Summary: The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) claims to "protect human rights and promote the rule of law in accordance with international standards" and to promote "democratic culture within Palestinian society." While PCHR does an important job of describing intra-Palestinian human rights abuses, it is blatantly one-sided in its removal of the context of terror and disregard of human rights abuses committed against Israeli civilians. PCHR also supports "all the efforts aimed at enabling the Palestinian people to exercise its inalienable rights in regard to self-determination and independence," including calls for political, economic, and academic boycotts against Israel. Funding for PCHR is provided by the European Commission, Christian Aid (UK), the Ford Foundation, and other donors.
According to its web site, PCHR was founded in 1995 by Palestinian lawyers and human rights activists, and is now headed by Raji Sourani.
PCHR holds Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations and is an affiliate of the International Commission of Jurists (in May 2006 Sourani was elected to the ICJ executive), the Fédération Internationale des Ligues des Droits de l’Homme (FIDH), and the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network. These forums provide PCHR with international legitimacy and exposure. On 26-28 May, 2006 Sourani spoke at a conference in Geneva, organized by the European Coordinating Committee on the Palestinian Issue. Mr. Sourani used the conference as a platform to denounce Israeli policies of "torture, annexation of Jerusalem, ethnic cleansing, assassinations, house demolitions, and the Annexation Wall as war crimes." Mr. Sourani has also been quoted in the New York Times as saying that Israeli policies "are pushing everyone to be suicide bombers," blaming Israel for terrorism.
According to its Annual Financial Report for 2004, the most current financial information available from the PCHR, it received nearly two million dollars from international donors. Donors currently listed on the PCHR website, include Oxfam Novib (Netherlands), the European Commission, International Commission of Jurists (Sweden), Christian Aid (UK), and others. According to the Ford Foundation’s web site, it donated $370,000 to PCHR in the year 2005, but did not renew the grant in 2006.
Publications and Campaigns on Israel
PCHR frequently uses politically charged language and selectively applies human rights concepts to demonize Israel and promote a rejectionist narrative. In its "Welcome to Gaza" fact sheet, PCHR accuses Israel of committing "war crimes," "ethnic cleansing" of Palestinians, and "apartheid." The fact sheet states that Israel has a "policy of assassinating Palestinian civilians." It describes "the massive destruction in Jenin and Nablus during Israel’s April 2002 military offensive in the West Bank" but erases the context, the 2002 Passover bombing in Netanya. In the fact sheet, PCHR employs legal terminology to condemn Israel, such as: "the extensive, unlawful and wanton destruction or expropriation of property not justified by military necessity is a war crime under the Forth Geneva Convention," while discrediting all claims of military necessity.
In a June 28, 2006 press release, PCHR refers to the "military operation conducted by the Palestinian resistance" in which Palestinians attacked Kerem Shalom crossing and abducted an Israeli soldier. The press release calls on the international community to pressure Israel to open Gaza crossings, but does not condemn the illegal abduction, call for the soldier’s release, or call for him to be treated humanely as required by the Geneva Convention. In an additional example of PCHR’s biased perspective, a June 2006 press release about the Gaza beach deaths of a Palestinian family relies on controversial media footage and states that "the crime had been perpetrated with a premeditated intent to kill." (The IDF has produced extensive evidence that it was not responsible for this incident, and the cause remains unclear.) According to PCHR, "Israel’s occupation and settlement system in the OPT is a form of de facto apartheid that is the root cause of instability in the region, " ignoring the history of "instability" and violence against Israel pre-1967. In a section of statistics called "Death and Injuries during the Al Aqsa Intifada", PCHR does not list the sources or explain the methodology used to determine the numbers and demographics given, making them unverifiable.
PCHR does not attempt to address the human rights implications of Palestinian terrorism. Indeed it frequently refers to Palestinian terrorists as "activists" or as "members of the resistance."
PCHR engages in political activity based on the Durban strategy of delegitimizing and isolating Israel through boycotts and sanctions. In a February 2002 statement to the UN Human Rights Commission, PCHR called on the international community to commit to "the imposition of comprehensive arms, oil, economic and trade sanctions and embargoes (with the exception of medical food and other humanitarian supplies), the downgrading or suspension of diplomatic relations," and asked the UN "to exclude Israel from all UN-sponsored conferences and organizations." PCHR also promotes the academic boycott of Israel – a central element of the Durban strategy.
Intra-Palestinian Human Rights Abuses
PCHR devotes considerable resources on its web site to documenting human rights abuses within the Palestinian territories under PA control. A special report "Front Line Palestine," though focused on alleged human rights abuses committed by Israel, also documents "the appalling human rights record of the Palestinian National Authority," including abuses committed against journalists and women. The report notes that "threats by the [Palestinian] Security forces are indeed common within the OPT."
A large section of the PCHR website is devoted to two issues: the PLC Election January 2006, which documents Palestinian attempts to achieve democratic rule; and Security Chaos and Misuse of Weapons, which frequently comments on the intra-Palestinian violence. A June 2006 release states that "PCHR is gravely concerned over the continued escalation in the use of weapons by armed Palestinian groups and individuals, which is aggravating the state of security chaos currently plaguing the Occupied Palestinian Territory." An additional press release "calls upon all Palestinian factions and armed groups to adopt dialogue and reject violence and arms as means of resolving internal disputes, and to avoid harming civilians." (PCHR has made no similar call for Palestinian armed groups to reject violence in external disputes and to avoid harming Israeli civilians.)
On June 21 and 22 2006, PCHR held a conference on "The New Palestinian Government and the Human Rights Agenda," prominently featuring representatives from the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, including an opening address by PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniya. Topics discussed included ending Palestinian security chaos, the death penalty under the PA, women’s rights and the rights of the elderly. Although Mr. Sourani stated that "Palestinians will not forgive the enemy that kills children," missing from the conference was a discussion of the abuse of children as human shields.
Links to other NGOS
The PCHR website includes links to several radical organizations, including Stopthewall.org and Electronic Intifada , which accuses Israel of "Judaizing Jerusalem," "ethnic cleansing," "apartheid". PCHR advises supporters to divest from Israel and to "become active in your local Palestine Solidarity Campaign" including the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which organizes boycott actions and pickets and lobbies the Irish government to isolate Israel. PCHR participated in a May 2006 international conference calling for "an unprecedented mobilization of the international movement of solidarity with the Palestinian people" through "sanctions… to pressure the state of Israel." Other participants at the convention included NGOs such as FIDH, Ittijah, HaMoked and the radical Badil, which advocates the Palestinian right of return to all of Israel, a euphemism for the destruction of Israel as the state of the Jewish people. PCHR, along with Al-Haq, Adalah, and Al-Mazan, submitted a July 2006 document to United Nations member states asking them to convene an emergency session to condemn Israel’s construction of the security barrier. This submission erroneously referred to the ICJ advisory opinion as a "ruling" against the "wall" and omits any mention of the barrier’s role in preventing terrorist attacks.
PCHR’s considerable activities documenting human rights abuses under the PA are commendable, but the NGO also works to advance the Palestinian narrative, which erases the context of terrorism, and is a major proponent of the Durban Strategy. PCHR’s promotion of Palestinian rights consistently comes at the expense of the human rights of Israelis, and this selective application undermines the universality of the concepts it is applying. According to a PCHR position paper, "the fundamental principle of human rights is human security, the core of international humanitarian law is security for civilians. " To be considered credible, PCHR must fully apply this principle and recognize the right of security for Israeli civilians as well.
By Sarah Willig