Table of Contents
European-Funded Al Haq: Source of the Livni Blood Libel? (January 5, 2010)
Nizar Rayan & NGOs: Highlighting the Lack of NGO Credibility (December 31, 2009)
NGOs Take Law of Proportionality out of Proportion (December 29, 2009)
NGOs Claimed Hamas Police Were “Human Rights” Trainees (December 27, 2009)
On December 30, 2009, Ken Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, published an article in the Institute for Policy Studies’ Foreign Policy in Focus, claiming Israel deliberately “pummeled” civilians and “chose to ignore” the laws of war in Gaza to make innocents “pay the price for Hamas’s abuses.” As proof, Roth wrote the following:
Or as the foreign minister at the time, Tzipi Livni, said during a wartime debate in parliament: “On my way here I heard that Hamas declared the man killed by a rocket in Ashkelon ‘one of the Zionists’ despite being an Israeli Arab. They don’t make a distinction, and neither should we.” With culpability running to such senior levels of government, it is no surprise that Israel wants to rewrite the rules.
Roth’s source for Livni’s supposed remarks was a December 29, 2008, article posted in English on the website of Israeli newspaper, Yediot Ahronot. Roth, however, completely distorted Livni’s words delivered in Hebrew by claiming she was equating Gazan civilians and Hamas, thereby justifying intentional attacks on both. In fact, Livni was actually rebuking Israeli Knesset Member Ahmed Tibi for his remarks exacerbating racial divisions between Israeli Jews and Arabs. Roth omitted this context entirely from his article, including Tibi’s remarks, in order to bolster his anti-Israel slander.
This was not the first time HRW defamed Livini. In its August, 6, 2009 report, Rockets From Gaza, HRW quoted the same article and stated that “Tzipi Livni appeared to threaten Israeli reprisal attacks against Palestinan civilians.”
This distortion appears to originate with the European-government-funded Palestinian NGO Al Haq. In its January 7, 2009 document, “Legal Aspects of Israel’s Attacks on the Gaza Strip during ‘Operation Cast Lead,’” Al Haq highlighted and distorted the Livni quote. (One of Al Haq’s co-founders is a member of HRW’s MENA board and HRW often campaigns on behalf of Al Haq’s director, Shawan Jabarin who has alleged ties to the PFLP.)
It was repeated several days later by NIF- and EU-funded Adalah, and by an anti-Israel campaigner linked to ICAHD and Sabeel, Stephen Sizer. An article on Al Jazeera by UC-Irvine Professor Marc Levine spread the libel even further.
This incident emphasizes the methodological problems and lack of credibility in HRW’s “research.” HRW routinely relies on and disseminates Palestinian/Lebanese claims without any independent verification, such as it did during the 2006 Lebanon War and its false accusations on white phosphorous, white flags, and drones in the Gaza War. HRW and Roth are clearly not neutral defenders of human rights but rather ideologues that distort the facts to advance their political agenda.
Nizar Rayan & NGOs: Highlighting the Lack of NGO Credibility
Nizar Rayan, a senior Hamas military commander, and members of his family were killed in an IDF airstrike on January 1, 2009. Rayan was involved in the planning of many deadly suicide attacks on Israel and was an architect of the Hamas take-over of Gaza in 2007. He sent his own son out on a suicide bombing mission in 2001 that killed two and wounded many. Journalist Jeffrey Goldberg called Rayan, “one of the more bellicose Hamas leaders I have known”. Rayan told him in a 2007 interview that the “only reason to have a hudna is to prepare yourself for the final battle . . . Israel is an impossibility. It is an offense against God.”
Rayan’s home was part of a complex that served as a weapons storage site and command center for Hamas. Prior to the attack, the IDF issued several alerts that the buildings would be targeted including specific telephone calls and warning shots “13 minutes and 9 minutes before the strike.” Other residents heeded the warnings, but Rayan and his family decided to stay. After the strike, secondary explosions were observed, confirming the presence of a weapons cache in Rayan’s home. It is not known whether the initial IDF attack or the secondary explosions caused the resulting casualties.
Despite Rayan’s status as a leader in Hamas’ Qassam brigades and the weapons stockpile in his building, the European-government funded Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) called Rayan’s death a “heinous crime” and that its “perpetrators and their military and political leaders must be prosecuted.”
As the logistical organizer for the Arab League’s Gaza “Fact Finding” mission, PCHR also facilitated an interview with two of Rayan’s sons, one of whom dubiously claimed, “My father couldn’t imagine he would be targeted like this.” Even the Guardian noted, however, that “Rayan appeared to believe himself invincible. He refused to leave or allow his enormous family to leave their home in the Jabalia camp.”
B’Tselem also condemned the strike calling it a “grave breach of international humanitarian law” and incredulously stated that “it is hard to think of a definite military advantage that could have been achieved by bombing the house and killing Rayan” (emphasis added). Given Rayan’s status within Hamas and the weapons destroyed and command operations disrupted by the strike, it is actually quite easy to think of several “definite military advantages” that were achieved by the operation. In fact, many news outlets reported that the strike and Rayan’s death was “a severe blow to Hamas and its armed wing, Izzadin Kassam. Some Hamas supporters said on Thursday that Rayyan was more significant than Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh or senior Hamas leaders Mahmoud Zahar and Said Siam.”
Amnesty USA used the strike to issue a call for an arms embargo against Israel. The organization claimed that “[i]f we suspect [US] weapons are being used in attacks that are indiscriminately killing civilians . . . we must suspend all transfers of weapons and immediately open an investigation.”
NIF– and EU-funded Adalah used the Rayan strike as an example of an “indiscriminate” and “disproportionate” bombing, claiming it was a “war crime” and that “those who make such decisions and execute them bear personal criminal responsibility.” Adalah made several misrepresentations of international law including, incorrectly stating that international law “prohibit[s] the injury of civilians”. While civilian injury is tragic and regrettable, it is not per se illegal under IHL. Adalah also suggested, incorrectly, that “high numbers of casualties” and “massive destruction” proved Israel was engaging in “indiscriminate” attacks, even though this is not the legal standard.
The representative examples above illustrate the lack of credibility in both the factual and legal aspects of NGO coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict. They should serve as a reminder that NGOs need to be subject to the same scrutiny they demand of Israel.
At the beginning of the Gaza War, many NGOs charged Israel with engaging in “disproportionate” attacks. These claims invariably misstated the rule of proportionality under the laws of war, and were used to undermine Israel’s legitimate right to use force to stop the thousands of rockets launched at its civilians.
The law of proportionality is one of the cornerstones of international humanitarian law. The rule is articulated, for instance, in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Article 2(b)(iv) states that an attack is “disproportionate” if it causes damage or loss of civilian life “which would be clearly excessive in relation to the concrete and direct overall military advantage anticipated.” Proportionality does not require an army “to calibrate its use of force precisely according to the size and range of the weaponry used against it.” Moreover, the standard is subjective and based upon the information known to military actors prior to an attack. As “Just War” theorist Michael Walzer notes, the rule cannot be applied “speculatively.”
In sharp contrast to these clear rules, many NGOs falsely labeled Israeli operations as “disproportionate,” coupling their pseudo-legal charges with emotive “testimonies” and anecdotes from Gaza. They highlighted the number of Palestinian casualties, especially children, as compared to Israeli victims, even though, as stated by law professors Laurie Blank and Gregory Gordon, proportionality is not “measured after the fact by looking at actual civilian casualties or actual military advantages.”
Oxfam baselessly accused Israel of “massive and disproportionate violence against Gazan civilians in violation of international law.” The organization condemned Israel for an “overwhelming military response” as if the laws of war limit armies to using “underwhelming” military force. Oxfam, an aid agency, does not have the expertise to issue judgments on international legal issues.
Amnesty International researcher, Donatella Rovera, who is not a legal expert, claimed “[m]any of the attacks by Israeli forces match[ed] th[e] definition” of proportionality. This sweeping assessment, however, was unfounded given that Rovera did not possess any of the requisite information such as the “commander’s perspective at the time of the attack.” She went so far as to label Israel’s actions as “crimes against humanity.”
Al-Haq (funded by European-governments) claimed that Israel’s “widespread use of heavy artillery, tanks and F-16 fighter jets against civilian population centres in the Gaza Strip, . . . typically results in excessive incidental deaths and injuries to civilians and damage to civilian objects in flagrant breach of the principle of proportionality.” The organization, however, had no knowledge regarding Israel’s “military advantage” and therefore was not in a position to claim whether any casualties or damage were “clearly excessive.”
Christian Aid accused Israel of an “assault,” “bombardment,” and “disproportionate response.” It appeared to place sole blame for the conflict on Israel and its “blockade” of Gaza. Hamas is not mentioned once, and the only line in Christian Aid’s statement that specifically addresses rocket attacks appeared to be a veiled rebuke of Israel: “Israel has justified this latest round of intense violence on the continued firing of rockets into Israeli civilian areas from Gaza.”
Following the NGO lead, the Goldstone Report focused exclusively on the results of individual attacks, relying solely on Palestinian accounts in claiming that Israel violated the rule of proportionality. The mission presented no real analysis on “military advantage” or acceptable levels of collateral damage. Indeed, it is unclear why Goldstone even attempted to address the issue of proportionality given that he repeatedly claimed that his “fact finding” mission was not a “judicial inquiry.
In the absence of any reliable information regarding IDF targeting, NGOs and the Goldstone mission leveled charges of “disproportionality” because, according to Walzer, Israel’s operation was “simply violence they don’t like” or “it [was] violence committed by people they don’t like.” Accordingly, the “Gaza war was called ‘disproportionate’ on day one, before anyone knew very much about how many people had been killed or who they were.”
NGO Funding Notes:
Oxfam: UK, European Union
Christian Aid: UK, Ireland
Al Haq: Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, Ireland, Netherlands, Ford Foundation, Christian Aid, Diakonia (Sweden)
On December 27, 2008, the IDF attacked the Gaza City police headquarters and five police stations. Prior to the war, it had been documented that “members of the police force and the other security services were supposed to be widely integrated into Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades forces at the expense of their internal security tasks,” and Hamas police spokesman Islam Shahwan admitted that “police forces had been clearly instructed by the leadership to fight against IDF forces.”
Several studies compiled after the war confirmed that more than 75% of those killed in these strikes were indeed active fighters in Hamas’ al-Qassam brigades, making them combatants and legal targets under the laws of war.
Nevertheless, several NGOs, including B’Tselem, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), Al Mezan, and others issued numerous condemnations of this legal strike. Based on no evidence, they accused Israel of directly targeting civilians and committing “war crimes.” Although many NGOs backtracked after examining the facts, the damage of their reckless accusations of war crimes had already been done.
On December 31, 2008, for instance, B´Tselem accused the IDF of committing “war crimes” by “targeting” police personnel, claiming these individuals were not “directly participating in the hostilities”. B’Tselem repeated Palestinian claims that at the time the police were targeted, they were undergoing a “training course” on “first aid”and “human rights.” B’Tselem failed to reveal its methodology for classifying these Hamas operatives as “civilians” nor did the organization appear to do any in-depth research as to the affiliations of individual police officers before issuing its condemnation.
But, when B’Tselem issued its comprehensive review of Gaza War casualties on September 9, 2009, the organization acknowledged that “many police officers in the Gaza Strip are also members of the military wings of Palestinian armed groups” and therefore, combatants. This admission belied B’Tselem’s earlier claims of indiscriminate targeting and “war crimes.”
Amnesty made similar allegations that “[s]cores of unarmed civilians, as well as police personnel who were not directly participating in the hostilities, are among the Palestinian victims of the Israeli bombardment in the Gaza Strip.” Like B’Tselem, Amnesty presented no evidence in relabeling Hamas operatives as “civilian” police officers, or in claiming that they were not “directly participating in the hostilities.” In its report, “22 Days of Death and Destruction,” released on July 2, 2009, Amnesty noted, however, that “some of the policemen . . . killed in these bombardments were also rank-and-file members of Hamas’ armed wing” negating its claims that Israel violated the rule of distinction.
HRW also claimed, without evidence, that “ordinary police” were targeted, and that Israel made “a blanket decision that all police and police stations [were] by definition legitimate military targets.” Although HRW acknowledged that the police would have been legitimate targets if they “play[ed] a role in fighting” or if police stations were “used to store weapons or for some other military purpose,” it nevertheless accused Israel of violating “international law.”
The Goldstone report largely repeats these false NGO claims and distortions of international law, in this as well as in many other instances. The report notes that “[i]n September 2007, the Internal Security Force was established with most of its personnel coming from al-Qassam Brigades. In October 2007, Hamas dissolved the Executive Force and absorbed its personnel into the police” (para. 214). Goldstone also cited an obituary for one police officer that referred to the supposed “human rights” course (see above) as a “military refresher” (n. 255). Despite these admissions and contradictions, the report summarily dismisses all evidence inconsistent with the framework condemning Israel (see, e.g., paras. 417–420). Instead, Goldstone repeats claims by Palestinian NGO Al Mezan that the police were only “adopted” by “resistance groups” post-mortem.
Note on NGO funding:
Al Mezan: European Union, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, Open Society Institute, Ford Foundation, Trocaire (Ireland)
B’Tselem: European Union, UK, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Netherlands, Ford Foundation, Christian Aid (UK), Trocaire
PCHR: European Union, Netherlands, Ireland, Denmark Norway, Open Society Institute, Christian Aid (UK)
HRW: Open Society Institute, Trocaire, Oxfam NOVIB (Netherlands)