- On July 22-24, 2009, the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People held an NGO conference “to discuss questions related to Israeli violations of international humanitarian law.” The context of Palestinian attacks was not on the agenda.
- Participants in this exercise included Palestinian NGOs such as Badil, PCHR, and Al Haq, as well as Human Rights Watch and Israeli NGOs Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-I), Keshev, and Adalah.
- HRW promoted the campaign to prevent Israel from purchasing weapons, led by Amnesty International, and demanded “on-going international pressure” on Israel. HRW’s participation provides further evidence of bias against Israel.
- One speaker from the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency accused Jews of “buying everything” and controlling a “global machine, money,” and another expressed “extreme disappointment” that Palestinian war crimes were even mentioned in passing.
- Most NGO representatives expressed support for “lawfare” cases in European courts and international forums against Israeli military and government officials.
On July 22-24, 2009, the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People held an NGO conference, involving Human Rights Watch (HRW), and several European and NIF-funded NGOs, examining “Responsibility of the international community to uphold international humanitarian law to ensure the protection of civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory in the wake of the war in Gaza”. The objective was “to discuss questions related to Israeli violations of international humanitarian law during the recent hostilities in the Gaza Strip” [emphasis added].
Participants discussed strategies designed to promote “individual and collective action by Governments,” most notably, imposing boycotts and sanctions against Israel, as well as “lawfare.” Core human rights violations by Hamas, including the deliberate targeting of Israeli civilians with continuous rocket attacks and the extensive use of human shields in Gaza, were not on the agenda. The session represents yet another UN framework used to attack Israel, in which many EU- and European- funded NGOs play a central role. This event was timed to coincide with the Goldstone mission hearings and supported by the tendentious reports issued by HRW, Amnesty International, Breaking the Silence, and other NGOs.
- Bill Van Esveld, HRW, Israel and PA researcher, Middle East and North Africa Division;
- Charles Shamas, partner in the Mattin Group, co-Founder of Al Haq, and HRW board member;
- Raji Sourani of the EU-funded PCHR (he is also a vice-president of FIDH);
- John Dugard, former UN rapporteur, leader of the Arab League’s “fact finding” mission that accused Israel of “genocide” and “war crimes”;
- Pierre Galand – Belgian anti-Israel activist;
- Ron Yaron, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (EU- and European government-funded);
- Daphna Golan, co-founder of B’Tselem, researcher at the Minerva Center for Human Rights of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, consultant to pseudo-academic study organized by Dugard and Al Haq, claiming Israel is an “apartheid” state;
- Rania Al-Madi of Badil (funded by Irish and Scandanavian governments);
- Fatmeh El Ajou from Adalah (EU and NIF funded);
- Yizhar Be’er from Keshev (EU funded)
The Central Role of Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch (HRW) was featured prominently at this blatantly one-sided event, which took place amidst the controversy over HRW’s anti-Israel agenda and the emphasis on defeating “pro-Israel pressure groups” during a May fundraising dinner held in Saudi Arabia.
Several participants referred to HRW’s reporting on the Gaza war, and Esveld repeated HRW’s unsubstantiated charges that Israel used white phosphorous and drones unlawfully. He claimed that HRW’s “researchers” found “no military justification for the use of the phosphorus as a smoke screen, as there were no Israeli forces on the ground at the time.” Media reports and military analysts have refuted HRW’s allegations.
Esveld repeated HRW’s unsubstantiated claims that Israel’s actions against Hamas exceeded “any conceivable military necessity” and amounted to “collective punishment.” He also bolstered the campaign to prevent Israel from obtaining military equipment, led by Amnesty International, by emphasizing more than once that the weapons used by Israel were manufactured in the US. He concluded that it was critical to ensure “on-going international pressure” on Israel.
Israeli NGO Participants Contribute to the Campaign
As noted, several Israeli NGOs participated in the meeting. Analysts have noted the attempt to legitimize anti-Israel and anti-Zionist positions by highlighting agreement from individual Jews, including Israelis, who profess these positions.
Daphna Golan-Agnon, a senior researcher at Hebrew University’s Minerva Center and founder of B’Tselem, alleged that Israel cynically uses international law to pose as a “democratic state” when, according to her, it is not. She asserted that Gaza is an “artificial, invented zone controlled by Israel,” claimed that Israel “controls” the “population registry” and “legal system” that are run by Hamas, and advocated for a bi-national state. As mentioned, Golan-Agnon was a consultant to a pseudo-academic study initiated by John Dugard (see below) that demonized Israel as an “apartheid” state.1
Ha’aretz columnist Gideon Levy also participated, referring to Israeli society as “immoral” and comparing it to a “drug addict” that required “institutionalization.” Levy argued the only ways for Palestinians to end the “occupation” were through “terrible bloodshed,” “sanctions,” or by making Israelis “feel uncomfortable,” and said rocket attacks on Israeli civilians did not merit military action by Israel.
Ron Yaron spoke on behalf of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-I).– and EU- and Swedish-funded NGO, whose political agenda includes assistant to protesters “in solidarity with their struggle against Israeli occupation”. Yaron castigated the IDF investigations as “whitewash” and not reliable. Yaron admitted that “Hamas had systematically used medical facilities and ambulances as a cover for its military operations,” but summarily and without evidence dismissed what he termed “justif[ications]” of the Israeli army.
Yizhar Be’er, Executive Director of the EU-funded Keshev, accused the Israeli media of demonization, militancy, and incitement, and criticized local newspapers for highlighting the destruction of rocket attacks on Israeli civilians, in particular children. Keshev works in concert with Miftah, a Palestinian NGO which promotes anti-Israel demonization, supports boycotts of Israel and was very active in the infamous 2001 Durban conference.
Fatmeh El Ajou of the EU- and European-funded Adalah claimed the war in Gaza was illegitimate because it was “intended to get rid of the democratically-elected Hamas.” Additionally, she declared that Palestinians have no remedy in the Israeli justice system, erasing the fact that the Israeli Supreme Court hears hundreds of cases related to Palestinian rights, including many suits initiated by Adalah,. She also endorsed a bi-national state, which is consistent with Adalah’s “Democratic Constitution” that demands the end of Israel as a Jewish nation-state.
“Lawfare” from international and Palestinian NGOs
Pro-Palestinian activists and Palestinian NGOs bolstered the political warfare conducted by the other participants. One Palestinian media representative concluded his speech with an antisemitic rant accusing Jews of “buying everything” and controlling a “global machine, money.” A member of the Third World Network referred to Ahmedinejad as a “so-called Holocaust denier,” and a Swiss NGO representative expressed “extreme disappointment” that Palestinian war crimes of firing rockets into civilian areas of Israel were mentioned, even in passing, at the three-day event.
John Dugard, the former UN rapporteur, accused Israel of “war crimes,” “crimes against humanity,” “genocide,” and “terrorizing” the citizens of Gaza. Dugard made the absurd claim that that Israel had no right to self-defense in the face of Hamas rocket attacks on its civilians. He also sought to argue that international laws regarding combating terrorism and its financing had no relevance to his legal analysis of the war. Dugard ended his presentation by calling for “lawfare” prosecutions of Israeli military and political figures. In February 2009, Dugard headed the Arab League’s “Fact Finding Mission” on the Gaza War, which made the same politicized conclusions.
More calls for “lawfare” came from Pierre Galand, a Belgian radical and chairman of the European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine. He portrayed Israel as part of the West’s “colonial and imperialist ideology”, stating that Israel “like France and the UK, continually lies.” Galand mentioned that he, Dugard, and Sourani (see below) were planning a “Russell Tribunal” against Israel (such fringe tribunals found the US guilty of “war crimes” in the 1970s, in the 1991 Operation Desert Storm, and the 2003 Iraq War).
Charles Shamas – head of the Mattin Group, HRW board member, and co-founder of Palestinian NGO Al Haq – called for sanctions against Israel. He focused on pressing the European Union to suspend trade agreements and block aviation traffic with Israel.
In a written statement, Raji Sourani, director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR – funded by the EU, Norway, Ireland, and Denmark), leveled accusations of “collective punishment,” “illegal siege” and Israeli “impunity.” As reflected in PCHR’s labeling of terror attacks as “resistance,” he did not criticize Hamas for aggression or “war crimes.” Sourani called for more “lawfare” cases against Israelis, even though every one of PCHR’s cases has been dismissed as being without merit. At the July 24 NGO session, other NGO representatives echoed Sourani’s remarks, noting their plan to harass with lawsuits UK nationals who have served in the IDF.
Badil (funded by Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands), this “right of return” NGO accused Israel of “colonial and apartheid policies,” and repeated the canard that Israel was created solely out of “European guilt over the Holocaust.” In order to hold Israel “accountable for its crimes,” Badil called for a general boycott and an arms ban on Israel, as well as suspension of the EU-Israel upgrade agreement.
In contrast to the marginalization of radical NGOs in the UN’s Durban Review Conference (April 2009), this conference shows that the power of these NGOs in UN remains significant. Such smaller, less visible meetings may not register in the international media, but they provide a forum for “sharing common practices” in the intensification of the Durban Strategy. Timed to coincide with the Goldstone investigation, the July 2009 “Question of Palestine” event indicates the ongoing legal warfare instigated by NGOs in response to the Gaza conflict.
Human Rights Watch’s participation in this “mini-Durban” conference reflects the organization’s further radicalization and the absence of professionalism and objectivity.
It also highlights this powerful NGO’s influence in the anti-Israel NGO network and the UN. HRW, with its very large resources, media connections, and international reputation, legitimates and amplifies campaigns initiated by Palestinian NGOs – such as the concerted effort to criminalize Israel’s actions in the Gaza war. Radical Israeli NGOs, funded by European governments and NIF, add to this campaign by repeating unsupported claims and promoting a Palestinian narrative. Finally, the UN promotes these campaigns, providing one-sided forums – including the Goldstone commission – for advancing NGO strategies and attacks.
- See ‘Progressive’ Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism, by Alvin H. Rosenfeld, American Jewish Committee, 2007, www.ajc.org/atf/cf/…/PROGRESSIVE_JEWISH_THOUGHT.PDF