After the escalation of the ongoing Gaza conflict last week, several political advocacy Israeli NGOs claiming to promote human rights published highly biased and politicized allegations. As in the past, these NGOs insinuate that Israel is guilty of war crimes and related violations, usually without providing any evidence or proof. Some of the statements reflect core bias and contrast with the silence when Israeli human rights are violated.
- These Israeli NGOs, including Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-I), B’Tselem, Gisha, Adalah, Breaking the Silence, and Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) are funded, in part, by the New Israel Fund (NIF).
- In previous conflicts, a number of NIF-funded groups played a major role in advancing false accusations of alleged Israeli crimes, contributing to demonization campaigns. As demonstrated in NGO Monitor’s comprehensive research, NIF grantees were centrally involved in promoting and submitting allegations to the Goldstone Mission on the December 2008-January 2009 Gaza conflict.
- On November 15, NIF CEO Daniel Sokatch wrote that “many members of the New Israel Fund family will work to assist the most vulnerable Israeli citizens, both Jewish and Arab, who are living within range of the rocket fire.” This worthy objective stands in sharp contrast to the highly politicized and prejudicial statements that have been made by some of NIF’s grantees.
- As the evidence clearly shows, the NIF-based NGO network had remained silent in the weeks preceding the latest fighting, characterized by escalating indiscriminate rocket attacks from Gaza – each one a war crime – targeting Israeli civilians and population centers. These NGOs only acted after Israel killed Hamas terrorist commander Ahmed Jabari, on November 14, 2012.
- With the important exception of B’Tselem, none of the NIF-linked NGOs published a separate press release condemning the rocket attack that killed three Israeli civilians in Kiryat Malachi.
- Gisha (the Legal Center for Freedom of Movement) repeated the pseudo-legal reference to Israeli policy on Gaza as “collective punishment.” This rhetoric ignores obvious security needs, most notably the prevention of weapons smuggling, and Israeli emphasis on targeting terrorists and sparing civilians.
- NIF-funded Adalah joined the radical Palestinian Al Mezan NGO in a statement alleging that the “Bombing of Civilian Media Building in Gaza Constitutes a Serious Violation of the Laws of War.” Misstating the law as well as the facts, they neglected to note that the IDF was targeting Hamas’ communications infrastructure, a legal military objective under international law.
- PHR-I’s delegitimization agenda was evident in a statement claiming that “the lives of residents of Gaza and southern Israel have lost their value and have become but a tool in the cynical political arena.” The group also retweeted a call encouraging Israeli soldiers to refuse orders, which was later removed from its Twitter feed. Such biased statements are inconsistent with the medical focus claimed by PHR-I.
- A joint statement signed by PCATI and a group of Palestinian and international NGOs called for an “urgent intervention” by the UN Human Rights Council, ignoring Israeli victims and focusing on “violations of international law committed in the occupied Palestinian territory.” These NGOs are working with the UNHRC, dominated by the world’s most abusive regimes, seeking to establish another Goldstone-like report falsely attacking Israel.
Physicians for Human Rights – Israel (PHR-I)
Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI)
Breaking the Silence
Physicians for Human Rights – Israel (PHR-I)
PHR-I was the first NIF-funded NGO ($1,145,350, 2006-2011) to respond publicly to the escalation in fighting. In its statements, PHR-I uses innuendo and political opinions that have no connection to human rights, medicine, or international law, creating the false impression that Israel is the aggressor, and that it needlessly endangers the lives of Gazan medical personnel and civilians.
“’Physicians for Human Rights – Israel’ call decision makers to refrain from an attack on Gaza that may cause many victims in Gaza and Israel,” November 14, 2012
“Many years of neglecting the advancement of peace and ongoing occupation have led us once again to disaster. Instead of taking brave action, lifting the closure on Gaza and allowing Gaza's residents freedom of movement as well as the security of residents of southern Israel, we are facing another war….A true and honest care for the fate of residents of Gaza and southern Israel has little to do with another military attack, whose timing, just before elections, raises concern that the lives of residents of Gaza and southern Israel have lost their value and have become but a tool in the cynical political arena.”
1) This is a personal (and legitimate) political opinion, with absolutely no medical content
2) PHR-I’s silence on the hundreds of Hamas war crimes targeting Israeli civilians and its shrill allegations that the Israeli government is acting solely “in the cynical political arena” and of using an “empty display of force” reflect a political bias and double standards that are inconsistent with claims to promote universal human rights.
Retweeted by PHR-I (later removed from their feed), November 15, 2012: “Calling and encouraging all #israeli soldiers on duty to refuse orders and disobey. Don't take part in the slaughter of the innocents. #GAZA”
Analysis: By removing this tweet, PHR-I acknowledges that this message was highly offensive and inappropriate.
“Worrisome testimonies regarding obstruction the orderly function of emergency and rescue teams in Gaza strip,” November 17, 2012
“The destruction of infrastructure, such as roads, causes difficulties and delays reaching the wounded. In some cases the blocked roads, created by potholes resulting from bombings, or demolished houses blocking streets, do not allow clear transfer of ambulances. Thus, the paramedics are required to walk and carry the wounded while endangering their lives and arriving to the wounded with delay, with time being of the essence, creating the difference between life and death.”
Analysis: PHR-I’s statement makes vague claims that are unverifiable and not supported by any evidence.
B’Tselem, “the leading Israeli organization addressing human rights” ($1,369,258 from the NIF, 2006-2011), did not publish any statement during the rocket attacks targeting Israelis starting October 22, 2012. After the assassination of Jaabari and the death of three Israeli civilians, B’Tselem published two press releases condemning the rocket attack and attempting to address the implications of the fighting. While B’Tselem acknowledges Israeli efforts to minimize damage to civilians, it asserts without providing evidence that “Israeli officials are now using the conduct of Palestinian organizations to justify harm to Palestinian civilians.” B’Tselem also uses this occasion to repeat the disproven claim that Israel ignored the principle to “minimize as much as possible harm to civilians” during the 2008-2009 Gaza war.
“Learning the Lessons of the Past to protect Gaza civilians,” November 15, 2012
“As was the case four years ago, Israeli officials are now using the conduct of Palestinian organizations to justify harm to Palestinian civilians. The military has committed itself to doing its utmost to minimize harm to civilians. However it also emphasized that it is not responsible for harm inflicted to civilians.However, this position is fundamentally flawed. The fact that Hamas combatants and other organizations operate contrary to the law does not automatically justify Israeli actions that harm civilians. The fact that one side violates the law does not give the other side the right to violate it as well. Israel is still bound by the duty – legal and moral – to use all the means at its disposal to minimize as much as possible harm to civilians, despite Hamas' illegal conduct.”
Analysis: To date, the collateral damage ratio in the current Gaza hostilities based on the number of IDF operations is the lowest of any conflict in the history of warfare. As a result, in order to maintain its political narrative, B’Tselem tries to raise the specter of violations by Israel since there is no evidence that Israel has violated any of the laws of war. B’Tselem claims that “Israel is still bound by the duty . . . to minimize as much as possible harm to civilians . . .” and indeed, that is exactly what the IDF has done.
“3 Israeli civilians killed from rocket fire by Palestinian organizations in Gaza,” November 15, 2012
The Palestinian organizations that fire the rockets and mortar shells into Israel openly declare that their objective is to kill civilians. As B'Tselem has repeatedly noted, aiming an attack at civilians is immoral and constitutes a war crime. The Hamas government in Gaza must take all lawful means at its disposal to stop the rocket and mortar fire. The Palestinian organizations must stop aiming attacks at civilians. The persons who carried out these attacks, were involved in their planning and commission, or whose position obligates them to prevent such attacks, bear individual criminal responsibility for the rocket fire.
Gisha ($132,115, from the NIF in 2006-2011) claims “to protect the freedom of movement of Palestinians, especially Gaza residents.” In its publications Gisha often falsely accuses Israel of collective punishment, and mistakenly claims that Gaza is still occupied despite the full Israeli withdrawal in 2005. Gisha ignored the massive rocket fire from Gaza that began on October 22. But, during this escalation, Gisha director Sari Bashi continued making distorted legal claims, and accused Israel of “collective punishment.”
“Update on activities at the crossings in the wake of escalation,” November 15, 2012
“We watch with concern as the escalation in Gaza and in the south of Israel claims the lives of and injures civilians and damages civilian property.”
“No To Collective Punishment In Gaza,” Sari Bashi, Open Zion, November 16, 2012
“Despite Israel's withdrawal of settlers and permanent ground military positions from Gaza in 2005, it continues to exercise control over Gaza's crossings. That control creates obligations, under the law of occupation, to allow people in Gaza the kind of access necessary for normal life, including the ability to market goods in the West Bank and Israel and to travel to the West Bank. International law allows combatants to fight combatants. It does not allow armies to punish civilians in retaliation for the acts of militants.”
Analysis: As with many Gisha statements, Bashi perpetuates the false claims that Gaza is still “occupied” and that all of Gaza’s crossings are controlled by Israel, despite Gaza’s shared border with Egypt. She also continues to distort the legal concept of “collective punishment” which addresses collective penal punishments, and has nothing to do with economic trade or entry policies. Bashi fails to provide any constructive solutions for dealing with deliberate attacks on Israeli civilians from Gaza (each one a war crime and collectively, crimes against humanity), and instead, relies on empty slogans and platitudes.
Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI)
PCATI ($114,388, 2006-2011) was silent on rockets launched at Israeli civilian areas, and instead joined a number of Palestinian and international anti-Israel NGOs, calling for a special session of the UN Human Rights Council.
“Call for Special Session of the Human Rights Council in the Gaza Strip : Violations of International Law Must End,” November 16, 2012
“The undersigned national, regional and international human rights organisations call upon the international community to urgently convene a Special Session of the Human Rights Council in order to address the escalating situation in the Gaza Strip. The intensification of hostilities in recent days and hours has resulted in widespread death and destruction, and concrete evidence indicating the commission of war crimes by both parties. Due to the nature of the situation, precise casualty figures are unavailable, as fieldworkers continue to investigate both previous and ongoing attacks...During the last large-scale offensive on the Gaza Strip, civilians paid the price of political inaction. We must not allow history to repeat itself.”
Analysis: In fact, these NGOs do not, and cannot, produce evidence that supports the claim that Israel has committed “war crimes.” Instead, as part of the “Durban strategy,” they are now turning to the biased UN Human Rights Council, controlled by the world’s most abusive regimes, in the hope that under this immoral framework, another condemnation and Goldstone-esque investigation of Israel will take place.
Adalah failed to condemn rocket fire aimed at civilians in southern Israel. The single joint press statement published by Adalah (with Al-Mezan, a Palestinian NGO which in the past has utilized offensive rhetoric), reflects distorted, and even false factual and legal claims.
“Adalah and Al Mezan to Israeli Military Advocate General: Bombing of Civilian Media Building in Gaza Constitutes a Serious Violation of the Laws of War,” November 18, 2012
“...following complaints received about the intention of the Israeli army to demolish the “Al-Shoroq Tower”, also called the “Journalists’ Tower” in Gaza City, Adalah and Al-Mezan Centre for Human Rights in Gaza sent an urgent letter to Military Advocacy General (MAG) Brigadier General Danny Efroni calling to refrain from any further attacks on the civilian building....Under international customary law, civilian objects enjoy full protection from any attack. Attacks must be limited strictly to military objectives. Insofar as objects are concerned, military objectives are limited to those objects which by their nature, location, purpose or use make an effective contribution to military action and whose total or partial destruction, capture or neutralization, in the circumstances ruling at the time, offers a definite military advantage.”
Analysis: There is no evidence that Israel intended to “demolish the ‘Al-Shoroq Tower’” or that the target was “civilian” as claimed. In fact, the IDF precisely limited its attack to Hamas communications installations on the roof of the building. One of those installations was connected to Hamas’ Al Aqsa Television, a Specially Designated Global Terrorist by the US Treasury Department. In addition, Adalah and Al Mezan incorrectly claim that “civilian objects enjoy full protection from any attack.” Under international humanitarian law, if civilian objects are being used for military objectives, they are indeed legitimate targets. It is also highly disturbing that these organizations offer no condemnation of attacks emanating from within civilian areas and of the commandeering of civilian infrastructure by Hamas and other terrorist organizations in order to launch indiscriminate attacks on Israeli civilians. This selective reporting is immoral.
Breaking the Silence
Breaking the Silence is an NIF funded NGO ($523,342, 2006-2011) with a central role in the dissemination of false “war crimes” accusations against Israel. The organization appears to be attempting to rekindle these accusations. In a tweet from November 18, 2012, BtS promotes the groups unverifiable testimonies from the 2008-2009 Gaza war, drawing a comparison between the “crimes” committed then and the current Israeli defensive operation: “We encourage you to read through the testimonies again in light of current events. #pillarofdefence #GazaUnderAttack http://t.co/lXumNfWu”