On April 3, Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a 47-page report and a press release, complaining that Israel blocks its employees and those of other NGOs from entering Gaza ostensibly “to document violations of human rights and international humanitarian law (IHL) and to advocate for their remediation.” In this context, HRW references the International Criminal Court (ICC) preliminary inquiry into the 2014 Gaza War, and alleges that Israel’s restrictions “rais[e] questions not just about the capability of the Israeli authorities to investigate potential violations of the laws of war but also their willingness to do so.”
1. HRW’s main contention is both absurd and illogical. Israel’s ability to conduct its own investigations is not contingent on the activities of NGOs that lack both military and forensic expertise. If anything, NGO interference with these processes contaminate evidence and disqualify witnesses, making real investigations much more difficult.
Indeed, NGO Monitor has documented repeatedly how inquiries by NGOs into armed conflict, and in particular those conducted by HRW, are characterized by methodological problems, factual errors, and legal distortions.
HRW’s lack of capacity to investigate armed conflict is particularly acute in areas tightly controlled by terror groups as Gaza is by Hamas. Therefore, the only violations and evidence that HRW can “investigate” in Gaza are those that Hamas allows. In other words, HRW will be unable to do any credible research on co-locating of Hamas weaponry in civilian areas, plans for targeting Israeli civilians, Palestinian casualties from misfired rockets or secondary explosions, failure of Hamas to wear distinctive emblems, Hamas military operations and strategy, tunnel construction, and theft of humanitarian aid. Without this information, HRW allegations accusing Israel of “war crimes” amount to gross distortion if not outright fraud.
2. Nearly three years after the fact, the ability of NGOs to “bring relevant information to light” about the 2014 Gaza war is negligible at best. In its baseless claim that Israeli officials are “unwilling or unable” to investigate violations of the laws of war, HRW ignores the hundreds of investigations that have been completed or are in process by the Military Advocate General, does not provide any comparative criteria as to what constitutes sufficient investigations, and blatantly disregards the findings of three independent military investigations by actual experts (here, here, and here) dismissing HRW’s claims.
3. The real purpose is clear: this publication is the latest HRW attempt to denigrate Israel’s investigatory process and judicial system in order to bolster the NGO’s long-standing lawfare campaign, aimed at pushing the ICC to indict Israeli officials. The latest effort shows the absurd lengths to which HRW will go in pursuit of this ideological goal.
4. Under international law, Israel has no obligation whatsoever to allow employees of human rights organizations, or anyone for that matter, into Gaza. Pseudo-investigations and so called “fact-finding” missions do not constitute humanitarian objectives, and stand in sharp contrast with the exception when HRW staff was allowed in – “to advocate on behalf of Israeli civilians held by armed Palestinian groups in Gaza.” If anything, given repeated examples of humanitarian aid exploitation and the terror context, Israel should be especially cautious about allowing NGOs into Gaza.
5. This publication reflects HRW’s on-going obsession with Israel and its decision to hire a virulent BDS activist to head its “Israel/Palestine” desk. Does this issue deserve a 47-page report? The same question pertains to the extensive legal acrobatics, reminiscent of current HRW’s “Israel/Palestine Advocacy Director” Sari Bashi’s previous work from her time as executive director of Gisha.
6. The Associated Press was a major vehicle for publicizing HRW’s report. The article was written by Fares Akram, who used to work for HRW; his previous affiliation with HRW was not disclosed in the articles.