In May 2003, Amnesty International produced the Amnesty International Report of 2003,which documented human rights abuses in 151 countries occurring from January to December of 2002. The report was marketed as: "a contribution to the work of human rights defenders struggling to achieve a safer world, a world where human rights take priority over political, military or economic interests." A close examination of the special "updated section," covering January to April of 2003, and the respective individual sections of "Israel and the Occupied Territories" and "Palestinian Authority", however, reveals exactly the opposite of what Amnesty pledged it was trying to achieve – namely, a subordination of the concept of human rights to political and ideological interests.
Amnesty International (AI)’s methods are not new. NGO Monitor closely follows the work of AI in relation to the Arab-Israeli conflict. A detailed analysis, published in February 2003 revealed this same tendency for Amnesty to engage in political comments that go beyond the mandate the organization set itself in its mission statement.1
…Amnesty has fallen into these two traps; politicization in apportioning blame and surface level reporting….Amnesty faces a litany of charges which deviate sharply from its stated goals. These include: distorting contexts through misleading generalizations and minimizing objective difficulties; the misuse of legal authority (especially international law); selective reporting; critical omissions and unfair and unsubstantiated ‘evidence.’2
Moreover, in an article featured in Front Page Magazine, Steven Plaut criticized the AI report for promoting anti-Israel sentiment:
Authors of the Amnesty report compare IDF operations in which Palestinian children were killed to Palestinian terror attacks in which Israeli children were killed. This comparison is unjustified and baseless. Palestinian terror attacks, especially suicide bombings, are designated to cause the death of Israeli civilians, including children: this is ruthless, unprecedented, inhuman terror. On the other hand, IDF activity is conducted in accordance with the laws of war and is not aimed at injuring civilians. Injuries are occasionally sustained only because the Palestinian terrorists act from within centers of Palestinian civilian population. Hence, any comparison between the two is groundless, and indicates a fundamental lack of balance among authors of the report.3
Although AI does acknowledge the gross violations of human rights against Israeli citizens, the report fails to give human rights "priority" over other interests, such as an anti-Israel ideological agenda. The report is top heavy in condemning Israel’s policies and undermining its right to self-defense. In fact, a total of four pages – double the average space in relation to other countries – were devoted to "Israel and the Occupied Territories," and only two pages to the Palestinian Authority – a disproportionate amount of space spent on criticizing the actions of Israel, reflecting a misleading neglect of serious violations of basic human rights. This attempt to justify and vindicate Palestinian terror attacks contradicts every one of AI’s principles and calls into question its moral authority.
This analysis will now examine four specific examples of inaccuracies in AI’s human rights reporting.
- Palestinian terrorism against Israeli civilians and the activities of the IDF
Only one paragraph was designated to explore human rights atrocities committed by "Palestinian armed groups" against Israeli civilians; and four brief paragraphs listed four occurrences of Palestinian terrorism out of the many hundreds of serious incidents committed in the past year. This stands in sharp contrast to AI’s detailing, devoid of context, of the "destruction of homes, agricultural land and other property" by the IDF. Particularly salient omissions of context include weapons smuggling through tunnels over the Egyptian border into the Palestinian town, Rafah and using civilian homes to shoot on soldiers and Israeli inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza. In addition, there was no discussion of the homes, businesses, and properties destroyed by Palestinian terror bombings. However, AI saw fit to devote another section solely on attacks against Palestinians by Israeli settlers while the report covered Palestinian attacks against Israelis only once in the shared section, "Killings by Palestinian armed groups."
This section trivialized the gravity, frequency and most importantly, the implications of the terrorist attacks and its effect on the Israeli men, women and children who suffer its emotional, physical and economical consequences on a daily basis. The imbalance is obvious.
- The Palestinian Authority
AI presented only two real complaints against the PA; the first is the arrest and execution of suspected "collaborators" with Israel and failure to bring the perpetrators to justice and the second is the PA’s failure to "administer justice" to Palestinian "armed groups" guilty of terrorism. The main emphasis of this section was on the former, however, with only a halfhearted assessment of the latter. It is important to note that this denunciation of Palestinian terrorism was mentioned in the "background" subsection, and not in the main body of the section.
To AI’s credit, it described the deliberate Palestinian attacks against Israeli civilians, murdering over 420 and injuring thousands more as "crimes against humanity." However, this section, devoted to executions of suspected collaborators within Palestinian territories by Palestinians, shifted the blame on to the IDF, for weakening the PA thereby destroying their ability to bring the perpetrators to justice. The above argument in itself is political and not entirely relevant to this report, but the report failed to mention the possible reasons for attacking the PA’s infrastructure, including firm evidence that the PA itself is engaged in both these summary executions and the terror attacks. Instead, AI presented Yasser Arafat and other PA officials as routinely condemning suicide bombings against Israelis and having called on Palestinian armed groups to put an end to such attacks. AI then went on to vindicate the failings of the PA by stating that it is unclear to what extent the PA could exercise effective control over any of the armed groups involved in attacks against Israelis.
Tanzim and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades are linked directly to the PA and Yasser Arafat and have engaged in hundreds of attacks. Moreover, the PA has failed to prevent attacks by other terrorist groups such as Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades (Hamas), Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The overwhelming majority of cases of those responsible for ordering or planning such attacks were not brought to justice, nor were any public investigations carried out. Official Palestinian television extensively praises such attacks.4
- Misleading Assertions on International Monitors
AI puts enormous trust in sending international monitors to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip as a means of relieving the humanitarian crisis. This raises two major problems. Firstly and fundamentally, why is AI engaging in political arguments about humanitarian monitors, beyond the scope of the report’s mandate? The reason why the issue is so politically charged is because in past Middle East crises, most notably the 1967 Six-Day War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War, armed international observers from the UN proved ineffective in guaranteeing Israel’s defense. More recently in Lebanon, throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Israel’s northern settlements were subjected to a barrage of Katyusha missiles despite the presence of international observers. The sworn declarations of fundamentalist leaders to continue suicide bombings in public places explain Israel’s unwillingness to jeopardize the life of its citizens, as long as the present climate of tension persists at least.
Secondly, the report’s claim that Israel refuses to allow international human rights monitors into the area skips over vital background issues. There is a distinction between human rights monitors who come to administer medical care and educational programs and those who come to interfere with Israeli soldiers. There has never been a policy against allowing medical or true humanitarian operatives. However, this situation has changed. On the one hand, there is a real risk of human rights groups being exploited by extremist factions, including suicide bombers, as covers. On the other hand, there is an increasing phenomenon of injuries among human rights activists who put themselves in the line of fire. For these reasons, Israel has been forced to restrict their access. Israel is fighting a war on terror. There is indeed a humanitarian crisis in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and a great need for medical and humanitarian relief. But humanitarian work does not mean endangering one’s own life and that of Israeli soldiers performing anti-terror operations. Israeli soldiers enter the population centers to prevent terror attacks that occur on a daily basis against Israel’s civilians. Terrorist leaders invariably choose populated areas as human shields. They know that it harder for the Israeli army to operate in those densely populated areas. AI should be condemning this phenomenon and pushing for non-violence programs among the Palestinian population.
- Settlements ignite Palestinian violence
AI devoted much space to the issue of Israeli settlements. This is a controversial subject and while there is a human rights dimension in certain cases, AI goes well beyond the issue of individual land rights to engage in blanket condemnations of settlements. The structure of land ownership in the West Bank and Gaza is complex because of the history of state lands under Ottoman, Turkish, British and Jordanian rule since 1917. Moreover, there is no consensus on the legal status of the lands of the West Bank and Gaza before a peace agreement is reached.
In this report, NGO Monitor has tried to illustrate how AI has departed from its noble aims in The Amnesty Report 2003, ignoring the strong criticisms it has received in past years of misleading generalizations, politicized reporting and selective use of context.
As an organization that boasts a membership of 1.5 million and has immediate access to many government departments and UN committees, AI has a responsibility to maintain the highest levels of integrity, balance and contextual accuracy. Moreover, hundreds of thousands of individuals, trusts, foundations as well as socially committed companies donate funds to the organization on the basis of its pledge to uphold "universal human rights." Few know that in this report AI has resorted to politicized and ideologically motivated viewpoints. AI consistently failed to recognize that Israel has a right and responsibility to protect its citizens in the face of terrorist attacks.
NGO Monitor calls on AI to review this material together with other criticisms, and adjust its reports so that they fit the mandates that Amnesty International has set itself and for which it receives funds.
Written by Danielle Hunter
2NGO Monitor, Vol. 1. No. 4
3 Plaut, Steven. "Amnesty International – Not a Reliable Source." Front Page Magazine. 2003 2 June. http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/Printable.asp?ID=8141