During the November 2012 Israeli military response to rocket attacks from Gaza, Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) claimed that on November 14 “an Israeli warplane fired a missile at a house… Two members of the family (a woman and a toddler) were killed: Hiba Aadel Fadel al-Masharawi, 19, and Omar Jihad al-Masharawi, 11 months. Additionally, a child from the same family was wounded.”
HRW also accused Israel of responsibility for the attack, citing “news reports and witnesses who spoke to Human Rights Watch” (Israel/Gaza: Avoid Harm to Civilians, November 15, 2012). Electronic Intifada featured an emotive article about “Israel’s killing of baby Omar Masharawi.”
These NGO allegations were particularly damaging due to powerful, widely-circulated images of the grieving father of the child, who is a journalist. The NGO and corresponding media accounts worked together to demonize Israel for the death of an innocent child.
At the time of the allegations, the blogger Elder of Ziyon raised the possibility that the deaths were the result of a misfired Hamas rocket, not an Israeli strike.
A detailed UN analysis has now confirmed that in fact, Israeli weaponry did not cause the casualties, meaning that the PCHR and HRW versions were fabricated. In a report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, submitted to the UN Human Rights Council, the deaths are attributed to “what appeared to be a Palestinian rocket that fell short of Israel.”
In many previous instances, HRW and PCHR have repeatedly made false accusations regarding Israeli actions and alleged civilian casualties – most notably regarding the 2008/9 Gaza conflict and the discredited Goldstone Report, the Second Lebanon War (2006), and numerous other conflicts. These and many other cases demonstrated that these political advocacy NGOs lack the forensic and military expertise to back their “reports” and other statements related to human rights and armed conflict.
Rather than applying consistent and professional standards to fact-finding, the claims of HRW and PCHR are often the products of instant speculation and the a-priori presumption of Israeli guilt. Later, when detailed evidence emerges that contradicts their allegations, these NGOs fail to publish apologies and retractions.
See Best Practices for Human Rights and Humanitarian NGO Fact-Finding (G Steinberg, A Herzberg and J. Berman, Nijhoff 2012) for further analysis of this practice.