Focus: Durban II update: NGOs advancing anti-Israel events
In the days preceding the Durban Review Conference (April 20-24 in Geneva), two scheduled NGO events in Geneva will repeat the virulent anti-Israel agenda that marked the NGO Forum in 2001. As opposed to the 2001 Forum, both events lack official UN support and far fewer participants are expected, demonstrating the impact of NGO Monitor’s reports to funders. Still, the main goals of demonization, distortions, and media coverage remain the same.
Organizers of a related event, the "Civil Society Forum" (April 17-19) have been presenting themselves as the representatives of all NGOs. In reality, however, they represent a small group of marginal NGOs, including Nord-Sud XXI, a Libyan-linked group that has issued statements accusing Israel of "genocide," "apartheid" and "atrocities." The president of the Conference of NGOs (CONGO), Liberato C. Bautista, has called for participation in the Civil Society Forum, but this is an individual endorsement ignoring the decision of the organization not to participate or support it. The Civil Society Forum is hosting a working group on the "Plight of the Palestinian People and fragmentation of their rights," the only nation-specific topic to be discussed. Other topics include "Intensified forms of discrimination after 9/11, in particular ethnic and religious profiling."
Additionally, the Civil Society Forum is advertising a "large public demonstration with activists" to be held on April 18, 2009; the Israel Review Conference organizers are also promoting the demonstration. Based on the 2001 Durban precedent, this event is likely to be inflammatory, include offensive antisemitic slogans, and possibly violent.
Al Haq Director -- High Court finds that alleged involvement with "terrorist entities" continues
On March 13, 2009, the Dutch Geuzen Resistance Foundation awarded a "human rights defenders" prize to B'Tselem and Palestinian NGO Al Haq (funders include Ford Foundation, Christian Aid, the Netherlands, Irish Aid, Norway, and Diakonia). Al Haq's director, Shawan Jabarin wanted to personally receive the award in the Netherlands, but was denied a travel visa based on his alleged position as a "senior activist" in the PFLP terror organization. Many NGOs including B'Tselem, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued condemnations of the Israeli government and demanded Jabarin be allowed to travel. Representatives of the Dutch foundation called the denial "shocking," and HRW also wrote a letter to the Dutch government seeking intervention and calling Israel's decision "arbitrary." Both HRW's letter and its statement omitted any reference to Jabarin's ties to the PFLP. As prior NGO Monitor analyses have shown, this is not the first time HRW has obscured information regarding Jabarin's terrorist links.
Jabarin brought a petition to the Israeli Supreme Court to reverse the travel restriction (his third in the past 18 months). A hearing was held on March 5, 2009, and the court allowed for a second hearing on March 9. Representatives of the Dutch Government and several NGOs, including Gisha, Front Line Defenders, PCATI, Yesh Din, ACRI, the Minerva Center, and Oxfam attended the hearing in support of Jabarin. On March 10, the Court upheld the government's visa denial because "the material pointing to [Jabarin's] involvement in the activity of terrorist entities is concrete and reliable" and that "additional negative material concerning [Jabarin] has been added even after his previous petition was rejected." These findings are in accord with decisions by other panels of the Supreme Court such as a June 2007 decision holding that Jabarin
"is apparently active as a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, in part of his hours of activity he is the director of a human rights organisation, and in another part he is an activist in a terrorist organisation which does not shy away from acts of murder and attempted murder, which have nothing to do with rights, and, on the contrary, deny the most basic right of all, the most fundamental of fundamental rights, without which there are no other rights – the right to life."
Oxfam's pro-Palestinian campaigning – abusing charity status
According to news reports, following a letter from Oxfam (a British NGO with quasi-autonomous international branches), and in consultation with the group, the British Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs met on March 31, 2009 "to discuss the draft of new, voluntary guidance on origin labeling" regarding the West Bank. Mike Bailey, Oxfam's representative in Jerusalem, expressed concern that "if the produce is not clearly labelled, consumers are denied the opportunity to make an informed choice, so they may unwittingly be supporting an illegal occupation." In contrast, critics noted that this type of political activity was entirely out of Oxfam’s mandate, could deprive Palestinians of badly needed employment, hurt successful examples of economic cooperation, and was a step towards legitimizing wider boycotts against Israeli products. Oxfam officials have ignored Palestinian abuse of aid for terror attacks, and this highly biased charity has also been silent in the face of Palestinian violations of international law.
Oxfam is also supporting a program to spray-paint messages on the Security Barrier, with the goal of "encourage[ing] Palestinians living in the West Bank."
Oxfam's pro-Palestinian campaign was very active during the Gaza fighting, featuring false international legal claims, a webpage that featured tendentious blog entries, and calls for increased diplomatic pressure and demands that the EU and other international bodies suspend agreements with Israel (no similar demands were presented with respect to Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, or Iran). In fact, the BBC and Sky News refused to air a television appeal on behalf of Palestinian victims by an Oxfam-affiliated charity on the grounds that it would jeopardize the broadcasters' impartial and objective stance on the conflict. Oxfam's biases are inconsistent with claims to focus on humanitarian activities.
PCHR's Gaza casualty claims – the debate continues
On March 24, 2009, the Israeli army (IDF) released data on 1166 Palestinians killed during the fighting in Gaza (January 2009): 709 were affiliated with Hamas and other terror organizations, while 295 were classified as "uninvolved [in hostilities]." (The IDF has not yet identified 162 individuals.)
This contrasts sharply with the claims of NGOs Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) and Al-Mezan and the Palestinian Ministry of Health, that the casualties were "mostly civilian." For instance, PCHR includes "255 non-combatant police officers" amongst the civilians, which accounts for part of the discrepancy. This classification, however, ignores evidence that these individuals were not "civil police" and that Hamas websites have announced that many were members of the Qassam Brigades. Also, senior Hamas military leaders, such as Nizar Rayan (whose home functioned as a command center and weapons' warehouse) and others, are listed as civilians.
Additionally, PCHR's credibility has been questioned in a report by CAMERA: "PCHR includes in its civilian toll individuals identified by other sources as combatants and omits any mention of several slain senior fighters from terrorist groups. The omission of several publicized Hamas commanders should raise suspicion that other Hamas fighters have been omitted from its statistics." CAMERA also concluded that "[a]n analysis of the fatalities by age and gender shows that the majority of civilian fatalities recorded by PCHR are males between 15 and 50 years old, the same age profile as the combatants. This should raise concern that significant numbers of combatants may have been misclassified as civilians."
On March 19, 2009, Ha'aretz newspaper published the "testimonies" of Israeli soldiers, graduates of the Oranim Pre-military Academy led by Danny Zamir, alleging human rights violations during the fighting in Gaza. Though the accounts, which were later refuted, were based entirely on hearsay and speculation, and Danny Zamir wrote that "individual accounts were never intended to serve as a basis for broad generalizations and summary conclusions," NGOs adopted these claims without verification and presented them as evidence of widespread Israeli abuses.