NGO campaigns on Israel's Gaza policy
January 22, 2008
Click here for NGO Monitor's coverage of The NGO Front in the Gaza War.
NGO Monitor's monograph: The NGO Front in the Gaza War: The Durban Strategy Continues
[Updated: To view additional NGO statements on Gaza, and further critical analysis click here.]
In January, Israel reduced fuel supplies to Gaza following rocket barrages aimed at Sderot, Ashkelon and other cities. (Between June and December 2007, 475 missiles and 631 mortar bombs were launched; in January 2008 these attacks intensified). While the Israeli measures were limited, and designed to force an end to the attacks without resorting to a full scale military operation, the Hamas leadership sought to create an image of widespread suffering and “collective punishment”. In parallel, supporters are again pressing efforts on a UN resolution to condemn Israel.
As in the past, a number of international NGOs have joined in this campaign, including Amnesty International, Oxfam, and World Vision. (As of January 22, 2008, Human Rights Watch and Christian Aid had not issued statements.) These NGO statements and press releases use the politicized rhetoric of human rights, such as “collective punishment” and "crimes against humanity," in selective and one-sided condemnations.
Amnesty International has been the most active NGO in the current campaign, and its January 21 statement (Gaza Blockade: 'collective punishment' condemned) demonstrates the exploitation of human rights for political goals. The headline and most of the text focuses exclusively on the “Gaza blockade”, and accuses Israel of "collective punishment" – an inappropriate term used frequently to promote political objectives. While Amnesty "acknowledged Israel's right to take measures to protect its population from rocket and other attacks," this statement was disconnected from the rest of the condemnation.
In addition, Malcolm Smart, Director of Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa Programme, demonizes Israel by claiming (against all evidence) that Israel's border closure "appears calculated to make an already dire humanitarian situation worse”, one in which "the most vulnerable -- the sick, the elderly, women and children -- will bear the brunt, not those responsible for the attacks against Israel…" The Amnesty statement also incongruously claims that "the Israeli authorities cite unspecified 'security' reasons" to justify closures, erasing the use of “civil” materials for Palestinian rocket bombardment, and the incidents, including one last week in which tons of potassium nitrate used for explosives were found in humanitarian shipments from the EU to Gaza.
Oxfam’s statements parallel Amnesty’s. In a January 20, 2008 press release, this NGO accuses Israel of "collective punishment," and Barbara Stocking, Oxfam UK's executive director, blamed both sides, erasing the distinction between terror and defense (as in Oxfam's statements in November 2007 on similar issues). World Vision, a frequent contributor to such campaigns, issued a statement on January 21, 2008 headlined 'Gaza: worsening violence and humanitarian conditions' . This statement included a general condemnation of the "wave of violence between Palestinian militants and Israeli forces […]," and then focused on accusations against Israel.
Activities by Palestinian and Israel-based NGOs
As in many similar instances documented by NGO Monitor, NGOs that promote the Palestinian narrative by using the language of human rights and international law have been very active in this campaign.. The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions – ICAHD (funded by the EU), Alternative Information Centre (funded by the Irish Government via Christian Aid), Physicians for Human Rights (Israel), Bat Tsafon, Gush Shalom, and The Women’s Coalition for Peace issued a joint declaration on January 21, 2008 – 'Gaza: An Israeli Call for Urgent Action' – which accuses the Israeli government of “serious war crimes” and claims Israeli policy represents "a clear and unequivocal crime against humanity." In a separate statement issued January 21, ICAHD referred briefly to the suffering of the residents of Sderot and Ashkelon, and then blamed Israel for the "siege", which, it asserted, is the 'root cause' of all Palestinian suffering and violence, asserting “The siege is an immoral act and a violation of International Law…."
Other groups (many funded by the European Union and the New Israel Fund) including Adalah, B’Tselem, Gisha, Ha-Moked, PCHR, Al-Haq, Al-Mezan, and others, published a statement and petition on January 21, demanding an Israeli Supreme Court injunction to "prevent Israel from continuing to bar fuel from reaching Gaza." This statement repeated the slogans of the NGO campaign: "Israel’s continuing punitive sanctions against the population of Gaza are intended to harm Palestinian civilians for political purposes, and amount to collective punishment, which is illegal under international law.” (The NGOs ignored B’Tseslem’s January 16 statement headline: Ecuadorian citizen killed by Palestinian gunfire in the south of Israel. Addressing Hamas, they declared “Attacks aimed at civilians undermine all rules of morality and law. Specifically, the intentional killing of civilians is considered a 'grave breach' of international humanitarian law and a war crime. Whatever the circumstances, such acts are unjustifiable.”)
Criticism of NGO Statements
A January 21, 2008 op-ed in the The Jerusalem Post by Erik Schechter – 'Prisoners of Gaza', challenged the double-standards of NGOs such as Amnesty International and Gisha, as well as Human Rights Watch, in their condemnation’s of Israeli policy on Gaza. Schechter notes that Gisha's January 2007 report, Disengaged Occupiers: The Legal Status of Gaza (analyzed in detail by NGO Monitor), "comes off vague and arbitrary…The group offers no formula for how much 'indirect control' makes an occupation. Nor it does explain how [Israel's] domination of Gazan airspace and waters differs from an ordinary blockade."
Schechter also reports that "most other military occupations (i.e., foreign rule, troops and settlers) go unremarked upon by the human rights community," citing the conflict in Western Sahara. But "none of this registers with Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Both groups insist on calling Western Sahara a 'disputed territory' or 'Moroccan-administered' - anything but 'occupied. … This legal conservatism stands in stark contrast to the super-elastic category used for Gaza." Schecther continues: "Explaining, the contradiction, Human Rights Watch legal adviser James Ross tells me that his group uses terms "widely accepted" by the international community. True, interested parties often shape this discourse, but not to worry: The law, not the label, is what counts. And human rights law is applied to Western Sahara…"
In a separate analysis, Prof. Elihu Richter, from the Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Public Health, has noted that “There is no hope for change in the current dismal situation until the international NGO's stop applying paradigms in which the perpetrators of terror directed against entire populations are presented as the victim, and the targets of such terror are seen as the perpetrators. …Outsiders who tolerate, condone or endorse or remain silent about genocidal terror are as much a part of the problem as the perpetrators.”
 The term "collective punishment" in these statements is inconsistent with international law, morality and common sense. Article 33 of the IV Geneva Convention of 1949 states that "collective penalties and likewise all other measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited [by the Convention]". Drafted following World War II, the provision was designed to outlaw killing of civilians by an occupying power as a retaliatory response to acts of sabotage or resistance. Such acts included Nazi atrocities including the 1944 massacre of thousands of Polish civilians in Warsaw. The exploitation of this term to condemn Israel's policy in response to terror attacks reflects the politicized agenda of the NGO community.
Additional Related Articles
- Gisha’s ‘halo effect’ reflected in false claims on Fulbright/Gaza scholars, NGO Monitor, August 13, 2008
- The Myth Of Occupied Gaza, By David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey, Washington Post, May 10, 2008
- 'Dead Gazan' alive and kicking - Rights group got it wrong: Gaza cancer patient who 'died while waiting for permit' still alive, Meital Yasur-Beit Or, Ynet, May 13, 2008
- Shin Bet responds to PHR-I allegations: ´Gazans pay doctors to declare them ill´, April 21, 2008
- PCHR accuses the "IOF" of "collective punishment" in "violation of International Humanitarian Law", April 14, 2008
- Al Mezan demands international community to intervene immediately to stop Gaza Strip's humanitarian crisis, April 16, 2008
- Gisha erroneously accuses Israel of violation of international law in News Release ("Gisha Calls for Resumption of Fuel Supplies to Gaza"), April 14, 2008
- Aid groups admit Gaza report gaffe, Simon Rocker, The Jewish Chronicle, March 14, 2008.
- Gaza: Children showing signs of illness, as water supplies becomes toxic, Margo Sabella, World Vision, February 29, 2008.
- Escalating crisis in Gaza puts many children at risk,Reliefweb, March 10, 2008.
- “The Care and Feeding of an Angry Territory”. Jonah Goldberg, National Review Online, March 7, 2008, critiques NGO claims of "collective punishment" in Gaza: "Human-rights groups say Israel must provide these things because Israel is the “occupying power.” But Israel no longer occupies Gaza, which Amnesty knows.
- The International Commission of Jurists attacks Israel at the UN in an effort to extend the mandate of UN Special Rapporteur, March 6, 2008.
- Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs response to Human Rights group’s statements on Gaza, March 6, 2008: "There is no other country in the world whose border crossings, …are constantly under fire. Despite this, Israel continues to allow the flow and transfer of aid."
- Joint NGO Report on Gaza -- “The Gaza Strip: A humanitarian implosion” issued by Amnesty International; Catholic Agency for Overseas Development; CARE (CAFOD); Christian Aid; Médecins du Monde; Oxfam; Save the Children Alliance; Trócaire, March 6, 2008. See NGO Monitor response, "Press release: NGOs Use False Claims on Humanitarian Conditions in Gaza," March 06, 2008; and media coverage of the report
- Norwegian People's Aid (NPA) Calls for an immediate ceasefire, March 5, 2008: "Israel is demonstrating total contempt for civilian life in continuing its attacks on Palestinians in Gaza"
- B’Tselem Statement: "Contrary to Israel's Chief of Staff, at least half of those killed in Gaza did not take part in the fighting," March 3, 2008
- Oxfam Press Release: “Oxfam International warns of dire humanitarian consequences of full scale military incursion into Gaza,” March 3 2008
- Amnesty International issues statement on Gaza – “Children and Civilian Bystanders in Gaza Death Toll” (March 3, 2008) – claiming Israeli “attacks are disproportionate and go beyond lawful measures which Israeli forces may take in response to rocket attacks by Palestinian armed groups."
- Christian Aid statement -- “Gaza air strikes condemned” March 3, 2008 -- condemns Israel for “illegal policy of collective punishment”: “…Israel's policy of blockading Gaza is counter-productive, and is failing to achieve Israel's stated goal of a cessation of Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza…”
- NGO Monitor Update: False Claims of "Collective Punishment" in NGO Campaigns on Gaza, February 28, 2008
- Defense of the Children International, Al-Haq, Adalah, PCHR, issue joint statement to UN Human Rights Council February 22, 2008, denouncing Israel’s policy toward Gaza and the Israeli Supreme Court’s dismissal of Adalah-led petition to prevent fuel reductions.
- Op-ed in The Jewish Press ('Gaza's Palestinian Civilians Are Not Israel's Responsibility’, Feb. 13, 2008, Michael Goldblatt and Daniel Mandel), criticizes claims, including by Human Rights Watch’s Joel Stork, that Israel’s policy towards Gaza constitutes “collective punishment”.
- Amnesty International issues January 31, 2008 statement condemning Egypt's closure of its border with Gaza, demands Egypt respect "fundamental rights of the population of Gaza" to travel for supplies and medical attention; statement repeats condemnation of Israeli' 'collective punishment' voices by Israeli NGOs – including Gisha and Adalah -- in (now-rejected) Supreme Court petition.
- Defense of the Children International statement: At least 31 children killed in Gaza last week: Over a quarter of total casualties, March 5, 2007: "DCI/PS condemns, in the strongest possible terms, Israel's unrestrained use of military force against the population of Gaza." No condemnation of Hamas' use of children as human shields.
- James Ross of Human Rights Watch responds in Feb. 7, 2008 Letter to Editor of Jerusalem Post ('We Defend Rights') to Eric Shechter article ("Prisoners of Gaza," January 22 ). Summary: Ross defends HRW's application of international law, including terms "occupation" and "indiscriminate attacks"; Shechter responds, re-asserting that HRW application of international law in condemning Israel is fundamentally flawed.
- Gisha press release (Feb. 6, 2008): Starting Tomorrow [Feb. 7]: Escalation in Collective Punishment of Gaza - Further Electricity Cuts Planned. Statement lists as sponsors Adalah, PCHR, Al-Haq, Al Mezan, B'Tselem, other groups: condemnation of Israel continues after petition to Israeli Supreme Court by these groups was rejected Jan. 30, 2008.
- HRW press release (Feb. 7, 2008): 'Gaza: Israel's Energy Cuts Violate Laws of War -- Attacks by Palestinian Armed Groups No Excuse for Collective Punishment'; "rocket and suicide bomb attacks" are "war crimes", but Israel's response "must not also violate international humanitarian law." To read NGO Monitor's response to HRW campaigning against Israel's Gaza policy, which outlines HRW's double standards and undermining of universal human rights, see: HRW's Gaza Statement: Moral Muddle and False Allegations, Jan. 29, 2008.
- Israeli Supreme Court rules (Jan. 30, 2008) policy towards Gaza, fuel cuts, are legal; Gisha and Adalah -- who led appeal -- reject ruling as "dangerous legal precedent" that "allows Israel to continue to violate the rights of Palestinians.", January 31, 2008.
- Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) makes emotion-laden plea for aid to Gaza, blaming Israeli "closure" for "humanitarian crisis"; to view the advertisment (published in The Times - UK, January 25, 2008), click here.
- International Law and Gaza: The Assault on Israel's Right to Self-Defense, Abraham Bell, Jerusalem Viewpoints (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs) Vol. 7, No. 29, January 28, 2008.
- Human Rights Watch 'news release' condemns Israeli "collective punishment" - 'Israel/Gaza: Israeli Blockade Unlawful Despite Gaza Border Breach' (Jan. 26, 2008). Joe Stork of HRW claims "Israel's rightful self-defense against unlawful rocket attacks does not justify a blockade...a policy amounting to collective punishment...". To read NGO Monitor's response to HRW campaigning against Israel's Gaza policy, which outlines HRW's double standards and undermining of universal human rights see: HRW's Gaza Statement: Moral Muddle and False Allegations, Jan. 29, 2008.
- "Day of Action – End the Siege on the people of Gaza" event, Jan. 26, 2008, organized by American Friends Service Committee, with participation and publicity by ICAHD.
- Amnesty repeats condemnation of Israel's Gaza policy as "collective punishment" in additional statement, Jan. 25, 2008: (AI press release) 'Gaza must not be cut off from the world'
- Israeli Supreme Court will hear petition by Gisha, Adalah (and supported by Amnesty International), JPost, Jan. 25, 2008
- Secretary General of Norwegian People's Aid praises Egypt's handling of Gaza situation, adding: "It is time that Norway called in the Israeli ambassador for a dressing down. The situation on the Gaza Strip is extreme and requires extreme action." ( Press release, via Relief Web, Jan. 24, 2008.)
- At UN HR Council, Human Rights Watch, World Vision and International Commission of Jurists condemn Israel over Gaza situation, fail to condemn ongoing rocket attacks (UN-HRC press release, via ReliefWeb, Jan. 24, 2008).
- COHRE (Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions) issues report on Gaza – 'Hostage to Politics' (Jan. 23, 2008) – blaming Israel for "widespread denial of economic, social and cultural rights."
- Top EU official: Gaza siege not a war crime, Dana Zimmerman, YNet, Jan. 22, 2008,
- Hamas Manufacture a "Crisis," But Media Blame Israel ; Tamar Sternthal, CAMERA, January 22, 2008.
- BADIL request for over $900K featured in UN-OCHA annual aid appeal: Press Release links appeal to "closures" which "erode basic human dignity"