Summary: Human Rights Watch´s statement calling on the U.S. government to penalize Israel for constructing the separation barrier is the latest in a series of highly unbalanced, incomplete and politically motivated attacks on Israeli policy in the name of human rights. Most of HRW´s statement is again based on claims made by Palestinian political organizations with only token reference to the legitimate security concerns and impact of terror on this Israeli policy.

HRW’s Political Condemnation of Israel’s Separation Barrier

The readiness of the major human rights NGOs, such as HRW, Amnesty and Oxfam to diverge from their mission statements in order launch unbalanced and politically biased attacks on Israeli policy has not changed following the infamous Durban conference two years ago. The latest examples of this strategy are the condemnations of the security barrier that Israel government decided to construct after an intense public debate and extensive cabinet discussions.

On October 1, Human Rights Watch distributed a press release and mass email statement calling on the U.S. government to penalize Israel for constructing this separation barrier. (The press release was ostensibly distributed to announce a letter from HRW to President Bush on this subject.) The HRW "analysis" of the separation issue again trivializes the complexity of the problems faced by Israeli decision makers, and provides no information on the very intense debate that has been taking place within Israel on the costs and benefits of the various alternatives under consideration.

Instead, HRW’s simplistic and politicized lobbying effort generally adopts the standard approach of Palestinian officials, repeating their claims that the barrier will impede "freedom of movement", endanger "access to food, water, education, and medical services," and appropriate land. As HRW has done on several other occasions, it uses skewed and highly subjective interpretations of international law to buttress the central political point, while the Palestinian leadership is paternalistically exempted from any responsibility for preventing terrorism or meeting the most basic requirements of human rights. Once again, HRW ignores the most human rights of Israeli citizens – the right to life, to security, to ride busses and have coffee without being blown to bits.

Paralleling the Palestinian campaign to add the separation barrier to the long list of alleged Israeli human rights violations, HRW’s contribution to this effort largely ignores the Israeli security environment, the role of the Palestinian authority in destroying the Oslo process, and its use of terrorism. This is the essential context in which, according to public opinion polls, for example the Peace Project at Tel Aviv University July 2003, 80% of the Israeli public has supported the physical separation of the populations. Yet, in this case, as in so many others, this primary dimension is entirely missing from HRW’s campaign of vilification against Israel.

The separation policy and the complex negotiations with the Bush Administration over the route and its relation to the 1949 armistice line (the so-called "green line", which HRW again fails to note, has no status as an international border) and to Israeli settlements are essentially political/security and not human rights issues. The on this as in so many other critical issues, the human rights issues are double-edged. There will be a cost for the Palestinian population, but the Israeli government has a responsibility to act to defend its citizens after three years of almost continuous infiltrations of suicide bombers across this porous and open area.

Furthermore, in presenting the distorted case against separation, HRW also quotes very selectively from sources, such as the World Bank. Had an honest and fair summary of the World Bank report been presented, HRW would have highlighted the conclusion that the construction of a barrier and the physical separation of the populations would work towards the long-term interests of the Palestinians by lessening dependence on low-paying employment in Israel. But since this goes against HRW’s political agenda, it was also erased. Similarly, the list of resources on this issue provided by HRW at the end of its press release consists primarily of "analyses" written by Palestinian political and propaganda organizations (also falsely presented as human rights groups), such as Al Haq, B’Tselem, the "The Apartheid Wall Campaign", "The Palestinian Environmental NGOs Network", PICCR, as well as UNRWA (whose anti-Israel political biases are also well-documented) (Link has expired). A token link to a minimalist Israeli government site is included, while in-depth studies of separation (see also Yuval Elizur, "Israel Banks on a Fence", Foreign Affairs, March/April 2003) that reflect the complexities are entirely absent, apparently because they do not support HRW’s political agenda. The result is a highly flawed political attack with no substantive merit, and, more importantly, another example of the exploitation of the human rights framework in the pursuit of blatant political agendas.