(Updated June 13, 2007)

Summary: NGOs have largely remained silent regarding the intense fighting between the Lebanese Army and the Palestinian terror faction Fatah al-Islam in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in Northern Lebanon. This silence stands in sharp contrast to the frequent condemnation of Israeli anti-terror operations, such as in Jenin during the IDF’s Operation Defensive Shield in 2002. This report will examine the responses of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Christian Aid (UK) to the fighting in Northern Lebanon and compare these with statements regarding Israel in the case of Jenin. [1]

Fighting Between Palestinian Terror Faction Fatah al-Islam and the Lebanese Army in the Nahr al-Bared Refugee Camp

Fatah al-Islam, a Palestinian group linked to al Qaeda, was founded late 2006 and has been involved in destabilizing Lebanon.  According to the Lebanese government, the group carried out a bombing attack on commuter buses outside Beirut on February 13.   Violent clashes between the group and the Lebanese army erupted in the Nahr al Bared refugee camp on May 20, 2007, after police entered the camp searching for Fatah al-Islam members wanted in a bank robbery.  Gunfights ensued and the military was called in as the fighting escalated.  To combat the Palestinian terrorists ensconced in the refugee camp, the Lebanese army has relied mainly on tank and artillery fire.  Despite the high numbers of casualties [2] and the combat tactics used by the Lebanese Army, no HRW, Amnesty, or CA statement has accused the Lebanese army of committing a “massacre” or “war crimes."  In addition, although the Lebanese Army in Nahr al Bared has restricted outsiders from entering the camp, this development has been given little attention. As will be shown below, these factors are very similar to conditions during the 2002 fighting in Jenin, but the responses of the NGOs were entirely different, demonstrating the double standards in their activities.

Background to the IDF’s Operation Defensive Shield
Prior to and during the spring of 2002, Palestinian terrorist groups carried out numerous acts of terror, that killed over 130 Israeli civilians and wounded hundreds.[3]  These attacks culminated in the suicide bombing at a Passover Seder in a Netanya hotel on March 27, killing 30 people and injuring 140.  In the previous eighteen months, terrorists from Jenin were responsible for 93 Israeli deaths and wounding 640.  In response, on March 29, Israel launched Operation Defensive Shield in order to root out the terror network existing in the Palestinian Authority.  As opposed to the Lebanese army in Nahr al-Bared, the IDF decided to use hand-to-hand combat exclusively in order to reduce civilian casualties.  Still, because the Palestinian terrorists were hiding in closed, booby-trapped, civilian quarters, there were some casualties.  Estimates differ, but the highest fact-based estimates record [4] that 56 Palestinians were killed in Jenin, a majority of whom were combatants.  
At the time of the operation, many NGO and UN officials repeated Palestinian claims that accused Israel of committing a “massacre” of hundreds of Palestinian civilians.  These officials also condemned the IDF for imposing restrictions on outsiders from entering the camp.

Comparison of NGO Statements regarding Clashes  in Nahr al Bared and Jenin:
Human Rights Watch

Reporting on Clashes in Nahr al Bared
Content:  HRW issued a single statement in the first three weeks of fighting in Nahr al Bared. This statement, published on May 23, 2007, contains a general description of the fighting and a large amount of background information regarding the start of the conflict and Fatah al-Islam, including the group’s affiliation with Fatah.  HRW does not mention Fatah al-Islam’s alleged connections to al-Qaeda. On June 13, 2007, HRW issued a second statement on the fighing, which centers on Palestinian claims of prisoner abuse.
Claims:  HRW’s first statement on the clashes accuses the Lebanese army of "indiscriminate shelling", while also declaring unequivocally that "Fatah al-Islam militants must not hide among civilians."  HRW’s second statement charges the Lebanese Army with "arbitrarily" detaining Palestinian civilians and "resorting to physical abuse." This latter statement also discusses the high civilian toll, [5] but it does not accuse either side of war crimes or violations of international law. As of June 13, 2007, HRW has made no mention of the Lebanese Army’s restrictions placed on outsiders from entering the camp.
The Contrast:  Reporting on Operation Defensive Shield
Content:  In contrast to the organization’s disinterested and balanced reporting on the clashes in Nahr al Bared, HRW focused much more on the IDF military response in Jenin than on Palestinian acts of terror.  For example, HRW publications on the operation included two major reports condemning IDF actions, and none on Palestinian terror.[6]
Claims:  HRW charged Israel with "indiscriminate" and "disproportionate" attacks in the Jenin refugee camp, also claiming that Israel committed “willful killings” and “summary executions” and “war crimes”.  In addition, as opposed to its silence regarding the Lebanese Army’s entrance restrictions on Nahr al Bared, HRW issued several statements – one on April 3, 2002, and one on April 15, 2002 – largely devoted to condemning the IDF for restricting access to the camp. 
Ignoring the many terrorist hide-outs within Jenin, HRW declared that the Hawashin district of Jenin,[7] endured "destruction extended well beyond any conceivable purpose of gaining access to fighters," a characterization HRW was not qualified to make.  Although this description did not include allegations that the IDF carried out a “massacre”, it did contribute to international efforts to condemn Israel and minimized Israel’s right to root out terrorist infrastructure.  Indeed, HRW based its conclusions on non-credible allegations from Palestinians who claimed to be Jenin residents and who may have been attempting to promote condemnations of the IDF.[8]

Amnesty International

Reporting on Clashes in Nahr al Bared
Content:  AI has issued two statements on the clashes.  The first AI statement, issued on May 23, 2007, is a normative analysis of the issues and the obligations of both sides.  It includes no citations of either side for “war crimes” or “violations of international law”. The second statement, (June 5), contains more discussion of events than the first statement, as well as a mostly theoretical legal discussion, and again no condemnations for "war crimes" or "violations of international law."
Claims:   The single legal point in AI’s June 5 statement is phrased in ambiguous and diplomatic terms: "The camp has been subject to prolonged and intense artillery shelling – which appears at times to have been indiscriminate." In its second statement, AI declares that "International humanitarian agencies should be permitted to assist those remaining in the camp and to aid those wishing to leave," but does not charge either side with restrictive action.
The Contrast:  Reporting on Operation Defensive Shield
Content:  A large majority of AI resources were devoted to condemning the Israeli response to Palestinian terrorism, rather than the terror itself.  For example, AI’s major report on the fighting in Jenin focused on the IDF’s "war crimes".
Claims:  AI statements which exploited international legal and human rights terminology had a major impact on international opinion and politics.   Amnesty declared that Israel committed “war crimes” and executed “unlawful killings” in Jenin and Nablus.  During the opening stages of the operation, AI official Derrick Pounder was quoted by the BBC immediately following the operation in Jenin, saying that the signs pointed to a "massacre." [9]  And although AI later admitted that no massacre had taken place, this statement is still used by other NGOs and government and UN officials to demonize Israel.   In stark contrast to its silence regarding the Lebanese Army’s restrictive actions in Nahr al Bared, AI condemned Israel for preventing international media and humanitarian agencies from entering the Jenin camp, claiming that the IDF wanted to “avoid scrutiny.”

Christian Aid (UK)

Reporting on Clashes in Nahr al Bared
Content:   Christian Aid has issued two statements on the fighting.  The first statement, issued on May 23, includes some background to the clashes, discussion of CA’s relief efforts, and anecdotes of casualties.  The second  statement, issued on May 25, describes the organization’s aid efforts on behalf of civilians in the refugee camp.
Claims:   Christian Aid has made no significant legal claims regarding the actions of either the Lebanese Army or Fatah al-Islam, although it did report that the Lebanese army was "bombarding positions in Nahr al Bared" in the second statement. [10]

The Contrast:  Reporting on Operation Defensive Shield
Content: CA reporting on the anti-terror operation focused entirely on Israeli actions, completely ignoring the Palestinian acts of terror that led to the operation.  The organization’s publications contained mostly sensationalist and anecdotal stories about victims intended to promote CA’s clear political agenda.  For example, the first paragraph of CA’s April 19, 2002 statement included a story about the shortage of space in the morgue in Nablus. Along with CA’s April 16 statement, these publications were based on information gathered from discredited NGOs such as B’tselem, Hamoked and Physicians for Human Rights. Unlike its minimal reporting on Nahr al Bared, CA also released several videos [11] that criticize Israel and remove the context of terror and ignore the dense fighting conditions in Jenin.  The lone statement that contained any significant discussion of international law was an April 3 letter to the EU from Palestinian political leaders and discredited Palestinian NGOs partnered with CA, such as PCHR and LAW. The letter calls on the EU for "immediate and urgent protection for Palestinian civilians," and completely ignores the context of Palestinian terror.
Claims:  These statements and videos charged Israel with "war crimes” and other human rights violations.  Adopting an extreme, anti-Israel stance, the EU letter demanded the enactment of "sanctions on Israel, including the suspension of the Euro-Israel Association agreement, and to pressure other states to do so as well." 

NGO Monitor’s analysis has shown that HRW, AI, and Christian Aid have not reported on the fighting in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp to anywhere approaching the extent that they reported on the fighting in Jenin.  Although they present a balanced view of the recent fighting – HRW legitimized the claims made by the Lebanese that Fatah al-Islam has been using human shields – they presented a one-sided, anti-Israel narrative of Operation Defensive Shield.  These clear differences between reporting on the fighting in Nahr al-Bared and their reporting on the 2006 Lebanon War and Operation Defensive Shield highlights the continued tendency of these NGOs to single out Israel for condemnation, and thereby continue to implement  the Durban Strategy.


1. Operation Defensive shield was carried out inter alia, in Bethlehem, Nablus, as well as Jenin.  This report, however, will focus mainly on NGO responses to IDF operation in Jenin as the location where most NGO reporting was centered.

2. As of June 11, 2007, 130 people have already been killed in the fighting, including 57 Lebanese soldiers, 42 Fatah al-Islam fighters, and 31 civilians.

3. See the Israeli Foreign Ministry website for a complete list of bombing attacks against Israeli civilians since the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993.  The list includes statistics of civilian casualties.

4. The report will discuss the myth of the Jenin massacre as part of the description and analysis of the HRW/AI/CA response to the operation..

5. According to HRW, 60 Lebanese soldiers and at least 20 civilians were killed as of June 13, 2007.

6. It is important to note that although HRW’s June 13 statement records testimony that includes claims of abuse, it also includes testimony from prisoners confirming they were not abused.  This balanced documentation and reporting stands in contrast to the one-sided allegations of torture repeatedly made by HRW against the IDF.  See, for example, the organization’s July 19, 2001 letter to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and its June, 1994 report entitled. "Torture and Ill-Treatment: Israel’s Interrogation of Palestinians from the Occupied Territories."  See also NGO Monitor’s May 6, 2007 report summarizing the Israeli foreign ministry’s detailed response (Hebrew, English) to B’Tselem and Hamoked‘s non-credible report alleging continued IDF torture of security detainees.

7. It was in the Hawashin district that the alleged “massacre” took place, according to premature AI reports,

8. It is important to note that since AI and HRW criticized Israel for using Palestinians as human shields in Jenin, the Israeli Supreme Court has outlawed the practice, and this ruling is still enforced in the IDF.

9. These premature judgments are characteristic of the organization’s continued pattern of using problematic research methodology.  For more NGO Monitor analysis of AI publications, see here

10. Significantly, CA’s first statement concludes with a description of the situation of Palestinian refugees, who " remain some of the most disenfranchised, marginalized and poor communities in the region" after they "left their homes after the creation of the state of Israel in 1948." This conclusion serves to focus the blame for the Palestinian refugee crisis on Israel.

11. Videos were released, for example, on April 24, 2002, April 26, 2002, and April 30, 2002.