Many NGOs issued belated statements in response to the Palestinian civil war in Gaza and Hamas’ takeover. Some have called Hamas and Fatah to account for international human rights and legal violations, though many continue to blame Israel for this as well. Major NGOs operating in the region have called on the Israeli government, but not Egypt, to open Gaza border crossings. These NGOs have pointedly not issued calls for Hamas to respect the rights of the Christian minority in Gaza, despite attacks on these groups and their institutions.
Hamas Seizes Control
Hamas seized control of Gaza in June 2007 after defeating PA security forces dominated by the rival Fatah group. The fighting saw arrests and killing of Palestinians by Hamas, including summary executions in the street, attacks on hospitals, victims hurled from an 18-story building, and shootings of civilians trying to escape via the border crossings. At least 140 people were killed, with hundreds wounded. This includes dozens of civilians.
In the days following the takeover, hundreds of Palestinians collected near the Erez crossing in an attempt to leave Gaza and cross into Israel. The Israeli Government (as of June 20) authorized evacuation of all Palestinians from the border terminal in need of urgent medical care, and those needing treatment were taken to Israeli hospitals. The Israeli Supreme Court also declared, in response to petitions by human rights organizations, that Israeli government agencies should do "everything Israel can do to save human life." The Israeli government has expressed great concern that some of the Palestinians seeking to leave Gaza may pose a security risk because of their involvement with terrorist organizations.
In addition to violence, arrests and executions of civilians by Hamas and Fatah, there have been increasing reports of threats and violence directed against Christians and Christian organizations. A Christian School was attacked in Gaza, and Islamic fundamentalist leaders in Gaza have issued calls that "Christians must accept Islamic Rule in Gaza." In addition to this internal violence, rocket attacks from Gaza targeting civilian areas in Israel, including the town of Sderot, have continued.
After delays of a week or more, major international NGOs, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Oxfam and Christian Aid, as well as a number of local NGOs, issued statements concerning these events. The responses have focused on three issues: Hamas and Fatah violence; Israel’s closing of Gaza border crossings in response; and calls for an end to the international boycott of the Palestinian Authority in light of the crisis.
Condemnation of Palestinian Internal Violence, Rights Abuses, "War Crimes"
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, B’Tselem, Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, Al-Mezan Centre for Human Rights condemned the violence and human rights abuses by Palestinian factions. HRW, for example, condemned “armed Palestinian groups” for committing “war crimes” and violating “international humanitarian law. Amnesty International, stated that “Fatah and Hamas security forces and armed groups have shown utter disregard for fundamental principles of international law and have committed grave human rights abuses.” B’tselem (June 17) also accused Hamas of committing “war crimes” and “severe violations” such as “summary executions”. PCHR and Al-Mezan called upon Hamas to “respect the rule of law” and “human rights” and protect civilians. (These statements reflect an important if belated change in the NGO community, which had claimed that human rights obligations were only binding on states, and they exempted terror groups and non-state actors, including the various Palestinian groups, from analysis.)
NGOs have also issued a number of statements calling on Israel to immediately open border crossings into and out of Gaza in order to prevent a “humanitarian crisis”. Notably, NGOs have made no such call upon Egypt, which also shares a border with Gaza. The NGO statements also ignore Israel’s legitimate security concerns as terrorist groups continue to attack and attempt to infiltrate the crossings. Moreover, these statements remain silent regarding the daily Qassam rocket attacks on Israeli civilians.
Amnesty International, for example, issued a statement on June 18 claiming that "both Israel and Palestinian factions must behave in a manner that would not hinder access to humanitarian relief and medical assistance for the civilian population." Amnesty made no reference to the security concerns Israel faces in opening the crossings, nor does it make the same demands of Egypt. Oxfam’s statements regarding border crossings take a position similar to Amnesty’s. Oxfam, in a June 18 press release, says that "EU Foreign Ministers must ensure Israel ends its blockade of Gaza." Other political NGOs, including Christian Aid, CARE, and B’tselem also issued statements demanding Israel open all border crossings and allow full access into and out of Gaza. Gisha issued a press release June 18, addressed to the Israeli Defense Minister, urging Israel to open Gaza border crossings to avoid a humanitarian crisis. The statement was released in conjunction with B’Tselem, Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Physicians for Human Rights, Public Committee against Torture in Israel, Center for the Defence of the Individual, Yesh Din, and Rabbis for Human Rights. Again there was no mention of Israel’s security concerns, nor a call upon Egypt to also open its border.
Calls to end "International Boycott" of the Palestinian Government
Some NGOs, including Christian Aid and its local partner Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR) have called for end to international boycott of Hamas government. FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights) has called upon UN Security Council to send an armed international force to the Gaza strip to end the fighting.
Situation Blamed on Israel
In addition to calling upon Israel to open the borders, many NGOs assigned overall responsibility for the current situation to Israel. Thus, for example, Al-Mezan (based in Gaza) claims in a June 18 statement that "the only party that benefits from the continuation of the current crisis is Israel and its occupation forces, which continue to create new facts on the ground, especially in the West Bank through the construction of the Annexation Wall and settlements, which undermine any possibility of establishing a viable, independent Palestinian state." B’Tselem, in a statement dated June 17, "reminds the Israeli government, which has effective control in the West Bank, that it bears overarching responsibility for the human rights of all people in the West Bank, including for acts committed by agencies operating with Israel’s agreement, including the Palestinian Authority." Oxfam continues to assert that Israel is “occupying” the Palestinian Authority, despite international legal analyses to the contrary, and that only Israel (not Hamas nor Fatah) is responsible for the welfare of Palestinians: "As Occupying Power Israel is responsible for the welfare of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank."