Alan M. Dershowitz, "Scapegoat to the world", National Post, September 17, 2005.
In this op-ed, Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz refers to NGO Monitor analysis regarding Amnesty’s misplaced blame on Israel (see below, Amnesty International Exploits "Women’s Rights") for abuse of women in Palestinian society, and to an HRW founder dismayed at the organization’s biased agenda.
(See also Alan M. Dershowitz, "Ugly iceberg of bigotry", Jerusalem Post, October 12, 2005)
The hard left’s compulsive need to single out Israel for what is often undeserved condemnation is damaging the human rights movement, weakening the anti-war movement and wounding other progressive causes such as feminism. By heaping disproportionate blame for the evils of the world on the Jewish state, these anti-Israel zealots are not only ignoring the real problems faced by many, they are also providing excuses to the perpetrators of real evils.
Consider, for example, a recent report by Amnesty International ("AI") on violence perpetrated against Palestinian women by Palestinian men in the West Bank and Gaza. The report purported to be "part of the global AI campaign to stop violence against women." Such violence is a serious problem, especially in the Arab and Muslim world, because so few leaders within these groups are prepared to condemn it and so many even justify it as a necessary means of maintaining family honour and male dominance.
The AI report documents honour killings of women who had been raped. In one such case, a 17-year-old girl was murdered by her own mother after she was "repeatedly raped by two of her brothers." In another case, a 21-year-old "was forced to drink poison by her father" when she was found to be pregnant.
The AI report places substantial blame for these and other killings on — you guessed it — Israel! Here is AI’s conclusion, listing the causes of the violence directed against Palestinian women, presumably in the order of their importance: "Palestinian women in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are victims of multiple violations as a result of the escalation of the conflict, Israel’s policies, and a system of norms, traditions and laws which treat women as unequal members of society."
The "escalation of the conflict" (which AI blames primarily on Israel) and "Israel’s policies" rank higher than the "norms, traditions and laws which treat women as unequal." The report asserts that violence against women has "increased" dramatically during the Israeli occupation and has reached "an unprecedented level" as a result of the "increased militarization of the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation." It is as if the West Bank and Gaza Strip had been violence-free for Palestinian women until the Israeli Occupation.
On Aug. 23, 2005, I spoke with Donatella Rovera, who is AI’s researcher on Israel and the Occupied Territories and asked her to provide the data on which she had based her conclusion that violence against women had escalated to an "unprecedented level" during the occupation, and especially during its most militarized phase. I also asked her whether AI had compared violence against women in the occupied West Bank and Gaza with violence against women in unoccupied Arab-Muslim areas that have comparable populations, such as Jordan. Rovera acknowledged that AI could provide no such comparative data and confirmed that the report was based on anecdotal information, primarily from Palestinian NGOs. "We talk to anyone who would talk to us," she said.
When I asked her for a list of the NGO’s that were the sources of the information, she refused to provide them because "there are things we can simply not provide to outsiders." I assured her that I was not interested in names or identifying features, but only in statistical data regarding the alleged trends cited in the report, but she still refused to provide anything more than a recommendation that we Google "pretty much all the NGOs" in the region. It is impossible under these circumstances for any outside researcher to replicate AI’s study and to confirm or disconfirm its conclusions.
The NGO Monitor, an organization based in Jerusalem which analyzes reports made by other NGOs, blasted the AI report on the ground that "Palestinian men are condescendingly excused from taking responsibility for their actions." This is true, as a careful reading of the AI report shows. Listen to the excuses AI provides: "Restrictions on movement and curfews which confine people to their homes for prolonged periods, and increased unemployment, poverty and insecurity, which have forced men to spend more time at home, as well as the increase in crowded conditions in the home, have contributed to the increase in violence against women, including sexual abuse, within the family." By providing these "abuse excuses," AI places its own political biases ahead of the interests of the female victims. The NGO Monitor correctly characterized the amnesty report as based on "biased sources" and lacking in "credibility." [emphasis added]
The AI report was brought to my attention by one of the pioneers of the human rights movement, a founder of Human Rights Watch, who is now somewhat alienated from his own movement. As a result of "their obsessive focus on Israel," he told me, "these human rights organizations are becoming part of the problem."
Even Crawford, Tex., vigil-keeper Cindy Sheehan could not resist the temptation to blame terrorism on Israel: "You get America out of Iraq and Israel out of Palestine and you’ll stop the terrorism." The fact that 9/11 preceded Iraq and Palestinian terrorism began years before there was any occupation does not seem to matter to those determined to blame the Jewish state for the world’s ills. Nor could London’s Mayor Ken Livingstone ("Red Ken") resist the temptation to compare the terrorists who attacked the London transportation system with Israeli soldiers who seek to prevent terrorism. And then there’s Alexander Cockburn, a columnist for The Nation, who claims that he lacks sufficient "exterior evidence to determine" whether the claims that Israel perpetrated both Sept. 11 and the anthrax attacks that followed "are true or not."
These are but the tips of a very large and ugly iceberg of bigotry. International conferences on feminism, apartheid, slavery and environmentalism have been unable to agree on anything other than condemnation of Israel. If real peace is to be achieved — and if human rights movements are to retain credibility — this obsessive focus by the hard left on Israel must end. There is no indication that, even as the Jewish state takes painful steps toward peace, these unjustified attacks are diminishing.
Amnesty International Exploits "Women’s Rights"
Amnesty International released a report on 31 March 2005 headlined "Israel and the Occupied Territories: Conflict, occupation and patriarchy – Women carry the burden". Reflecting this NGO’s consistent strongly pro-Palestinian political agenda, this report also blames Israel for intra-Palestinian violence against women. Rather than a significant examination of the status of women, the document, which relies on biased sources and lacks credibility, exploits this issue in the political campaign against Israel. The authors patronizingly deny Palestinian society the maturity to act responsibly, instead blaming Israeli policies for these failures.
After repeating the standard one-dimensional condemnations of Israeli policy, Amnesty asserts: "The resulting damage to the fabric of Palestinian society has deeply affected women, who have been at the receiving end of increased pressures and violence in the family and in society… and they have borne the brunt of the anger and frustration of male relatives who feel humiliated because they cannot fulfill their traditional role as providers." Furthermore, Amnesty employs the language and techniques of the 2001 Durban conference, selectively quoting the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (Preamble, paras 10 and 11)(4): "…the eradication of apartheid, all forms of racism, racial discrimination, colonialism, neo-colonialism, aggression, foreign occupation and domination and interference in the internal affairs of States is essential to the full enjoyment of the rights of men and women."
Referring to "Life under siege", without reference to Palestinian terrorism and the impact on Israeli women and families, Amnesty condemns Israeli restrictions on movements of Palestinians. Devoid of any analysis, these measures are simply dismissed as "disproportionate and discriminatory – they are imposed on all Palestinians because they are Palestinians, and not on Israeli settlers who live illegally in the Occupied Territories…They are broad and indiscriminate in their application and as such are unlawful." Amnesty ignores the context behind checkpoints and other physical barriers, and shifts the focus to the political dispute over boundaries.
Additionally, while pointing out isolated and tragic incidents that have occurred at checkpoints involving pregnant Palestinian women, Amnesty immorally erases the impact of several suicide bombings and other terrorist acts, including those carried out by or involving female Palestinians. Likewise, Amnesty ignores the clearly documented abuse of ambulances and other medical materials for terror purposes while criticizing access to medical facilities.
Amnesty relies upon a number of sources that are either politically biased or simply unreliable. The report, for example, quotes the highly politicized Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, which claims that "the rate of survival of breast cancer patients in the Gaza Strip is only 30-40%, compared to 70-75% in Israel", ignoring the obvious differences between the advanced medical facilities of Israel and those of the Palestinian Authority irrespective of conflict conditions. Many of the allegations cite anonymous Palestinians, and photos and quotes are provided by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights and Palestine Monitor, neither of which can be considered credible.
The second half of Amnesty’s report deals with societal violence against Palestinian women, in which Palestinian men are condescendingly excused from taking responsibility for their actions. According to Amnesty’s highly distorted version: "Restrictions on movement and curfews which confine people to their homes for prolonged periods, and increased unemployment, poverty and insecurity, which have forced men to spend more time at home, as well as the increase in crowded conditions in the home, have contributed to the increase in violence against women, including sexual abuse, within the family."
The report notes the lack of legal protection for Palestinian women and the inability of Palestinian law enforcement agencies to uphold the rule of law. This, Amnesty also attributes, again without serious analysis, to the Israeli destruction of "much of the PA security installations and other institutions and has prevented PA security forces from operating in much of the Occupied Territories." The chronic failure of the PA’s leadership to carry out reform of the security services is entirely ignored, and rape, family violence and ‘honor killings’ are simply blamed on Israeli actions. Thus, the absurd claims of an anonymous "Head of Palestinian Police Investigations in a West Bank town" are repeated at face value: "The Israeli army comes into the town every day, killing and abducting people, destroying houses and so on… So how can we help people there?"
To its credit, Amnesty’s report includes a short section near the end addressing female perpetrators of Palestinian terrorism. The report also includes an appendix of "Israeli and Palestinian women as victims of armed attacks". However, this minor afterthought to the main report also draws an amoral equivalence between Israeli victims of deliberate terror attacks and Palestinian women who died as an unintended result of Israeli counter-terror operations.
In conclusion, Amnesty’s latest report exploits the rhetoric of women’s rights to produce another extremist political attack on Israel, while exempting Palestinians from acting responsibly.
Alan M. Dershowitz is a professor of law at Harvard. His latest book is The Case For Peace (Wiley, September 2005)