If hundreds of rockets are launched from Gaza at Israeli civilians and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are silent, are these attacks war crimes?
Since March 9, Palestinian groups have fired 200 rockets into Israel’s major southern cities, injuring civilians and causing normal life to come to a standstill. Schools were closed and more than one million people were impacted. Each deadly, indiscriminate, and unjustifiable rocket attack constitutes a war crime.
Yet NGOs, and in turn the media, were remarkably numb to this occurrence. Think about the number of rockets — 200. But Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, B’Tselem, and other NGOs that claim to care about universal human rights failed to condemn the rocket attacks. How were 200 war crimes not the major headline for every group claiming a human rights mandate in the region?
These NGOs – which obsess over Israel’s actions and have issued numerous condemnations premised on false information – did not condemn blatant attacks on civilians. And this lack of action goes against their own stated principles.
B’Tselem, for example, claims to “promot[e] a future where all Israelis and Palestinians will live in freedom and dignity.” If this were true, each attack would have been quickly and unequivocally condemned. Instead B’Tselem waited until March 12 to issue a brief, weakly-worded statement that absurdly treats IDF and terrorist groups as morally equal. Similarly, HRW and Amnesty claim to be “defending human rights worldwide” and “working to protect human rights worldwide,” respectively, and yet neither of their websites noted the rocket attacks, their violation of international law, and the impediment they create for peace in the region.
While this is not a right-wing or left-wing issue, those claiming a liberal, pluralistic human rights agenda would seem to have special interest in condemning attacks against civilians, particularly on such a massive scale. Silence by NGOs again reveals that while these organizations operate under a façade of human rights, they often are more concerned with pursuing their own politically driven agenda that includes demonization of Israel. Rocket attacks against Israeli civilians do not fit this agenda or the required narrative.
The silence from NGOs is most striking when compared to the numerous, swift condemnations against Israel that often follow defensive operations. During the Second Lebanon War, for example, HRW published its “Fatal Strikes” report, alleging indiscriminate attacks and incorrectly reporting casualty figures from an Israeli Air Force operation in Srifa. In a five-day period that included three HRW op-eds on the incident, the NGO first reported 42 dead civilians, then 26, then 19, then 42 again, and then 26 again. One year later, after a number of observers cited evidence that most of the casualties were Hezbollah fighters, HRW admitted the “serious inaccuracy in its initial ‘Fatal Strikes’ report, concluding that those killed were civilians, not fighters.”
Similarly, Amnesty entirely misrepresented the August 18, 2011 terrorist attack against Israeli civilians near Eilat. Amnesty’s statement drew a false equivalence between cold-blooded murder and self-defense that targeted those responsible. Without any evidence, Amnesty officials also implied that Israel was in violation of the prohibition of “harming civilians.” In fact, the evidence demonstrated that Israel’s response was extremely precise – targeting the terrorists responsible for the murderous attacks.
When NGO superpowers act irresponsibly, this has a tangible, negative impact on the organizations’ ability to effectively address real human rights violations. Since NGOs drive the agenda in international arenas, their silence in the face of the Palestinian bombardment of Israelis is also consistent with the predictable lack of action at the UN – no special meeting is held, and no UN resolution is passed that condemns these international law violations. Just as the NGO community was unprepared for recent events in Egypt, Libya, and Syria, its obsession with perpetuating the narrative of Israel as the aggressor again hinders its ability to uphold morality and protect human rights for all.
Jason Edelstein is communications director of NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based research institution dedicated to promoting universal human rights and to encouraging civil discussion on the reports and activities of nongovernmental organizations, particularly in the Middle East.