1) Letter from Aharon Eviatar, Chairperson, Amnesty International, Israel Section, in response to NGO Monitor 2:10 – Amnesty International Update – 2004 Annual Report

23 June 2004

I wish to thank you for asking me to respond to the review of the Annual Report of Amnesty International on Israel, the Occupied Territories and the Palestinian Authority for 2003. We regard your comments as important and welcome the opportunity to relate to them.

First, in order to remove any doubt, it should be made clear that while Amnesty International is an apolitical human rights NGO, it is obvious that your publication has a clear political agenda. A cursory glance at your home page makes this clear. I bring up this point to emphasize that while Amnesty International is not a side to any international conflict in the word and strives for truth, credibility and objectivity, you obviously have a clear bias. This is legitimate, but should be made clear.

With respect to the regional conflict and the occupation of lands conquered in the Six Day War, Amnesty has no position or does it seek to influence or preempt any negotiations that may take place. It does, however, regard the Fourth Geneva Convention as the relevant international law binding on Israel as an occupying power and as a state contracting party to the Convention. It regards it as its duty, therefore, to call to international attention violations of the Convention as well as general human rights violations. Since 2001, the mandate of Amnesty International includes Economic, Social and Cultural human rights, as well as the classical human rights agenda as enshrined in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948.

What you refer to as the one-sided nature of the Report reflects the asymmetry in power and military capabilities of the two sides and the burden of responsibility of Israel as an Occupying Power. All acts of terror and attacks against civilians carried out by Hamas, Jihad or other such paramilitary organizations have been condemned emphatically by Amnesty International. In 2002, it issued a statement defining suicide bombings as a Crime Against Humanity in the definition of International Humanitarian Law. I had the privilege of being in the delegation that presented the Hebrew version of this Amnesty International document to President Katzav and he expressed his satisfaction that such a step had been taken. Our organization has consistently called upon the Palestinian Authority to prevent such attacks and certainly cannot be accused of treating attacks against Israelis lightly.

The statements in the Report about collective punishments, destruction of agricultural production capabilities and the restrictions on movement of Palestinians to the detriment of their ability to earn a living are all based on fact and verified by various different and independent sources. All these actions are violations of the Geneva Convention. The response of Amnesty International to the claim of the IDF that these restrictions are essential for the security of the settlements in the West Bank and Gaza is that, since the settlements themselves constitute a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, steps taken to protect them at the expense of the human rights of the Palestinian civilian population are illegal as well. Despite this, Amnesty International maintains, and has always maintained, that the civilian residents of the settlements are a protected population and attacks against them are not legitimate, totally independent of the disputed legality or illegality of the settlements themselves.

Amnesty International has always opposed the death penalty as a sanction imposed by a judicial process. It follows a fortiori that executions carried out outside a judicial process in which the accused is given no opportunity to defend him/herself are totally unacceptable under International Humanitarian Law. Dressing up the actions by putting the words extrajudicial execution in quotation marks and describing the assassinations as "targeted killings" does not create legitimacy for a manifestly illegal act.

One could go on indefinitely with such arguments, but I would like to summarize by pointing out that the blatant political bias in your report, which implies that any act of brutality and oppression by the IDF is by definition justified contrasts unfavorably with the objectivity, fairness and commitment to human rights of the Amnesty International report. Amnesty International is neither pro nor anti Israel or Palestinian, as it takes no sides in other conflicts around the world. Our sole concern is the protection of Human Rights as enshrined in International Humanitarian Law and various UN Conventions. Today Amnesty International published a report on Chechnya and Ingushetia that was highly critical of the Russian government and army and their systemic violation of human rights. It does not follow from this, no matter what the Moscow newspapers may shout, that we are pro or anti Russian in this dispute. The defense of fundamental human rights is the total substance of our activity around the world, independent of whatever political feathers we may ruffle.

2) NGO Monitor’s response to Aharon Eviatar, Chairperson, Amnesty International, Israel Section

Dear Prof. Eviatar,

One of NGO Monitor’s goals is to engage in serious exchanges regarding the political activities of the NGOs that claim to promote universal human rights. On this basis, we welcome your letter and criticism of our analysis of Amnesty International’s Annual Report.

At the same, your letter highlights Amnesty’s blatant political agenda and its exploitation of the rhetoric of human rights. In contrast to the claim that "Amnesty International is not a side to any international conflict in the word", the evidence does not support this blatantly subjective assertion. Amnesty’s highly selective use of human rights norms and very selective appropriation of international law to support the pro-Palestinian political agenda is reflected directly in the rhetoric of the reports and press campaigns.

Indeed, you appear to be unaware of the unconcealed political content of your attempts to justify Amnesty’s pro-Palestinian bias on the basis of the myth of "asymmetry in power and military capabilities of the two sides". This assessment is driven by a political and ideological agenda, based on subjective points of reference, and entirely irrelevant to human rights issues. Ostensibly weaker powers can and often do use unacceptable violence against civilians, such as smashing planes into buildings, blowing up busses, or killing hundreds of children by taking over a school. Claims of power imbalance and the subjective assignment of the role of victim to Palestinians, regardless of their actions, permeate the political campaign being waged against Israel at the UN, by the NGOs and on university campuses. These are false and inappropriate measures for assessing ethics and human rights issues, and I strongly urge Amnesty’s leadership to drop this false linkage.

Furthermore, if Amnesty’s claim to take an apolitical approach to human rights issues in this region were more than an empty slogan, this NGO would have given far greater emphasis to Palestinian terrorism, which has violated the most basic human right – the right to life – for Israelis and other victims. And if Amnesty were apolitical in its actions, and not only in its self-promoting advertisements, it would not join in the demonization of Israel as displayed in the notorious 2001 UN Conference on Racism that took place in Durban.

Similarly, by using such sharply politicized terms as "war crimes", "collective punishment", "assassinations" etc. to condemn Israeli policies against terrorism, Amnesty continues to promote the Durban agenda of hatred and in support of terror. These policies, including the separation fence that Amnesty campaigns against, have succeeded in saving many lives and are, in themselves, an important reflection of human rights.

There are many other examples of the use of the human rights fa?ade for political purposes in your letter. You are correct that Amnesty has condemned some acts of terror by Hamas, Jihad, etc., but like most of Europe’s politically correct diplomats, Amnesty is unwilling to specify the Palestinian Authority’s direct responsibility for terror. The most Amnesty was willing to do was to call politely on the PA (meaning Chairman Arafat) "to prevent such attacks". And such requests by Amnesty pale in comparison to the resources used to condemn Israel for taking actions to defend against such terror.

The difficulties posed by the terrorism and wars that have been imposed by Arab rejection of Israeli sovereignty, including the need for security checkpoints, separation barriers, and counter-terror activities are well known, and reasonable people can disagree about the best and most humane approaches. And no doubt, Israelis, like other human beings, make mistakes, and these need to be recognized. However, when Amnesty and other NGOs systematically ignore and trivialize the complexities of legitimate responses to terror, thereby joining the political war against Israel’s right to self-defense, this process strips human rights norms of all meaning.

Gerald M. Steinberg
Editor, NGO Monitor