(Jerusalem) – As Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a report on IDF use of drones during the Gaza conflict, NGO Monitor noted the evidence showing that HRW’s research lacks credibility and uses numerous unverifiable claims.  This is consistent with an established pattern of dubious HRW allegations against Israel.  HRW even held a fundraiser in Saudi Arabia last month touting its disproportionate focus on Israel.  While Israel has long been singled out for criticism, HRW has failed to adequately investigate human rights abuses by Hamas during the conflict and employs double standards when scrutinizing other conflict zones, such as Sri Lanka.

HRW’s report, titled ‘Precisely Wrong’, makes unverifiable claims, including comments on the deaths of 12 civilians caused by a drone-launched missile. HRW claims there was ‘no known military activity in the area at the time’.  This is impossible to verify and reflects the reliance on unidentifiable ‘witnesses’ and ‘researchers’.  Similarly, in a March 2009 article on the IDF’s use of drones, HRW authors Marc Garlasco and Darryl Li cited an ‘eyewitness’ interview with 13-year old Mohammed Allaw, who, according to Palestinian NGO Al Mezan, was killed weeks earlier.

This latest HRW ‘investigation’ documents a mere 6 incidents, resulting in 29 civilian deaths.  HRW claims that Israel is consequently ‘obligated…to investigate serious violations of the laws of war’.  This demand, particularly based on such a limited study which ignores the complexities of asymmetric warfare, reveals an immoral, obsessive and disproportionate attitude towards Israel.

The report claims that 42 drone attacks killed 87 Gaza civilians according to ‘Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups’.  Yet casualty statistics provided by groups such as Palestinian Center for Human Rights are notoriously inaccurate and often include combatants under civilian claims.  (Israeli NGOs did not have access to Gaza during the conflict).

‘Precisely Wrong’ is the latest in the series of tendentious HRW ‘investigations’ which condemn Israel without credible evidence, and seek to criminalize the legitimate use of defensive weapons.  HRW’s earlier report alleging that Israel illegally used white phosphorous during the Gaza conflict was similarly based on Palestinian ‘eyewitnesses’. This followed Marc Garlasco’s highly publicized pseudo-investigation of the 2006 “Gaza beach incident”.  Although first relying on ‘Palestinian researchers’, having viewed IDF evidence, Garlasco reportedly admitted that ‘we do not believe the Israelis were targeting civilians’.

HRW’s activity on Gaza mirrors its campaigning during the 2006 Lebanon War, which also focused almost entirely on condemning Israel. In one central case, HRW falsely claimed massive casualties from an Israeli attack at Qana, and this was repeated in media headlines. This eventually led to a 48 hour halt in Israeli operations, allowing Hezbollah to re-arm, and prolonging the war. The claims were later revised.

‘Precisely Wrong’ is HRW’s second major report denouncing Israel following the Gaza conflict, and comes in parallel to a flood of reports from the ICRC, Amnesty International, and other NGOs, timed to benefit from media coverage of the Goldstone inquiry. (Goldstone resigned from the HRW board, following NGO Monitor’s exposure of the conflict of interest.)

In sharp contrast, HRW fails to condemn or report the well-documented use of human shields by Hamas.  This Hamas strategy contributed to what HRW cynically refers to as Israel’s failure to take ‘all feasible precautions’ in protecting civilians against drone attacks. In sharp contrast, HRW unequivocally criticized the Tamil Tigers’ use of human shields during the recent conflict in Sri Lanka.

NGO Monitor’s Executive Director, Prof Gerald Steinberg said, “Human Rights Watch continues its anti-Israel obsession, based on unverifiable evidence and blatant double standards.  Drones are clearly a legitimate part of the defense against terror, yet they have become the latest subject in a much wider campaign to delegitimize Israel.  This report actually highlights HRW’s lack of expertise and basic understanding of the complexities of human rights issues in combat situations.

The fact that officials recently sought funds from the Saudi regime despite its serial human rights abuses underlines the fact that Human Rights Watch has lost any moral pretense.”

Editors Notes:
Please click here to view the NGO Monitor review of HRW’s 2008 activities.

Other recent publications and reports by NGO Monitor include:

HRW’s ‘Rain of Fire’:  Neither Thorough Nor Impartial – April 2, 2009

HRW and White Phosphorous: Condemn First, Correct (Maybe) Later – January 14, 2009

Amnesty and HRW Lebanon War Claims Discredited – Dec 28, 2006

Appendix:  Responses to HRW’s press release in advance of ‘Precisely Wrong’”

1) “…. killed civilians who were not taking part in hostilities and were far from any fighting. … In three of the cases, drones fired missiles at children playing on rooftops in residential neighborhoods, far from any ground fighting at the time”.

Gaza is tiny, the entire area was used by Hamas for launching attacks, as well as preparing and storing weapons. Schools, playing fields, mosques, and other structures were used for launching deadly attacks against Israeli civilians.

2) “details six incidents resulting in 29 civilian deaths, among them eight children”.

6 incidents, 29 allegedly civilian deaths — shows the obsessive and disproportionate targeting of Israel. The context of deadly asymmetric warfare has been erased, as has the extensive use by Hamas of human shields.

3) “Israeli forces failed to take all feasible precautions to verify that these targets were combatants, as required by the laws of war, or that they failed to distinguish between combatants and civilians. …Human Rights Watch found no evidence that Palestinian fighters were present in the immediate area of the attack at the time”.

HRW has no basis for judging “all feasible precautions” and for alleged failure to “distinguish between combatants and civilians in such circumstances”. This is purely subjective, and ignores the inability to define “Palestinian fighters” consistently, as well as the extensive use of human shields.

4) “Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups have reported a total of 42 drone attacks that killed civilians, 87 in all, …”

NGOs such as Palestinian Center for Human Rights are notoriously inaccurate and generally include combatants under civilian claims. Israeli NGOs had no access to Gaza during the combat.

5) ” ‘Precisely Wrong’ is based on field research in Gaza, where Human Rights Watch researchers interviewed victims and witnesses, examined attack sites, collected missile debris for testing, and reviewed medical records”.

The sources are unverifiable, as shown in HRW’s numerous and often contradictory reports on the 2006 Lebanon War, the notorious Gaza Beach incident, and similar cases.

6) “On December 27, 2008, … a drone-launched missile hit a group of university students as they waited for a bus on a crowded residential street in central Gaza City, killing 12 civilians.  … no known military activity in the area at the time”.

Again, these claims are unverifiable.

7) “the Israeli military struck a truck that it said was transporting Grad rockets, killing nine civilians. The military released video footage the attack to support its case, but the video raises serious doubts that the target constituted a military objective – doubts that should have guided the drone operator to hold fire. The alleged rockets, the military later admitted, proved to be oxygen canisters”.

An understandable mistake under the circumstances, as acknowledged by the IDF.

8) “The Israeli government is obligated under international law to investigate serious violations of the laws of war. …  Individuals who have committed serious violations of the laws of war with criminal intent – that is, intentionally or recklessly – are responsible for war crimes”.

Such claims lose any moral or legal validity when they are applied uniquely to Israel and in an obsessive and disproportionate manner. HRW’s silence on use of human shields by Hamas is a failure of moral judgement.

9) “A fact-finding team from the United Nations Human Rights Council headed by the respected international jurist Richard Goldstone is currently investigating alleged violations of the laws of war by both Israel and Hamas. Israel has said it will not cooperate with the investigation
because the Human Rights Council is biased against Israel. Hamas has said it will cooperate”.

Goldstone’s mandate is completely biased, as is Goldstone and other members of the commission who condemned Israel during the combat, based on NGO (including HRW) and media reports. Goldstone was a member of HRW’s board of directors until recently, and only resigned after this conflict of interest was noted by NGO Monitor.

10) “Human Rights Watch found no evidence that Palestinian fighters were present in the immediate area of the attack at the time.”

HRW made similar claims in Lebanon — ignoring the overwhelming documentary evidence to the contrary as in this case — and had to retract this claim on a high percentage of cases.