Summary: ReliefWeb is a UN-based and funded information service that works closely with the NGO network to promote their reports, agendas and campaigns under the guise of humanitarian aid and human rights. This service claims to have 70,000 subscribers, and its website is used by many more. While the official UN affiliation provides the image of credibility and objectivity, as the following analysis demonstrates, this is often not the case. Many of the reports on Arab-Israeli issues are copied directly from biased NGOs pursuing an anti-Israel agenda. As a result, ReliefWeb should also be viewed as biased and unreliable.
ReliefWeb claims to be the "world’s leading on-line gateway to information (documents and maps) on humanitarian emergencies and disasters. An independent vehicle of information, …, it provides timely, reliable and relevant information as events unfold, while emphasizing the coverage of 'forgotten emergencies.'" Established in 1996, it is administered by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and has an annual budget of US$2 million (2005).
ReliefWeb acts as an international news service, providing emergency updates, a map centre, details on appeals and funding, an on-line library of reference materials covering humanitarian policies, listings of job and training opportunities and a contact directory of humanitarian organizations. NGOs feature prominently among these resources (which appear online and are sent to its 70,000 member subscriber list).
ReliefWeb officials emphasize the "Occupied Palestinian territory", which it lists as one of 8 "Selected Disasters & Emergencies" in the "Appeals and Funding section," together with Sudan, Iraq and Somalia. As the following report demonstrates, NGO Monitor analysis has found a high degree of cooperation between ReliefWeb and the politicized NGOs that promote biased agendas on the Israeli- Arab conflict. In addition, ReliefWeb fails to check the reports it sends for credibility, reliability, neutrality and independence. In this process, ReliefWeb fosters the "halo effect," whereby NGO credibility is artificially boosted by participation in this international forum, and acts as a channel for information on funding opportunities.
The damage caused by ReliefWeb's role as a major disseminator of biased NGO claims is illustrated in the 2006 "Lebanon Crisis". Three thousand documents were posted on ReliefWeb by 260 "information providers", of which 154 were NGOs, and as NGO Monitor has shown, many of these reports were both factually incorrect and designed to condemn Israel. For instance, ReliefWeb posted a Human Rights Watch press release on August 3, 2006, based upon unreliable eyewitness testimony, alleging that there was no Hezbollah presence in Qana prior to the attack there on July 30, and that the IDF in its operations in Lebanon “deliberately targeted civilians.” Reports by the media, the UN, and independent research have all discredited HRW’s claims. In another example, an August 1, 2006, Caritas press release posted by ReliefWeb, condemned Israel for killing “more than 50 civilians, mostly women and children“ in [the Qana airstrike]. ReliefWeb posted this statement even though an “HRW official on the scene said the death toll was 28” and that same day (July 30), the Red Cross, in an official press release, also put the number of dead at 28. Whether all of the dead were civilians is disputed as well.
In addition to its reporting on the 2006 Israel-Lebanon War, ReliefWeb regularly re-publishes claims produced by NGO "information sources" regarding the "Occupied Palestinian territories," (in contrast to the legal term “Palestinian Authority”) These NGOs include Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, Amnesty International, B'Tselem, CARE, Caritas, Christian Aid, Defence for Children International/Palestine Section, Fédération Internationale des Ligues des Droits de I'Homme, Human Rights Watch, Mennonite Central Committee, Médecins du Monde, Médecins Sans Frontières, Oxfam, Pax Christi International, Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, and World Vision. These claims generally provide one-sided accounts of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; exploit international legal and human rights terminology; erase the context of terrorism; and absolve the Palestinian Authority for responsibility in Palestinian suffering.
On April 23, 2007, ReliefWeb published a “field report” from Norwegian People’s Aid entitled, “The Forced Starvation Diet of the Palestinian People.” The statement includes a highly emotive story of a family struggling with hunger. NPA attributes the family’s situation to the alleged loss of their house nearly four years ago in an IDF operation in Rafah. The statement goes on to blame the economic situation in Gaza on “crippling sanctions”, “the politics of nations”, and “Israel’s restrictions on movement and livelihood”. No mention is made of Palestinian corruption, factional in-fighting or terrorism as causes of Palestinian suffering, nor is there mention of how tens of millions of dollars in international aid have gone unaccounted for by the Palestinian Authority.
ReliefWeb published a Badil press release on April 20, 2007, regarding commemorations for the Palestinian “Nakba” entitled, “Palestinians unite for freedom from occupation and the right of return.” The statement refers to the “Apartheid Wall” and “Palestinian displacement from the occupied city of Jerusalem.” The “right of return” is deemed a “sacred right which must not be prejudiced.” The release thanks the British National Union of Journalists for its “support of a consumer boycott on Israeli products” and goes on to call for “world-wide boycott activation” in order to hold Israel “to account for the war crimes committed against the Palestinian people and the people in the region.” The release ignores the hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees who were displaced from Arab countries in 1948, the history of Arab rejectionism, the centuries-old Jewish community of Jerusalem, and war crimes committed by Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah against Israeli civilians.
NGO Monitor has written to ReliefWeb to request that its reports be added to its pool of resources, to further the dissemination of “timely, reliable and relevant information,” and promote accountability in the pursuit of human rights within the framework of the Israeli-Arab conflict (see letter below). Despite numerous attempts to contact UN officials, we are yet to receive a response.
In summary, the evidence of bias in NGO Monitor's analysis of ReliefWeb points to the need for a detailed investigation of this UN organization's activities, leadership and links to the politicized NGO network.
Text of Letter:
March 25, 2007
I am writing to request that NGO Monitor be added to the sources contributing regular content to ReliefWeb. NGO Monitor provides independent and source-based analysis, promoting accountability and critical debate on the reports and activities of human rights and humanitarian NGOs in the framework of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
As a “global hub” for “time-critical” information on humanitarian aid, it is imperative that the sources available on ReliefWeb be accurate and impartial. Yet NGO Monitor has found that the site consistently publishes material from NGOs that exhibit a strong political bias and whose research lacks credibility. The result is a lower quality service by ReliefWeb and unwarranted kudos for such NGOs, whose humanitarian or human rights focus is often distorted by their highly politicized agendas.
Examples include Relief Web's extensive use of NGO material to provide information on the conflict in Lebanon in August 2006. For example, ReliefWeb re-published 15 Human Rights Watch (HRW) releases and 8 Amnesty International statements throughout the conflict, and continued to publicize these NGO campaigns for investigations into Israeli actions after the ceasefire. NGO Monitor's constantly updated analysis of NGO statements during the conflict, showed at the time that Amnesty and HRW reports relied on eye witnesses with low credibility and erased key context. And our December 28, 2006 report provided documented and photographic evidence (from the broader Israeli Center for Special Studies investigation) showing that many of Amnesty and HRW's claims were false.
ReliefWeb also provides extensive material from Al Mezan, which claims to promote "internationally accepted standards of human rights" and "the democracy building process" in the Palestinian Authority. NGO Monitor’s research demonstrates that this NGO pursues a radical political agenda, including promoting claims of "Israeli war crimes" and inflammatory pictures, while ignoring Palestinian terrorism.
Relief Web aims to "assist the international humanitarian community in effective delivery of emergency assistance," and this requires an accurate understanding of the humanitarian and political situation. Our NGO index provides independent source-based, analysis of many of the NGOs included in Relief Web's "information sources" page on the "Occupied Palestinian Territory." The addition of NGO Monitor to ReliefWeb’s pool of resources will further the dissemination of “timely, reliable and relevant information,” and promote accountability in the pursuit of human rights within the framework of the Israeli-Arab conflict.
Response from ReliefWeb:
Mr. Gerald Steinberg,
13 Tel Hai St.
Jerusalem, Israel 92107
4 May, 2007
Dear Mr. Steinberg,
Thank you very much for your interest in ReliefWeb and your offer to contribute to the project's information sharing efforts.
ReliefWeb's mandate is to strengthen the response capacity of the international humanitarian community through the timely dissemination of reliable information, as endorsed by 1997 United Nations General Assembly Resolution 51/194.
More than 150 documents are posted daily from over 2,500 different sources, including the UN system, governments, non-governmental organisations, academic institutions, and media. ReliefWeb information managers assess source organisations and documents based on their utility to the humanitarian community.
In respect to coverage of Occupied Palestinian Territories, ReliefWeb publishes humanitarian information from over 140 sources, including over 30 government bodies, over 40 UN and international organisations, over 40 NGOs, and a range of news and media outlets. We republish documents from these sources with primary concern for timeliness, accuracy and relevance to support for delivery of humanitarian assistance.
We are always seeking to improve comprehensiveness of coverage for all Complex Emergencies and Natural Disasters on ReliefWeb and welcome information that is directly relevant to delivery of assistance, especially in the sectors of Agriculture, Education, Food, Health, Infrastructure and Rehabilitation, Mine Action, Protection, Refugees and IDPs, Security, Shelter, Water and Sanitation, or Coordination and Support Services.
Please note that we make every effort to verify reliability, adherence to humanitarian principles, and organizational transparency; responsibility for reports originating outside the United Nations system, however, is solely that of the authors, as stated on the ReliefWeb site.
For non-governmental organisations seeking to share information relevant to the humanitarian community we would also ask for submission of an Annual Report with details of funding sources, and any endorsements from recognized bodies, such as membership of a relevant association, or official standing, such as Observer or Consultative status with a body such as ECOSOC.
Thank you again for your inquiry.
Click here for response from OCHA, May 18, 2007