dollars. Turkey has exported $2.3 billion U.S. dollars worth of commodities to Israel, making Israel the sixth largest customer of Turkey. With the recently discovered Tamar natural gas fields in the Mediterranean Sea, Turkey has requested being a customer for this Israeli natural gas.

All these facts make it clear that we have a very strong friendship that won’t be overshadowed or impaired by one incident that no one wanted in the first place. We should not be stuck in the past; we must forgive and leave the mistakes behind to start a new page. We must do this for the sake of peace in the Middle East and the freedom of future generations. This friendship will play a great role in ending the oppression in Syria, bringing democracy to it, ensuring Israeli-Palestine peace and accelerating democratization of key Middle East countries such as Egypt. By standing shoulder-to-shoulder as friends, we can make a better tomorrow for us all. 

*Ece Koç is a graduate of the University of Istanbul, where she studied economics. She is Executive Director of the NGO “Building Bridges.” She organizes and interviews foreign delegations/guests for the program; she’s also a guest columnist and blogger. Additionally, she’s an International Affairs coordinator, and has organized and attended major interfaith conferences in her official capacity such as the Second Istanbul World Political Forum, the 21st Congress of the Union of Islamic Communities, The First International Balkan Conference, the Istanbul World Forum, and Science for Peace.