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NGO Monitor Analysis (Vol. 2 No. 8) 15 April 2004

Physicians for Human Rights-Israel: Exploiting Human Rights for Political Goals

According to its promotional material, Physicians for Human Rights - Israel (PHR-I) "was established in 1988 as a non-partisan, non-profit organization, dedicated to promoting and protecting the right to health care in Israel and in territories under Israel's effective control". NGO Monitor, in a previous edition (Pictures Can Distort a Thousands Words(Vol. 1, No.1), has already examined PHR-I's claims to be non-partisan, concluding that the organization's biased and unbalanced stance is a clear violation of its mission statement. PHR-I's contribution to the demonization of Israel resulted in the Israel Medical Association's decision to sever all ties with this organization. Nevertheless, PHR-I continues to receive funding from the European Union, the New Israel Fund, the Finnish Embassy, Church organizations and private donations. This article examines some of PHR-I's activities and publications in the past year, and demonstrates that the exploitation of human rights claims for political purposes by this NGO continues.

On 17 March 2004, PHR-I issued a statement regarding the use of a Palestinian child to carry explosives. The statement referred to the disturbing incident of 15 March which saw the cynical use of a 10 year old Palestinian child to transport explosives across an Israeli checkpoint near Nablus, in the West Bank. Instead of issuing an outright condemnation of Palestinian use of children to aid the ongoing terrorist campaign of violence directed against Israelis, PHR-I joined with two Palestinian NGOs (the Gaza Community Mental Health Program (GCMHP) and Defence for Children International / Palestine Section (DCI / PS)) in order to attack Israel with the minimum amount of criticism levelled against the Palestinians.

While the statement condemned the use of a Palestinian child to carry explosives, it also condemned "the Israeli Occupation for using him in their propaganda". The statement, using emotive language, placed the responsibility on Israel, and paid scant attention to the terrorists who sought to use the child to further their violent aims. The statement calls on "both Palestinians and Israelis not to use children in military actions, nor make them the victims of such acts". By equating Palestinians with Israelis, PHR-I fails to acknowledge the role of the Palestinian leadership in encouraging children to become involved in 'armed struggle' through an atmosphere of hatred and incitement. Throughout the 3 and a half year campaign of violence directed against Israel, Palestinian terrorists have deliberately targeted Israeli children while no such equivalent policy exists on the Israeli side.

In this example, PHR-I's claim to be 'non-partisan' is again exposed as false through the organization's co-operation with Palestinian NGOs that focus on demonizing Israel. PHR-I and its partners are again shown to be incapable of recognizing Palestinian failures, preferring to concentrate on furthering an anti-Israel agenda. Similarly, a November 2002 PHR-I report, A Legacy of Injustice A Critique of Israeli Approaches to the Right to Health of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories states that "PHR-Israel believes that the State of Israel has no authority to erect checkpoints or roadblocks as a form of total control of the movement of Palestinian residents within the West Bank and Gaza Strip," thus ignoring the reasons behind the need for Israeli security measures to prevent Palestinian terrorists from acting with impunity and carrying out suicide bombings and other acts of terror against Israeli civilians.

Like most NGOs operating in the region, PHR-I has also taken an overtly political stance over the issue of Israel's security fence, being constructed for the purpose of preventing Palestinian terrorists from reaching Israeli population centers. On 29 January 2004, PHR-I took part in a demonstration "tour" in the area of Abu Dis, East Jerusalem, organized by a group known as Ta'ayush, which also included a number of speakers on the subject of the security fence. Ta'ayush advocates "concrete, daily actions of solidarity to end the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories" and has embarked upon a campaign to bring down what it terms "the Apartheid Wall". According to PHR-I's press release of 1 February 2004, (evocatively entitled "PHR-Israel tour of the Jerusalem Stranglehold"), the organization "emphasized that the wall is just the latest step in Israel's policy of separating the East Jerusalem hospitals from the communities they serve" - an entirely unsubstantiated and highly politicized claim that ignores the context of terrorism.

PHR-I's non-principled approach to terror attacks and its amoral equivalence between attacker and victim is also reflected in this press release which states, "on the day of the tour, 11 Israelis were killed in a suicide bombing on a bus in Jerusalem. On the day before, 9 Palestinians were killed. In the month of January, more than 32 Palestinians were killed and over 100 injured." PHR-I makes no differentiation between those Israeli civilians killed in terrorist acts and those Palestinians who lost their lives or were injured while engaged in hostile activities against Israeli security forces. While PHR-I is right to specifically condemn attacks against civilians, it makes no distinction between the deliberate targeting of civilians by Palestinian terrorists and the efforts made by the Israeli Defense Forces to avoid Palestinian civilian casualties while confronting the terrorists.

This amoral equivalence also appears in a press statement of 26 August 2003 in which the organization calls for medical institutions to be protected from the violence. PHR-I begins by condemning the violation of medical neutrality following an incident in which Palestinian terrorists opened fire on Israeli forces from the roof of a Nablus hospital. However in keeping with its pattern of artificially 'balancing' Palestinian misconduct with an attack on Israel, PHR-I then condemns the entry of Israeli soldiers into the hospital in order to arrest those very same terrorists who had been under treatment at the facility since the gun battle. Thus, while criticizing the violation of neutrality of the hospital, PHR-I chose to ignore the fact that the facility had lost that neutrality under international law, first when armed Palestinian terrorists chose to position themselves there, and then when they received sanctuary and treatment while hospitalised in the facility.

In other publications, PHR-I focuses on criticizing Israeli security policies rather than addressing Palestinian violence that led to the responses. In a press statement issued on 13 May 2003, PHR-I criticised delays to Palestinian ambulances in the Nablus region, under the headline "Regulations" become Synonym for Human Rights Violations". While the statement refers to a security alert in the region, nowhere is there an acknowledgement of the systematic abuse of ambulances by Palestinian terrorist organizations attempting to transport terrorists, weaponry and explosive devices through checkpoints on the assumption that medical vehicles are immune. The International Red Cross has condemned the Palestinians for this practice, and the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs documents other examples in which ambulances have been used for terror activities. None of this is reflected in PHR-I's highly politicized statement, which, also claims, without reliable evidence, that a Palestinian ambulance driver and an elderly patient, "were threatened and harassed by the soldiers before being released."

Israeli security procedures are the subject of a one-sided attack by PHR-I in a 16 September 2003 report published on "West Bank Permit Policy". The accompanying press statement uses the rhetoric of demonization, , quoting a South African writer from the Apartheid period in order to evoke comparisons with the that regime. Provocative and offensive political material reflecting also appears in a PHR-I advertisement that appeared in the 29 December 2003 edition of Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz. The cartoon implies that IDF soldiers deliberately shoot at Palestinian civilians despite the clear existence of rules governing the use of live fire and a well-defined legal system to deal with any such abuses of those regulations.

This brief examination of some of PHR-I's more recent activities has, once again, demonstrated that the organization, which claims to be non-partisan and receives European Union funding, has allied itself to overtly political causes with a distinctly anti-Israeli theme. Any semblance of 'balance' displayed by PHR-I asserts itself through the need to allocate equivalent blame to Israel and its policies even in clear cases where Palestinians have violated international law through the illegal usage of medical resources for terrorist acts to the deliberate murder of Israeli civilians in suicide bombings or other armed terrorist actions. As this evidence demonstrates, PHR-I is a Palestinian advocacy group that uses human rights to pursue this agenda.

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