House of Cards: NGOs and the Goldstone Report
- The NGO network actively promoted the Goldstone inquiry, supported claims of a “balanced” mandate, and attacked Israel for not cooperating. In turn, Goldstone bolstered NGO credibility by relying on their publications, ignoring biases and false claims, praising their “high professional standard,” and defending them against “repression” from the Israeli government.
- The report includes more than 500 direct citations from politicized NGOs that lack credibility, as well as 120 references to or citations from UN agencies, such as OCHA, which often repeat NGO claims.
- The reliance on statements, publications, and submissions from highly politicized and biased NGOs is inconsistent with the claim to have conducted a “fact finding mission.” By adopting the flawed methodologies and false claims from the NGOs, Goldstone renders his entire report and its conclusions invalid.
- Conflicts of Interest: Goldstone and other members of the commission have close links to HRW, Amnesty International, PCHR and other politicized NGOs. Staff researchers Sareta Ashraph has been involved with pro-Palestinian NGOs and “lawfare” campaigns.
- Goldstone, following many NGO publications, ignored the international legal prohibition against incitement to genocide, and the evidence submitted that included many examples of Hamas and Iranian incitement against Jews.
- The report cites to a PCHR report condemning the closing of Hamas “humanitarian organizations” as a “flagrant violation of the right to association.” This is in direct opposition to the international legal obligation to fight terrorism and its financing.
- The report duplicates HRW and other NGO allegations regarding the Abed Rabbo family, describing family members as “credible and reliable witnesses.” In contrast, NGO Monitor found more than 14 different recorded versions of the family’s story.
- The radical NGO affiliations of some witnesses were hidden. For instance, Jonathan Pollak, referenced on 5 occasions, is a leader of Anarchists Against the Wall, and has ties to the International Solidarity Movement which provokes violent confrontations with the Israeli military.
- Number of NGO citations in the report
- NGO Conflicts of Interest among Goldstone Mission Staff
- Adoption of NGO Interpretations of International Law
- Distortion of NGO statements that did not fit Palestinian narrative
- NGOs and Factual Claims
- NGO quotes in the section on “Repression of dissent”
- Quid pro quo: The symbiotic relationship between NGOs and Goldstone
- Appendix 1: Listing of NGO statements of support for Goldstone
Number of NGO citations in the report
Note: The following data are based on systematic analysis of the preliminary Goldstone report, published September 15, 2009. Additionally, we note that in places, the report refers to NGO officials without mentioning their affiliation to a particular organization. These ambiguous references may not be reflected in our analysis.
The information below includes direct and indirect mechanisms by which NGO allegations are reflected in the report. In the category of direct reliance, we include NGO publications, as well as interviews with and testimony from officials. The report includes than 500 such references. The category of indirect reliance includes 120 references to or citations from UN agencies, such as OCHA. Many of their reports and information provided are based solely or primarily on NGO claims.
The direct references to the most frequently cited NGOs include:
- B’Tselem: 56 citations
- Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR): 50
- Al Haq: 40
- Adalah: 38
- Human Rights Watch (HRW): 36
- Defence of Children International – Palestine Section (DCI-PS): 28
- Breaking the Silence: 27
- Amnesty International: 27
Thus, it is clear that the report relies overwhelming on the allegations of these political NGOs, and does not constitute an independent fact-finding mission.
NGO Conflicts of Interest among Goldstone Mission Staff
Several members of the Goldstone Mission have had significant links to NGOs, including HRW, Amnesty International, and PCHR. These same NGOs were among the most cited in the Goldstone report. These connections, which were not disclosed by the Mission, call into question the ability of panel members and staff to objectively evaluate information submitted by these organizations. These conflicts are in clear violation of the International Bar Association’s London-Lund Guidelines for Fact Finding Missions.1
- Three members of the Mission – Goldstone, Hina Jilani, and Desmond Travers – signed a March 2009 letter initiated by Amnesty International and widely publicized, stating that “events in Gaza have shocked us to the core.”
- The fourth member, Christine Chinkin, who declared Israel’s actions to be a “war crime” and delegitimized Israel’s right to self-defense while the fighting in Gaza was still underway, was also previously a consultant to Amnesty International.
- Goldstone mission staff researcher, Sareta Ashraph, is a UK lawyer and amember of Amnesty International who has a history of anti-Israel political activity. For instance, in 2003, she was an organizer for a Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights “lawfare” lecture given by Raji Sourani, head of PCHR, and chaired by Daniel Machover, the attorney responsible for filing PCHR’s 2005 case against Doron Almog and a leading proponent of lawfare. Ashraph also worked in the West Bank on “investigations of allegations of violations of international humanitarian law following ‘Operation Defensive Shield’ in 2002.”
- Francesca Marotta, Head of the Secretariat UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, is a long-time employee of the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights as Coordinator of the Methodology, Education and Training Unit, Research and Right to Development Branch and the “UNHCHR officer responsible for the Occupied Palestinian Territories.” In 1997 and 1999, she held meetings with PCHR.
- As previously reported by NGO Monitor, Goldstone was an HRW board member at the time of his appointment. Although he stepped down after NGO Monitor pointed to this conflict of interest, his mission has been vigorously promoted by both HRW and Ken Roth. Goldstone’s September 17, 2009 oped in the New York Times closely echoed language from a September 16, 2009 HRW press release. (In this time frame, HRW was forced to suspend and open an investigation of “senior military expert” Marc Garlasco, who co-authored a number of reports targeting Israel.)2
Adoption of NGO Interpretations of International Law
Throughout the Gaza conflict, NGOs issued more than 500 statements alleging Israeli violations of international law. In many cases, the legal standards invoked by the NGOs do not exist, represent an extreme minority position, or were manipulated and inconsistently defined in order to encompass a wide definition of Israeli “violations,” while minimizing obligations of Hamas.
Goldstone adopted many of these distorted NGO claims and standards verbatim, without independent verification or investigation, thereby providing further evidence of the dominant role played by NGOs within this one-sided framework. Additionally, the inclusion of “legal findings” and recommendations in the report are in violation of UN Rules on Fact-Finding (GA Res. 46/59, rule 17) and the standards upon which Goldstone claimed to base his inquiry (para. 158), which require that reports “should be limited to a presentation of findings of a factual nature.”
This process is reflected in the following illustrations:
- The report echoes the PLO/NGO fictions (such as that promoted by HRW, Gisha, and B’Tselem) that Gaza remains “occupied” and that Israel is engaging in “collective punishment” (paras. 187, 277, et al.). These arguments are used in order to impose humanitarian obligations under the Geneva Conventions on Israel. For more on this issue, see NGO Monitor’s report, HRW’s Letter to President Bush on Gaza: The “Collective Punishment Hoax”.
- Significant Reliance on the ICJ Advisory Opinion “Against the Wall.” Goldstone repeatedly references the ICJ majority opinion even though, as an advisory opinion only, it is not legally binding, and Israel did not recognize the legitimacy of the proceedings. The report supports the absurd claim (promoted by Al Haq and Diakonia) that Israel does not have a right to self-defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter because “as specified in the International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion on the Wall from 2004,” Hamas launched rockets from Gaza, “an occupied territory, rather than from another state.” The attempt to use this legal distortion to erase Israel’s unequivocal right to self-defense in the wake of attacks on its civilian population is fundamentally immoral.
- The report refers to a 2007 petition brought to the Israeli Supreme Court by Gisha and eight other Israeli NGOs, which claimed that Israel is obligated under international law “to allow free passage of all consignments of medical and hospital objects, food and clothing” (para. 325, et al.) to Gaza under Article 23 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and that it is “denying sustenance to the civilian population.”3
- Goldstone, like most NGOs, ignored the international legal prohibition against incitement to genocide – a cornerstone of human rights law. There is no mention of the nine-page annotated submission by Dr. Elihu Richter, head of the Genocide Prevention Program at Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Public Health and Community Medicine and associate director at Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide, detailing many examples of Hamas and Iranian incitement against Jews. Other submissions on this issue were similarly ignored.
- Goldstone also relies on NGO reports to attack Israel and the Palestinian Authority for denying funds to Hamas “charities” and affiliates (paras. 90-1, 100-02, 242). The report cites to a PCHR report (n. 113) condemning the closing of Hamas “humanitarian organizations” as a “flagrant violation of the right to association.” By promoting the PCHR position (an organization that advocates for a so-called “right to resist”), Goldstone is in direct opposition to the international legal obligation to fight terrorism and its financing (e.g Security Council Resolution 1373.) See the analysis of law professor Avi Bell in a post by Prof. David Bernstein on the Volokh Conspiracy blog for more details.
Distortion of NGO statements that did not fit Palestinian narrative
Although the Goldstone Commission received several submissions from NGOs containing exculpatory and documentary evidence that contradicted the Palestinian claims, this information was systematically ignored or distorted to fit Goldstone’s pre-determined conclusions. In contrast, Goldstone accepted outrageous NGO claims at face value without further research (such as the absurd and unsourced allegation by Palestinian NGO, Addameer, that since 1967, 750,000 Palestinians have been detained by Israel [or 18,000 unique detainees each year]). Sources directly affiliated with the Hamas terrorist regime were given credibility by the Mission unless the evidence stated therein corroborated Israeli claims of wrongdoing:
- Goldstone received detailed research from Jonathan D’choach HaLevy (published by the JCPA) regarding the combatant status of almost 90% of the Hamas “police” forces.4 The report devotes over 30 paragraphs (paras. 390-420, et al.) trying to discredit HaLevy’s research while crediting unverified claims made by NGOs such as Amnesty International, B’Tselem, PCHR, and Al Mezan. Similarly, Goldstone claims that terror websites, showing video and documentary evidence of “police” involved in military operations with the Al Qassam brigades and Islamic Jihad, are unreliable based upon information alleged by Palestinian NGO, Al Mezan (n. 283).
- Goldstone distorted HaLevy’s research (paras. 344, 724) regarding an incident involving the al-Samouni family. As HaLevy notes, while Goldstone accepted testimony that “all the people in [their] house were ordinary civilians”, the evidence shows that “at least three were affiliated with Palestinian Islamic Jihad.” HaLevy further notes that “Meisa al-Samouni did not tell B’tselem that her husband, Tawfiq Rashad Hilmi al-Samouni, who was killed on January 5, was a Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist operative.”
- Goldstone cites testimony from Israel’s Magen David Adom (MDA) to reject claims that Hamas successfully commandeered Palestinian Red Crescent (PRC) ambulances. However, the mission ignored documentary evidence from MDA that Hamas did attempt to steal PRC vehicles and abuse the red crescent symbol. Additionally, MDA did not testify about non-PRC ambulances;5 the Mission failed to adequately pursue this issue, in order not to exculpate Israel.
- While discrediting NGO evidence that did not support the Commission’s a priori indictment of Israel, Goldstone repeatedly cites and credits many Hamas officials and affiliates, such as Hamas-established NGO, the Central Commission for Documentation and Pursuit of Israeli War Criminals (referred to by the acronym TAWTHEQ) (16 citations).
NGOs and Factual Claims
- The report refers to Yesh Din (para. 221) as a reliable source of statistical data regarding the Israeli military court system. Yet, systematic analyses of Yesh Din’s reports have shown that its methodologies involve non-representative sampling, inconsistent conclusions, double counting, and reliance on outdated regulations.
- The report duplicates NGO allegations regarding the Abed Rabbo family, describing family members as “credible and reliable witnesses” (p174). This incident was the first and primary case presented in HRW’s “White Flags” indictment of Israel. NGO Monitor found more than 14 different recorded versions of the story, and Goldstone also omitted news reports revealing that the family are “Fatah loyalists [and] their land was taken over by Hamas for tunnels, arms caches, and rocket attacks.” An analysis of Palestinian casualties also reveals several combatants with the same surname were killed a few days later in the area, raising additional questions about the veracity of his story.
- The radical NGO affiliations of some witnesses were hidden. Jonathan Pollak, for instance, referenced on 5 occasions, is a leader of Anarchists Against the Wall and has ties to the International Solidarity Movement which provokes violent confrontations with the Israeli military.
- The claims of Defence of Children International – Palestine Section (DCI-PS) that the “abuse of Palestinian children by Israeli authorities is systematic and institutionalized” are repeated. DCI-PS is a highly politicized NGO whose publications lack credibility.
- The “statistics” on alleged “civilian and cultural” demolitions were provided by Al Dameer, a Palestinian NGO with a strong political agenda including calls for “lawfare” against Israeli officials.
- Goldstone repeats, without independent evidence, the allegations of Bimkom that the Israeli Civil Administration applied “a deliberate and consistent policy in Area C with the goal of restricting Palestinian construction and development and limiting its spatial dispersion.”
- Based on statements by the radical NGO known as ICAHD, Goldstone asserts that the war in Gaza was Israel’s attempt at “getting rid of Gaza in order to consolidate its permanent hold on the West Bank,” and that “Israeli control over the movement and access of the West Bank Palestinians is necessary to maintain control over the West Bank’s land and natural resources.” (para. 1541)
- Goldstone repeats Gisha, HRW, and other NGO claims that Al-Haq’s General Director Shawan Jabarin, was denied a travel visa as “punishment” (p327) yet fails to mention that Jabarin’s visa was denied due to “reliable evidence” that he is “among the senior activists of the Popular Front terrorist organization.”
NGO quotes in the section on “Repression of dissent”
A section entitled “Repression of dissent in Israel, right to access to information and treatment of human rights defenders” (XXV) accuses Israel of violating the “rights of freedom of association and expression for individuals and groups.” These issues are entirely tangential to the context of the fighting in Gaza. Additionally, the conclusions are speculative; the report does not provide any concrete evidence of violations of international law or failure to fulfill legal obligations by Israel.
Rather, the section seeks to defend NGOs and NGO activists, and promote their narrative regarding friction between these groups and the Israeli government. Although the NGOs, in general, were the subjects of the alleged Israeli restrictions, and therefore constitute “interested parties,” Goldstone accepted their versions and interpretations of events unquestioningly.
- The report claims that “the perception that the Israeli authorities, by denying access to the media and human rights monitors, sought to prevent investigation and reporting of the conduct of the operations by the Israeli military seems warranted.”
- Since, Israel is under no obligation to permit access to fighting zones (with the exception of the Red Cross), these allegations are prejudicial and outside the mandate of investigation potential violations. This also ignores the long-standing biases of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (who are championed by the report) in their publications on military conflicts involving Israel.
- The tendentious conclusion – “The burden of dispelling such a perception rests on the Government of Israel.” – presumes Israeli guilt.
- Shir Hever, an activist with the Alternative Information Center (a self-proclaimed radical NGO), was invited to testify about “detention” and “repression of dissent.” Relying on his testimony raises serious questions about the evidentiary standard of the hearings.
- As noted, in referring to the travel restrictions on Al Haq director Shawan Jabarin, the report implies that the restrictions are linked to his association with “Al-Haq, the West Bank’s oldest human rights organization,” and repeats Jabarin’s false claim that the ban is “punishment”, while ignoring his links with the PFLP.
- The Israeli police investigation of Israeli NGO New Profile for illegal “incitement to draft dodging” is mentioned in a number of paragraphs. The investigation of New Profile began before the war in September 2008, and is not linked to the mission’s mandate. The sympathetic treatment of this group can be attributed to the prejudice against the Israeli government.
- Goldstone also cited an interview with Haggai Matar without identifying him as a New Profile activist.
- In another peripheral issue, Goldstone defends Breaking the Silence against allegations of Israeli government efforts “to interfere with the funding of Breaking the Silence” by foreign governments. The report repeats a Breaking the Silence statement accusing the Israeli government of a “witch-hunt”, and ignoring the context and details. Additionally, the assumption that Breaking the Silence and other NGOs that claim a human rights mandate are “human rights defenders,” and not political groups, is unfounded.
Quid pro quo: The symbiotic relationship between NGOs and Goldstone
Since April 2009, when Goldstone was appointed to lead the fact-finding mission, international, Israeli, and Palestinian NGOs promoted Goldstone and his Commission, urging Israel to cooperate with the investigation and supporting the claims that the mandate was “balanced.”
In turn, Goldstone bolstered the credibility of these groups by relying heavily on their publications, repeating their claims uncritically, calling NGO activists to “testify,” praising their “high professional standard” while working in “extremely difficult circumstances,” and defending them against “repression” from the Israeli government.
Finally, since the initial publication of the Goldstone report (September 15, 2009) and throughout the proceedings at the UN Human Rights Council, the NGOs have once again supported Goldstone, and are lobbying the US, the EU, and others to endorse the report’s prejudicial conclusions and recommendations.
Given the preponderance of NGO contributions to the final product, the mutual support is particularly absurd and disingenuous; these NGOs are, in fact, promoting their own material.
See Appendix 1 for more details.
- In another example of lack of transparency, the Mission did not respond to repeated NGO Monitor requests for a complete listing of staff members.
- For instance, HRW’s September 16, 2009 press release states, “But both Israel and Hamas have dismal records of investigating and holding accountable members of their own forces for serious laws-of-war violations.”Goldstone’s September 17, 2009, New York Times oped notes, “Unfortunately, both Israel and Hamas have dismal records of investigating their own forces.”
- Note that Goldstone does not reference Mahmoud Daher, Director of the World Health Organization in Gaza, who testified to the commission that “during the operation the military, the Israeli military operation in Gaza Strip, equipment, drugs and medication would enter Gaza Strip on a daily basis . . . as a matter of fact a great deal of our needs were satisfied, medical needs or food needs.”/fn] Article 23 does not require free passage of such items except in limited cases, and there is no obligation to provide any goods, even minimal humanitarian supplies, if they will be diverted by or will aid Hamas in its war effort. The Israeli NGOs cited by Goldstone ignore this part of the rule.
- Goldstone adopts a very narrow definition of human shields (para. 35, 492) as advocated by Amnesty and HRW, in order to increase the scope of alleged Israel violations and exonerate Hamas of culpability (See NGO Monitor’s Report: Experts or Idealogues: Systematic Analysis of Human Rights Watch pp. 38-40).) Moreover, the Commission denies the use of perfidy by Hamas (para. 495) as did HRW in its White Flag Deaths report, and incredibly claims that engaging in this action is not an IHL violation. Article 37 of the First Protocol of the Geneva Conventions clearly prohibits the practice.
- As with its human shields analysis, Goldstone, echoing, HRW and Amnesty, applies a false standard for analyzing the concept of “military advantage” in order to accuse Israel of disproportionate attacks on civilians. (e.g., paras. 692-700.) In one case, the mission claims that the only “military advantage to be gained was to stop the alleged firing of mortars that posed a risk to the lives of Israeli armed forces.” Goldstone discounts destroying Hamas infrastructure; eliminating potential rocket sites; removing obstacles to troop movements; or intelligence gathering as legitimate objectives.[fn]“Final report to the Prosecutor…”, paras. 47–50. A/HRC/12/48
- Goldstone has refused to release copies of the NGO submissions, however, a similar report authored by HaLevi is available here.
- MDA’s response: “It should be emphasized that, in its submission, MDA only related to ambulances from the Palestinian Red Crescent, whihc is part of the Red Cross, and not to ambulances that serve Hamas or other terror groups. Furthermore, MDA included in its submission photographic evidence of attempts by Hamas to use Red Crescent vehicles, that were rebuffed by employees of the Palestinian Red Crescent. Any other interpretation is taking our statement out of context.” (translated from the original Hebrew)
Before the report:
- Amnesty International, UN urged to ´find truth´ about Gaza conflict, March 16, 2009
- B’Tselem, Israel and the Palestinians must assist the UN mission investigating human rights violations during the fighting in Gaza, April 6, 2009
- HRW, Israel/Gaza: Cooperate With Goldstone Investigation, April 14, 2009
- B’Tselem, Independent apparatus needed for investigation of Operation Cast Lead, April 22, 2009
- Amnesty International, Israel/Occupied Palestinian Territories: Israeli army probe lacks credibility and is no substitute for independent investigation, April 23, 2009
- HRW, Israel/Gaza: Israeli Military Investigation Not Credible, April 23, 2009
- HRW, UN: Support Goldstone Investigation into Gaza War Violations, May 6, 2009
- Amnesty International,Israel/Occupied Palestinian Territories: UN Security Council must move from rhetoric to concrete measures for accountability and peace, May 14, 2009
- HRW, US: Ask Israel to Cooperate with Goldstone Inquiry, May 17, 2009
- Amnesty International, Israel/Occupied PalestinianTerritories:Impunity for war crimes in Gaza and southern Israel recipe for further civilian suffering, July 2, 2009
- PHR-I, HaMoked, B’Tselem, Briefing provided to the EU ahead of the release of the Goldstone Report, September 3, 2009: “However, due to Israel’s past record of impunity when holding investigations into its own violations, it is necessary that independent international bodies be asked to observe these processes, in order to ensure their transparency and proper enforcement and their conformity with principles of International Humanitarian Law.”
- The Association for Civil Rights (ACRI), Gisha, The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, The Center for the Defense of the Individual, Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, Submission of Human Rights Organizations based in Israel to the Goldstone Inquiry Delegation, n.d.
- Association for Civil Rights in Israel, B’Tselem, Gisha, Physicians for Human Rights – Israel, Yesh Din, The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, Bimkom and Hamoked, Israeli Human Rights organizations respond to UN Report on Gaza, May 5, 2009 “Still, since international investigations are likely to continue, it is in Israel’s best interest to cooperate with the most credible international bodies, such as the UN fact-finding mission led by justice Richard Goldstone, who has the explicit goal of examining suspicions of violations of international law both by Hamas and by Israel.”
After the publication:
- Amnesty International, UN must ensure Goldstone inquiry recommendations are implemented, September 15, 2009: “The UN Security Council and other UN bodies must now take the steps necessary to ensure that the victims receive the justice and reparation that is their due and that perpetrators don’t get away with murder.”
- Amnesty International, Israel-Gaza: Implementation of UN Fact finding mission recommendations crucial for justice, September 15, 2009
- Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), Adalah, Bimkom, B’Tselem, Gisha, HaMoked, Physicians for Human Rights – Israel, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel andYesh Din, Israeli Human Rights Groups Respond to Goldstone Report, September 15, 2009
- Adalah, Addameer, Al-Dameer, Al-Haq, Al-Mezan, Arab Association for Human Rights (HRA), DCI-Palestine, Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, and others, Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Support Work and Recommendations of UN Fact Finding Mission: Demand Effective Judicial Redress and the Protection of Victims’ Rights, September 16, 2009
- Amnesty International, Irene Khan urges US government to examine Goldstone report, September 18, 2009: “He shows that this is not just propaganda, this is actually the way to judge the Israeli government’s performance against international human rights and humanitarian law standards.”
- Physicians for Human Rights-Israel,The PHR-Israel Stand upon the release of the Goldstone Commission report, September 19, 2009
- Amnesty UK, Gaza: New letter to Miliband urges UK to fully support Goldstone report at United Nations, September 24, 2009
- Amnesty USA, Justice Now Deters Future Crimes in Israel and Gaza, n.d.
- HRW, EU: Demand Justice for Victims of Gaza War, September 25, 2009: “Human Rights Watch called on the European Union and its 27 member states to ‘promote an international order where no state is above the law.’”
- Defence of Children International – Palestine Section, URGENT APPEAL: The Goldstone Report – An end to impunity?, September 26, 2009
- HRW, US: Endorse Goldstone Report on Gaza, September 27, 2009: “The Obama administration should fully endorse the report of the United Nations fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict led by Justice Richard Goldstone and demand justice for the victims of serious laws-of-war violations in the conflict.”
- PCHR: Human Rights Council Must Endorse Findings and Recommendations of Goldstone Enquiry, September 29, 2009
- HRW, UN: US, EU Undermine Justice for Gaza Conflict, September 30, 2009