On November 5, 2014, Amnesty International published a 48-page report, “Families under the Rubble,” purporting to document 8 incidents during the 2014 Gaza war where “the devastating toll on civilians and civilian property was out of all proportion to any military advantage [achieved by Israel] from the attack and/or that Israel failed to take necessary precautions to minimize harm to civilians and damage to civilian objects.”
By Amnesty’s own admission, its methodology in attempting to investigate was faulty and incomplete, and it cannot possibly possess the requisite information to draw meaningful conclusions. As such, the “evidence” compiled in its report cannot sustain the accusations of “war crimes” and the recommendations of “lawfare” and sanctions against Israel.
The factual basis of Amnesty’s report was provided by anonymous “fieldworkers” and “military experts,” as well as “relevant documentation produced by UN agencies, Palestinian, Israeli and other non-governmental organizations, local officials, media, and others who monitored the conflict.” With regards to the former, there is no way to confirm expertise nor to establish impartiality. Indeed, the Amnesty “researchers” who work on Israel have a record of anti-Israel activism that is incompatible with the claims of objective analysis. Did this report’s fieldworkers have ties to Gaza-based NGOs with records of distorting evidence and international law for soft-power warfare against Israel? Or to Hamas?
Were the interviews conducted in the presence of Hamas officials and/or thugs? According to Amnesty International’s Donatella Rovera, testimonies from Hamas-controlled Gaza are suspect because family members and other “eyewitnesses” lie out of fear of “reprisals by the armed groups.”
In addition, some of the report’s supposed “evidence,” which consists of Israel’s refusal to explain its targeting decisions to Amnesty, its silence on other matters, and reviews of “statements by the Israeli military and other official bodies” (that did not reveal anything of importance in any case) is irrelevant.
It is worth noting that the report itself, at times, contains caveats, disclaimers, and qualifications regarding the constraints on Amnesty’s conclusions. Irresponsibly, none of this was echoed in Amnesty’s highly inflammatory press release, which accused Israel of “callous indifference,” “brazenly flout[ing] the laws of war,” and “attacks…which in some cases have amounted to war crimes.” As with many Amnesty International publications, this does not comport with best practices in fact-finding.
Excerpts from Amnesty’s report pertaining to lack of methodology
Page 7: “the lack of access for Amnesty International’s researchers, as well as military and medical experts who would have accompanied them, has clearly hindered the work of Amnesty International…Medical evidence and evidence of weapons used, both in damaged buildings and elsewhere, help monitors to assess how, with what and why something was targeted, but they disappear quickly.”
Page 5: “The cases were chosen for a variety of reasons, including the availability of witnesses, the clarity of the evidence and the number of civilians killed.”
Pages 5-6: “However, even if a fighter or a military objective was indeed present (or thought to have been present), the loss of civilian lives, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects appear disproportionate, that is, out of proportion to the likely military advantage of carrying out the attack, or otherwise indiscriminate. However, due to lack of information from the Israeli authorities, Amnesty International cannot be certain in any of these attacks what was being targeted.”
Page 6: “Amnesty International has been unable to send a delegation of researchers to visit the Gaza Strip since the beginning of the conflict.”
Page 7: “Amnesty International has consequently had to carry out research remotely, supported by two fieldworkers based in Gaza who were contracted to work with the organization for periods of several weeks. They travelled extensively within the Strip, visiting every site described in this briefing more than once, as soon as possible after the damage took place, interviewing victims and eyewitnesses of every case recorded and taking photos and videos of the sites.”
“The organization consulted on the interpretation of photos and videos with military experts.”
“It extensively reviewed relevant statements by the Israeli military and other official bodies, but they provide no indication as to whether any of the attacks in this report were directed at a particular military target. Amnesty International has therefore made considerable efforts to assess the military purpose, if any, of each attack.”
“Amnesty International also studied relevant documentation produced by UN agencies, Palestinian, Israeli and other non-governmental organizations, local officials, media, and others who monitored the conflict, and consulted with them as needed.”