- In a February 23, 2009 publication, Amnesty International calls on the UN Security Council to impose an arms embargo on Israel. This continues Amnesty’s leading role in the Durban Strategy designed to isolate Israel and prevent self-defense.
- Amnesty’s inability to distinguish between aggression and defense, and its artificial focus on very narrow aspects of international law are immoral and make a mockery of the foundations of the legal process.
- Amnesty exploits the façade of a “research report” to make baseless accusations, misrepresent international humanitarian law (IHL), and promote an immoral and indefensible equivalence between Hamas and Israel.
- Amnesty officials, including Malcolm Smart (director for the Middle East) and Colm Ó Cuanachain (head of the Irish branch), have been promoting an arms embargo against Israel for years, and this publication is a vehicle for their agenda.
- In accusing Israel of “war crimes,” the authors cite weapons found “on the streets, in school playgrounds, in hospitals and in people’s homes.” Under any standard of law and morality, such “evidence” is meaningless, particularly in the context of response to the thousands of rocket attacks launched from these same areas.
- Amnesty’s attempt to equate the transfer weapons to Israel for legitimate defense, with clandestinely smuggled arms to a terrorist organization, is defamatory, immoral, and absurd.
- As in past publications, officials, including Donatella Rovera, use false claims, rely on unreliable eyewitness reports, and omit evidence that contradicts their ideological goals. While claiming to have seen secret IDF documents regarding Israeli arms, the quotation and source reference an article in Haaretz, in which an Israeli official comments on the use of illegal weapons by Hamas.
- Officials of Amnesty International responsible for abusing human rights claims in preparing this publication should resign.
On February 23, 2009, Amnesty International issued a 43-page report entitled “Fuelling conflict: Foreign arms supplies to Israel/Gaza,” which calls on the UN Security Council to “[i]mpose immediately a comprehensive…arms embargo on Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups until effective mechanisms are in place to ensure that weapons or munitions and other military equipment will not be used to commit serious violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law.” As with many previous Amnesty publications on Israel’s anti-terror responses in Gaza this report contains baseless accusations, misrepresentations of international humanitarian law (IHL), and an immoral equivalence between Hamas — a genocidal terrorist organization — and Israel — a democratic sovereign state that respects the rule of law and minority rights, and is responding to attack. Moreover, this report should be seen in light of Amnesty’s overarching attempt to criminalize warfare waged in self-defense by Western armies with technologically advanced arsenals against asymmetric attacks.
“Fueling the conflict” is part of an intensification of disproportionate and obsessive attacks against Israel’s Gaza policy by Amnesty and other NGOs during 2008, while minimizing or even erasing violations by Hamas. This tactic continued during the January 2009 war, with Amnesty releasing over 20 statements (tens more by local branches) criticizing Israel and employing IHL rhetoric in a consistently biased manner. The extreme nature of this report is clear evidence of Amnesty’s far-left, anti-Western agenda, and puts it at the forefront of efforts to delegitimize and demonize Israel. Any claims by Amnesty that it promotes or defends universal human rights are belied by this document.
Amnesty Officials and Funders
Amnesty does not list the report’s authors. Donatella Rovera “headed Amnesty International’s fact-finding mission to southern Israel and Gaza” and is primarily responsible for the “findings.” Additionally, Amnesty officials in Gaza during this period (featured on Amnesty’s blog) and/or support the recommended embargo (in press releases and private blog postings) include Nancy Hawker, Donnacha Delong (Senior editor of amnesty.org), Chris Cobb-Smith, Brian Dooley, Widney Brown, and Colm Ó Cuanachain (Secretary General Amnesty Ireland).
Malcolm Smart, Director for the Middle East, declared his support of the report: “As the major supplier of weapons to Israel, the USA has a particular obligation to stop any supply that contributes to gross violations of the laws of war and of human rights. The Obama Administration should immediately suspend US military aid to Israel.”
Amnesty International’s funders include: the European Commission, the Open Society Institute, Sigrid Rausing Trust, the Oak Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, Nicolas Cage, and many other foundations and private donors.
Examining Amnesty’s Pseudo-legal Rhetoric
In its report, Amnesty uses the language of international law to pursue its preconceived ideological agenda. The authors make conclusory allegations that Israeli attacks were “disproportionate or indiscriminate,” and that weapons were “misused.” However, this organization lacks the means and the information required to substantiate these charges. Amnesty “researchers” are not professional forensic investigators bound by industry guidelines and standards; they are not military experts, nor are they privy to targeting and battle information; Amnesty does not reveal its research methodology (if any), nor does it provide any information regarding a chain of custody for the “evidence” it possesses.
Rather, Amnesty accuses Israel of “war crimes” simply on the basis that it allegedly found Israeli weaponry “on the streets, in school playgrounds, in hospitals and in people’s homes.” Under any standard of law the presence of munitions in civilian areas, per se, is meaningless:
- Under IHL, if Hamas fighters were the intended targets, Israeli attacks were permissible. Hamas’ “reckless and cynical use of civilian installations” as a primary fighting tactic – including firing from populated areas, placing women and children on the roofs of targeted buildings, storing weapons in schools and mosques, and hiding in bunkers beneath hospitals – has been well established by UN and Red Cross officials. Yet, in an interview with the Forward, Amnesty researcher Donatella Rovera claims “[w]e have had no [such] reports.”
- For an attack to be “disproportionate” the civilian harm caused by an attack is weighed against “military advantage” and its overall contribution to the war effort. To determine requisite intent or to balance harm against “military advantage,” it is necessary to analyze IDF targeting decisions, locations of battle, and other details — which are not in Amnesty’s possession. In fact, according to the IDF, Amnesty did not contact the IDF Spokesperson’s Office for more information, and instead chose to rely on its one-sided “evidence” acquired in Hamas-controlled territory in its report. (Similarly, in August 2008, Donatella Rovera condemned the IDF for conducting a “so-called investigation” which “lacked any semblance of impartiality” even though she did not have access to, nor did she ever review the IDF’s report after a detailed investigation.)
- Amnesty cannot determine how such weaponry ended up in a specific location, and the “evidence” may have been manufactured in order to support the report’s conclusions. Several of the photographs purporting to document Israeli munitions look strikingly similar to Iranian munitions supplied to Hezbollah and Hamas.
The Not-So-Hidden Agenda: Boycotting Israel
Amnesty’s call for an “arms embargo” against Israel is part of the Durban Strategy of anti-Israel boycotts in order to isolate it internationally. Israel is entitled to defend its civilians against deliberate attacks by a terrorist organization, and has international legal obligations to combat the support and financing of terrorism; in contrast, Amnesty seeks to deny both.
Approximately one-third of this publication is devoted to an extensive list of conventional and entirely legal arms — such as munitions, equipment, and vehicles — that foreign countries supply to Israel. The purpose is an attempt to delegitimize and vilify Israel’s allies, including the US, France, Germany, and the UK. There is nothing to substantiate Amnesty’s implication that their arms trade with Israel was and continues to be anything other than open, in good faith, and in the interests of Israeli self-defense.
Little is said in the report regarding the supply of weapons to Hamas by Iran and Syria, and Amnesty made little effort in this regard, stating:
there have been several reports that Iran has provided military equipment and munitions, including rockets, to Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups but Amnesty International has not seen any evidence to verify these allegations.
This statement contradicts extensive and well-documented evidence to the contrary, including Iranian supplied modular rockets (to facilitate smuggling into Gaza) and mortar shells, technological know-how to upgrade rocket capabilities and to manufacture explosively formed penetrators, and anti tank weaponry. Hamas operatives, themselves have admitted receiving this information from Iran, and hundreds of Hamas operatives have trained there.
Amnesty’s Broader Agenda of Criminalizing Warfare by Western Armies
Calling for an arms embargo against Israel and the extensive cataloguing of arms sales to Israel are part of Amnesty’s wider campaign promoting a global Arms Trade Treaty with a “Golden Rule on human rights.” Amnesty’s “preventive approach”1 has not been codified in any international treaties. Rather, it reflects Amnesty’s aspirations of what it would like the law to become, in order to serve the ideological biases of its officials.
Equating Israel and Hamas: Moral Bankrupcy
Amnesty equates Israel, a sovereign democracy that adheres to the rule of law, with Hamas, a genocidal terrorist organization labeled as such by the US, the UK, the EU, and other countries. Amnesty offensively claims that Israel poses “substantial risk of human rights violations,” and should therefore be denied self-defense mechanisms.
Such language implies that Israel is a terrorist state, or that the risk of selling weapons to Israel is on par with clandestinely smuggling arms to a terrorist organization. This is defamatory, immoral, and removes any claims by Amnesty to portray itself as an unbiased supporter of universal human rights.
Tendentious “evidence” and False Claims
Amnesty levels several false claims in its report, repeats unreliable eyewitness reports, and omits evidence that contradicts its one-sided allegations. The following are just a few of the many examples:
- Amnesty claims it “has seen documents written during the Israeli military offensive on Gaza by the office of the Israeli army Chief Medical Officer and Medical Field Operations headquarters . . . Colonel Dr Gil Hirschorn” purporting to describe the effects of white phosphorous used by Israel. In fact, the quote referenced by Amnesty was copied verbatim from an article in Ha’aretz (apparently, Amnesty did not actually “see” the original Hebrew documents). In the Ha’aretz article, however, Hirschorn was describing the effects of white phosphorous used by Hamas and not by Israel.
- The entire section on DIME weaponry consists of innuendo and insinuations, based on “reports” from anonymous sources and interviews with unnamed doctors about “injuries that could be consistent with the use of DIME weapons” (emphasis added). Although Amnesty could not “confirm the use” of DIME weaponry by Israel in the Gaza fighting, it nonetheless published a detailed description of the supposed “long-term health consequences” allegedly caused by this weapon, including suspicions that “embedded weapons-grade tungsten alloy shrapnel rapidly causes cancer in rats.” Tungsten may or may not be used in DIME weapons. This entire section is an example of Amnesty’s effort to establish guilt by association.
- Amnesty reports that an “artillery carrier shell…crashed through the wall and landed on [a] young couple’s bed, where a baby had been sleeping only minutes earlier.” This claim, and others like it, are not verifiable, emotive, totally irrelevant to the legal question of the whether arms were properly employed.
- Amnesty repeats the false claim that “at least 41 people” were killed in a January 6, 2009 incident near a UNRWA school in Jabaliya, Gaza. As the Jerusalem Post reported, the IDF announced that only 12 individuals were killed, 9 of them Hamas terrorists.
- “Amnesty International has developed a practical methodology to assist states and regional organizations in applying international human rights law to arms transfer decisions. It offers assessment guidelines to determine whether a proposed transfer presents a risk for serious human rights violations and sets out the criteria to follow when forming a judgment.”