- On July 25, 2014, Amnesty International published a Q&A on the “Israel/Gaza conflict, July 2014,” discussing legal aspects of the fighting. This was one of 21 documents issued by Amnesty between July 8 and August 4.
- As with all Amnesty publications on the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Q&A contains many methodological flaws, under the façade of legal and military expertise, and advances the NGO’s ideological agenda.
- Amnesty invents preposterous explanations and gives Hamas, an internationally recognized terrorist organization, the benefit of the doubt. In contrast, and as is evident in this Q&A, Amnesty routinely employs a skeptical and cynical approach toward any claim made by Israeli officials and interprets every incident against Israel’s favor.
- Examples include Amnesty’s silence on Hamas’ exploitation of UNRWA and other civilian structures by Hamas to store and fire rockets and conduct Palestinian military operations; feigning of ignorance as to Hamas’ shielding itself among the civilian population of Gaza; and claiming that Hamas directives to ignore warnings of impending attacks were in order to avoid “panic” among the civilian population.
- The overwhelming majority of the document is solely directed at Israeli actions, only briefly mentioning Palestinian rocket fire on Israeli civilians (each one a war crime under the laws of armed conflict). Hamas’ status as a terrorist organization subject to legal and financial sanctions internationally and domestically, and its charter that rejects the existence of Israel within any borders and explicitly calls for the genocide of Jews were not discussed.
- Amnesty “welcomes” the July 23, 2014 UN Human Rights Council resolution establishing a “commission of inquiry” on the war. Yet, as noted by Italy in refusing to vote for it, the resolution “fails to condemn explicitly the indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israeli civilian areas as well as to recognize Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself.”
- Amnesty presents a façade of expertise and research methodology, omitting that Gaza is an environment where information flows are strictly controlled and manipulated by Hamas. As noted in April 2014 by Amnesty’s head of field investigations, Donatella Rovera, “In Gaza, I received partial or inaccurate information by relatives of civilians accidentally killed in accidental explosions or by rockets launched by Palestinian armed groups towards Israel that had malfunctioned and of civilians killed by Israeli strikes on nearby Palestinian armed groups’ positions. When confronted with other evidence obtained separately, some said they feared reprisals by the armed groups.” In other words, Amnesty’s publications in any conflict situation have little to no reliability.
- Amnesty’s call for an arms embargo on Israel and Hamas, and equating the two is immoral, and contradicts its extensive campaign for the end of Israel’s weapons blockade on the organization. Similarly, while emphasizing the U.S. as Israel’s “key supplier,” Amnesty makes no mention of Iran, Syria, and North Korea that have provided weapons and training, in violation of international law, to Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups.
On July 25, Amnesty International issued a Q&A on the “Israel/Gaza conflict, July 2014,” discussing legal aspects of the fighting. The publication was accompanied by a media advisory, offering Amnesty researchers as “experts” for interviews and a presenting a shorter version of the Q&A. Between July 8 and August 4, Amnesty published 21 documents on the war in Gaza. In contrast, Amnesty issued 3 publications each for Iraq, Syria, and Libya, despite the far more intense and bloody conflicts occurring in those countries.
Amnesty’s Q&A contains many methodological flaws, under the façade of legal and military expertise, and advances the NGO’s ideological agenda – defects that permeate all Amnesty publications on the Arab-Israeli conflict.
While Amnesty briefly mentions Palestinian rocket fire on Israeli civilians (each one a war crime under the laws of armed conflict), the overwhelming majority of the document is solely directed at Israeli actions and falsely alleges Israeli crimes. Moreover, Amnesty makes no mention of Hamas’ status as a terrorist organization subject to legal and financial sanctions internationally and domestically, nor is there any discussion of Hamas’s charter, which rejects the existence of Israel within any border and explicitly calls for genocide against Jews.
NGO Monitor has carefully analyzed several of the inaccurate and misleading claims made by Amnesty in its Q&A:
“Amnesty International urged the Human Rights Council to urgently dispatch an independent, international commission of inquiry to investigate all violations of international humanitarian law, as well as violations and abuses of international human rights law by all parties to the current hostilities.”
“Human Rights Council resolution S-21/1 allows the commission of inquiry to examine violations by all parties, including those committed by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) and those committed by Palestinian armed groups, such as the firing of indiscriminate rockets from the Gaza Strip towards Israel. Amnesty International thus welcomes the establishment of the commission of inquiry, and expects the commission to examine all violations and abuses by all parties in the context of the current hostilities.”
NGO Monitor Analysis
On July 23, 2014 the UN Human Rights Council convened a special session to discuss Israel’s military operation in Gaza. Barring a handful of exceptions, UN officials, diplomats (many from dictatorial governments and/or aligned with the Arab bloc), and NGOs that all condemned alleged Israeli “war crimes” and denied the legitimacy of its self-defense measures. In refusing to vote for the measure put forth by the coalition against Israel, Italy remarked that the resolution “fails to condemn explicitly the indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israeli civilian areas as well as to recognize Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself.”
The resolution called to “dispatch an independent, international commission of inquiry” – creating another Goldstone-like mission. As with Goldstone, NGOs will likely play a central role in providing the accusations and narrative for the final report.
Despite Amnesty’s claims that the inquiry will “examine violations by all parties,” the resolution solely condemned Israel for violations of international law, did not mention Hamas a single time, and failed to issue any condemnation of rocket fire on Israeli civilians and tunnels into Israeli towns to carry out attacks on civilians. Similarly, as in past inquiries empaneled by the HRC and carried out under the auspices of the UN Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights, they are unlikely to comport with international fact-finding standards.
“As the commission of inquiry is appointed, Amnesty International notes that it must:
- be adequately resourced to conduct impartial investigations and have the necessary expertise in the conduct of criminal and forensic investigations;
- have unrestricted access to all relevant areas, and the authority to gain access to all relevant documents, other evidence and persons;
- be thorough, independent and impartial, and look into any violations or abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law by any party to the conflict;
- build on the analysis and findings of the UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict (2008/2009) headed by Justice Richard Goldstone;”
NGO Monitor Analysis
It is commendable that for the first time, Amnesty International is calling on an HRC mission to adhere to minimal fact-finding guidelines. (See NGO Montior’s book Best Practices for Human Rights and Humanitarian NGO Fact-Finding (Nijhoff 2012) for a discussion on Lund-London Guidelines established by the International Bar Association). However, this call is ironic, given that Amnesty does not follow such standards in its own reporting on Gaza.
It is also strange that Amnesty calls on the new inquiry to build upon the analysis and findings of the Goldstone Report without mentioning that Richard Goldstone repudiated his own report as false. In fact, many of the retracted allegations in the Goldstone report were based upon false claims proffered by Amnesty. For more, see The Goldstone Report ‘Reconsidered,’ A Critical Analysis (2010).
“Amnesty International notes that EU member states abstained on the resolution . . . While Amnesty International agrees that the resolution could have said more about the violations of international humanitarian law by Hamas and Palestinian armed groups, and could have established a more precise mandate, the organization notes that nothing in the mandate of the commission of inquiry excludes the actions of Hamas and Palestinian armed groups.”
NGO Monitor Analysis
Again, Amnesty’s claims of desiring balance and evenhandedness are not credible given the role of the organization in participating in many one-sided frameworks at the UNHRC. Moreover, Amnesty, along with Human Right Watch, played a prominent role in ensuring that the Goldstone Report was one-sided. In particular, Amnesty provided the members of the Goldstone Mission with an outline for its work and a list of 36 incidents to investigate, which was largely adopted by Goldstone. The outline and the 36 incidents solely related to allegations against Israel. None involved investigation of crimes committed by Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups.
“The commission of inquiry represents an opportunity to break the cycle of persistent impunity for crimes under international law in Israel and the OPT, and this opportunity must not be squandered. The report resulting from the Commission’s investigation . . . should include a plan for ensuring prosecution of individuals suspected of ordering or committing crimes under international law.”
NGO Monitor Analysis
Because all UNHRC fact-finding reports related to the Arab-Israeli conflict are based on a one-sided agenda and do not adhere to established fact-finding standards and ethical principles, there is no value legal or otherwise to be gleaned from them.
More disturbingly, because these reports routinely minimize or ignore the actions of terrorist organizations, essentially granting them impunity to commit violations against both Israeli and Palestinians civilians, following the conclusions in these reports will only lead to greater civilian casualties and warfare in the future.
Amnesty’s claims for “breaking the cycle of persistent impunity” and “prosecution” are also hollow. While Amnesty has routinely campaigned for ICC and universal jurisdiction prosecutions of Israeli officials based on false claims of war crimes, the NGO has not do so for Palestinian terrorists, Al Qaeda, or the Taliban.
“[All parties] must cooperate fully with international fact-finding inquiries, including the one established on 23 July by the UN Human Rights Council.”
NGO Monitor Analysis
Given the failure to implement and adhere to basic principles and ethical standards for fact-finding, and the long-standing record of bias by the UNHRC, Israel is under no obligation whatsoever to cooperate with the UNHRC mission.
In addition, due to revelations that UNRWA schools sheltered Hamas rockets and UN equipment was used to dig tunnels in order to carry out future terror attacks on Israeli civilians, UN agencies cannot be viewed as independent and impartial bodies in this conflict.
In fact, an independent body must be established immediately to investigate the role of UN officials and agencies in the conflict, their connections to Hamas and other Palestinian terror organizations, and potential violations by UN officials of international law, including the Geneva Conventions and Security Council Resolution 1373.
“Israel continues to have obligations as the occupying power and as a party to the conflict during the hostilities, including ensuring the welfare of the population of the Gaza Strip and adhering to the prohibition on collective punishment.
Article 42 of the Hague Regulations defines occupation: ‘Territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army. The occupation extends only to the territory where such authority has been established and can be exercised.’ . . . In cases where the occupying power has withdrawn its forces from all or parts of the occupied territory, but has maintained key elements of an occupying power’s authority, this retention of authority can amount to effective control.
Israel maintains sole control of Gaza’s air space and territorial waters, and continues to prohibit any movement of people or goods in or out of Gaza via air or sea. Israel directly controls all but one of Gaza’s land border crossings,.
. . Israel continues to control the Palestinian population registry, . . . And the Gaza Strip continues to depend on Israel for the majority of its electricity supply.”
NGO Monitor Analysis
Amnesty applies the label of “collective punishment” selectively and incorrectly to Israel. Restriction on the flow of goods in a war environment does not constitute “collective punishment” under international law. “Collective punishment” refers to the imposition of criminal penalties and does not refer to the legal act of retorsion (e.g. sanctions, blockades). In fact, pursuant to Article 23 of the Geneva Convention (which sets standards for the provision of limited humanitarian aid), Israel has no obligation to provide any goods, even minimal humanitarian supplies, if it is “satisfied” that such goods will be diverted or supply of such goods will aid Hamas in its war effort.
As numerous accounts have reported, Hamas has diverted supplies from Gaza’s civilian population. Although Israel is under no legal obligation and despite the diversion as well as attacks on the Israeli border crossings, Israel continues to provide thousands of tons of humanitarian supplies to Gaza on a weekly basis. This is above and beyond any obligation under international law, and the claim of “collective punishment” is entirely unjustified.
Similarly, Gaza cannot be considered “occupied” under any reasonable interpretation of international law. Amnesty claims this is because “Israel maintains sole control of Gaza’s air space and territorial waters, and continues to prohibit any movement of people or goods in or out of Gaza via air or sea.” This argument is false as a matter of fact and a matter of law, and largely parrots a “legal” opinion circulated by the PLO shortly prior to Israel’s 2005 complete withdrawal from the territory. Under both the Hague and Geneva Conventions, as well as judicial interpretation of these provisions, the standard of “effective control” refers solely to the exercise by a hostile army of governmental authority – not control of borders. Thus, in no way can Israel be said to exercise governmental authority in Gaza. Indeed, as Egypt controls the southern border of Gaza, and based upon its occupation of Gaza from 1948-67, under Amnesty’s reasoning, Egypt would also be considered to be occupying Gaza, yet the NGO does not make such a claim.
The statement that Israel controls tax collection and the population registry in Gaza is also clearly false and Amnesty provides no source to support this allegation. Beginning in 1994, the Palestinian Authority became responsible for the establishment and collection of all taxes within Gaza, and this is now controlled by Hamas following its June 2007 coup. Israel has no power to set or collect such taxes. Pursuant to international agreement, Israel collects custom duties for cross-border transactions on behalf of the PA, but only a highly distorted interpretation would conclude that Israel is “controlling” tax collection in Gaza. Moreover, Israel has no control over what population registry the PA and Hamas choose to use (the fact that the PA and Hamas continue to use of the population registry system established by Israel following 1967 is not Israel’s decision.)
Finally, if Israel was still occupying Gaza, pursuant to Article 43 of the Hague convention, it would be obligated to re-enter Gaza in order to restore public order and security and establish a permanent presence in the territory in order to do so. Amnesty cannot possibly be arguing for Israel troops to remain in Gaza once hostilities die down.
“Israeli decision-makers must take into account the fact that critical water, sanitation, and health services in the Gaza Strip were already in a dire state before the current hostilities, due largely to Israel’s seven-year military blockade.”
NGO Monitor Analysis
Gaza’s infrastructure is in a “dire state” because Hamas, the ruling authority, has squandered billions of dollars of aid to build up its missile arsenal and to construct a vast network of tunnels with which to carry out terrorist attacks on Israeli territory. Similarly, Hamas has established an extensive bunker system, including a command and control center under Shifa hospital, to shield its leadership.
Moreover, even though as mentioned Israel has no legal obligation, Israel allows in hundreds of thousands of tons of aid to Gaza and medical treatment to thousands of Gaza residents including Ismail Haniyeh’s granddaughter. Amnesty is silent on these central elements.
“Israeli forces have carried out attacks that have killed hundreds of civilians, including through the use of precision weaponry such as drone-fired missiles, and attacks using munitions such as artillery, which cannot be precisely targeted, on very densely populated residential areas, such as Shuja’iyyeh. They have also directly attacked civilian objects.”
NGO Monitor Analysis
Amnesty has no evidence whatsoever of a single civilian person or object directly targeted in Gaza by the IDF.
Amnesty makes reference to attacks that have killed hundreds of civilians. Such figures, however, are unsourced and appear to be based solely on reports by Hamas officials. Nevertheless, under the laws of armed conflict, the death of a civilian in itself provides no information as to whether a particular strike was legal. Legality of strikes depend on factors such as location of fighting, presence of combatants and/or military objects, civilian participation in hostilities, intent, contemporaneous intelligence, weapons capabilities, and other factors. Amnesty has limited to zero knowledge on any of these essential factors.
“Israeli attacks have caused mass displacement of Palestinian civilians within the Gaza Strip. As of 23 July, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that over 140,000 internally displaced people were sheltering in schools run by the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).”
NGO Monitor Analysis
Amnesty ignores that almost thousands of Israeli civilians have been displaced by the fighting.
“The UN has reported that an UNRWA school sheltering displaced people in the al-Maghazi refugee camp in central Gaza was shelled by Israeli forces on at least two occasions, with at least one child injured. Another UN school sheltering displaced families in Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza was struck on 24 July, killing at least 15 civilians and injuring many others, and the UN has called for an immediate investigation.”
NGO Monitor Analysis
Amnesty is silent on use of UNRWA and other civilian structures by Hamas to store and fire rockets and conduct Palestinian military operations. They make no mention of Hamas misfiring of rockets that have damaged UN structures, hospitals, and their wounding and killing of dozens (if not hundreds) of civilians.
Moreover, in several cases, UN officials have falsely accused Israel of direct shelling of UN facilities, when in fact, no shelling has occurred and/or the operation in question did not take place at the school. Amnesty does not call for any investigation into Hamas exploitation of UN facilities or of the role of UN officials in aiding this practice.
“Effective advance warning to civilians is only one of the prescribed precautions in attack aimed at minimizing harm to civilians. When Israeli forces have given warning, key elements of effective warning have been missing, including timeliness, informing civilians where it is safe to flee, and providing safe passage and sufficient time to flee before an attack. There also have been reports of lethal strikes launched too soon after a warning to spare civilians. In any event, issuing a warning does not absolve an attacking force of its obligations to spare civilians . . .”
NGO Monitor Analysis
Amnesty’s criticism of Israel warnings to Gaza civilians is bizarre and immoral. Does the NGO think it better that Israel offer no warning at all?
It also falsely claims that key elements of effective warning are missing; it has not produced evidence of a single warning that fails to meet its defined criteria. In fact, the huge numbers of warnings – many of which are publicly available –give precise information regarding location of Israeli strikes and where civilians should go for shelter.
“During the current hostilities, Hamas spokespeople have reportedly urged residents in some areas of the Gaza Strip not to leave their homes after the Israeli military dropped leaflets and made phone calls warning people in the area to evacuate. However, in light of the lack of clarity in many of the Israeli warnings … such statements by Hamas officials could have been motivated by a desire to avoid further panic. In any case, public statements referring to entire areas are not the same as directing specific civilians to remain in their homes as ‘human shields’ for fighters, munitions, or military equipment.” [emphasis added]
NGO Monitor Analysis
Amnesty’s response is simply propaganda for Hamas and is immoral. Hamas is a terrorist organization that steals humanitarian aid, hides its leadership in hospitals, stores its rockets in schools, mosques, and private homes, and conducts military operations from within civilian areas placing them in extreme danger. It summarily executes collaborators and has intimidated and threatened the international press. Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups do not care about the safety of Palestinians in Gaza or preventing “panic.”
In proffering this incredible response, Amnesty ignores the many statements of Hamas leaders telling its citizenry to ignore Israeli warnings and to act as human shields.
Similar to many of Amnesty’s statements on the Arab-Israeli conflict, Amnesty invents preposterous explanations and gives Hamas, an internationally recognized terrorist organization, the benefit of the doubt. In contrast, and as is evident, in this question and response, Amnesty routinely employs a skeptical and cynical approach toward any claim made by Israeli officials and interprets every incident against Israel’s favor.
“Amnesty International is aware of [claims of human shields], and continues to monitor and investigate reports, but does not have evidence at this point that Palestinian civilians have been intentionally used by Hamas or Palestinian armed groups during the current hostilities to ‘shield’ specific locations or military personnel or equipment from Israeli attacks.”
NGO Monitor Analsysis
Amnesty’s feigning of ignorance of Hamas shielding again reflects its approach to interpret events in the best possible light for Hamas and other Palestinian terror organizations. There are hundreds of media reports, video, tweets, Facebook posts, etc all documenting the extensive use of human shields in Gaza as an integral part of Hamas’ war strategy. Failing to document and condemn such activity is immoral at best and at worst, suggests Amnesty is deliberately covering up Hamas crimes.
“Amnesty International has not yet been able to get delegates into the Gaza Strip during the current hostilities, In the meantime, Amnesty International is working with trusted contacts in the Gaza Strip to take testimonies by phone from eyewitnesses to particular attacks and family members of individuals who have been killed, and to collect photographic and video evidence for munitions experts outside of Gaza to examine. The organization is closely monitoring statements on the ongoing hostilities and particular attacks by both the Israeli authorities and Palestinian armed groups. Amnesty International is also using information from Palestinian and Israeli human rights organizations, as well international NGOs and UN organizations with staff on the ground in Gaza, to help identify patterns of violations and cross-check particular incidents.”
NGO Monitor Analysis
While this response presents a façade of expertise and research methodology, Amnesty does not publicly disclose its contacts or experts so that it may be subject to independent investigation. In addition, Amnesty omits that Gaza is an environment where information flows are strictly controlled and manipulated by Hamas. Therefore, Amnesty itself has no way of verifying information provided to it. Many journalists have been threatened with harm if they report on Hamas activities.
In fact, Amnesty’s head of field investigations, Donatella Rovera revealed in an April 2014 article, that “Conflict situations create highly politicized and polarized environments, which may affect even individuals and organizations with a proven track record of credible and objective work. Players and interested parties go to extraordinary lengths to manipulate or manufacture ‘evidence’ for both internal and external consumption.” In addition, she explains that, “Evidence may be rapidly removed, destroyed, or contaminated – whether intentionally or not. ‘Bad’ evidence can be worse than no evidence, as it can lead to wrong assumptions or conclusions.” She further admits, “In Gaza, I received partial or inaccurate information by relatives of civilians accidentally killed in accidental explosions or by rockets launched by Palestinian armed groups towards Israel that had malfunctioned and of civilians killed by Israeli strikes on nearby Palestinian armed groups’ positions. When confronted with other evidence obtained separately, some said they feared reprisals by the armed groups.” In other words, Amnesty’s publications in any conflict situation have little to no reliability.
“All states (particularly key suppliers, e.g. USA for Israel) must suspend all transfers of weapons, munitions and other military equipment and technology to all sides until there is no longer a substantial risk that such items will be used for serious violations of international humanitarian law or serious human rights abuses. The suspension should include all indirect exports via other countries, the transfer of military components and technologies and any brokering, financial or logistical activities that would facilitate such transfers.”
NGO Monitor Analysis
Amnesty’s equating of providing weaponry to Israel with Hamas is immoral in the extreme. Hamas is a designated terror organization by Israel, the U.S., EU, and Canada. Providing any assistance, whether direct or indirect, to terrorist organizations is prohibited under international law pursuant to Security Council Resolution 1373, as well as under domestic law in many countries.
Similarly, while emphasizing the U.S. as Israel’s “key supplier,” Amnesty makes no mention of Iran, Syria, and North Korea that have provided weapons and training in violation on international law to Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups.
Moreover, it is strange that Amnesty is calling for an arms embargo on Hamas when it has campaigned extensively for the end of Israel’s blockade – imposed precisely in order to prevent weapons flows to the terrorist organization.