On December 19, 2010 Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a 166-page report entitled “Separate and Unequal,” accusing Israel of discriminating against Palestinians in the West Bank on the “basis of race, ethnicity, and national origin.” The manufactured allegations of racism erase the context of a protracted and intense conflict, and ignore the legitimate security needs of Israel. 

In contrast to HRW’s claims that they are engaged in “constructive criticism,” the report exploits human rights by condemning Israel. This reinforces HRW founder Robert Bernstein’s conclusion that the NGO “has been issuing reports on the Israeli-Arab conflict that are helping those who wish to turn Israel into a pariah state” – in particular the Arab League, which is pursuing anti-Israel UN resolutions regarding these issues. 

NGO Monitor’s analysis details significant flaws with HRW’s report, including:

1) Faulty methodology:
The majority of “Separate and Unequal” is based on secondary sources that HRW did not independently verify, including outdated and no-longer relevant material. Politicized advocacy groups relied on by HRW include Who Profits (Coalition of Women for Peace), Al Haq, Badil, EAPPI, OCHA, B’Tselem, Bimkom, Yesh Din, and Ir Amin. The claims of these organizations lack credibility.  

At times, HRW misrepresents the data from the NGO reports. For instance, HRW grossly inflates B’Tselem statistics regarding the alleged number of Palestinian civilian deaths. According to HRW, B’Tselem claims that “Israeli security forces killed 1823 Palestinian civilians” in the West Bank between 2000 and August 31, 2010.  According to B'Tselem, however, 479 of these casualties were “Palestinians who took part in the hostilities;” B’Tselem adds that “it is not known” if an additional 411 of the casualties “were taking part in the hostilities.” 

HRW’s  also relies on anecdotal interviews with 66 Palestinians and 8 Israelis, including Dror Etkes of Yesh Din and Limor Yehuda of ACRI. Meir Margalit, a Jerusalem City Council member with close links to ICAHD, is also referenced by HRW. 

2) Misrepresenting international law:
Significant portions of HRW’s indictment are based on a tendentious version of human rights norms and international law.

Exploiting language that invokes the U.S. civil rights movement, “Separate and Unequal” accuses Israel of “different treatment, on the basis of race, ethnicity, and national origin and not narrowly tailored to meet security or other justifiable goals,” and condemns the violation of “the fundamental prohibition against discrimination under human rights law.” HRW provides no basis for these claims which seek to portray the Arab-Israeli conflict as a dispute motivated by alleged Jewish race-hatred of Arabs, rather than one based on competing national and territorial claims.  Many of these charges are based on propaganda originating from the PLO's Negotiation Affairs Department.

HRW repeatedly asserts that statements made by various UN bodies place legal obligations on Israel.  But, none of these sources are legally binding.  Despite HRW's claims to the contrary, the applicability of various bodies of law to Area C remains a highly controversial and contentious debate among legal scholars and authorities.  In addition, HRW invents various legal obligations that do not exist anywhere in international law.

HRW complains about the allocation of duties and obligations to Israel mandated by the Oslo Accords, yet ignores that these agreements were fully negotiated and accepted by the PLO.

HRW’s reliance on the non-binding and widely discredited advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice of July 2004 is yet another example of its selective use of international law.

3) Promoting the BDS agenda:
The report is another step in HRW’s support for the BDS (boycotts, divestment, and sanctions) campaign, which specifically calls for the destruction of Israel, as stated in the 2001 NGO Durban declaration. (HRW was a major supporter of the NGO Forum and has supported BDS in the past.) 

HRW repeats previous demands of the U.S. government to sanction Israel by withholding security assistance “in an amount equivalent to [Israel’s] expenditures on settlements and related infrastructure in the West Bank.” Additionally, HRW is advancing a campaign by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and others against “tax-exempt organizations that support settlements and settlement-related activities.”  

The allegations of racial discrimination against Palestinians (see above) allude to apartheid claims, and are integral to attempts to promote the BDS movement against Israel.

4) Open vs. closed societies:
The work of HRW’s Middle East and North Africa (MENA) division reflects a myopic focus on Israel, while ignoring chronic human rights abuses in the region. NGO Monitor’s quantitative analysis of HRW’s 2010 MENA output (forthcoming) reveals that, as in previous years, HRW has produced more documents and reports on Israel than on any other country in the Mideast. 

HRW devotes disproportionate resources to condemnations of Israel. “Separate and Unequal,” the longest report issued by MENA in the past two years (166 pages), is the third in-depth report on Israel in 2010. In contrast, in 2010, HRW released a five-year study on Saudi Arabia (“Looser Rein, Uncertain Gain,” September 27, 2010) totaling only 52 pages, and a ten-year survey documenting abuses in Syria (“A Wasted Decade,” July 16, 2010) was only 35 pages. As noted in NGO Monitor’s analysis of “Looser Rein,” HRW downplays the most egregious examples of Saudi Arabia’s systematic abuse of human rights, and does not issue the harsh recommendations it directs toward Israel. In particular, HRW does not call for an end to US military assistance to Saudi Arabia.

5) Examples of misrepresentations:

Access to water: The HRW report condemns Israel for the differences in per capita water allocation between Israel and the West Bank. However, as noted in a Jerusalem Post editorial, HRW ignores important context about the development of Palestinian water, including Israel’s role in drastically increasing connections to piped water and exceeding the requirements set down in the Oslo Agreements. Moreover, there is no discussion of the lack of infrastructure improvement by the Palestinian Authority, which is responsible for costly leakages. (Amnesty International has made similarly false claims about the water issue.)

King David’s Garden: HRW alleges that “Residents of Al Bustan appear to be particularly at risk of further home demolitions and forced displacement because of a plan, developed and promoted by the municipality that envisions turning Al Bustan into a tourist attraction.”  This implies that the Jerusalem municipality conceived of these plans as a pretext for evicting Arab residents.  In fact, both the Ottomans and the British recognized the historical significance of the site and preserved it as a public space. The buildings in question were constructed illegally in the past 20 years. Moreover, the Jerusalem municipality has drawn up plans for building new homes to compensate the owners. 

Conclusion: HRW’s distortion of the Arab-Israeli conflict
“Separate but Unequal” is further evidence of HRW’s ongoing focus on the Arab-Israeli conflict and on advancing allegations of Israeli violations. By adopting the language and tactics of the BDS movement, and masking them in the façade of human rights and international law, HRW contributes to the global campaign to demonize and delegitimize Israel.