On January 27, 2016, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released its “World Report 2016,” with a section devoted to “Israel/Palestine: Events of 2015.” Following a long-running pattern, HRW presents a highly selective political narrative and omits any facts that challenge it.
Lack of Methodology: Inconsistent Statistics
The statistics presented by HRW, in particular those on Israeli casualties, are ambiguous and appear to be internally inconsistent. In the absence of footnotes and given the unclear writing, it is impossible to confirm most of HRW’s data.
- The summary at the beginning – “Overall, Palestinians killed at least 17 Israeli civilians and 3 Israeli soldiers” – is unclear as to whether HRW is referring to deaths for all of 2015 (through November 27) or to “killings and injuries related to Israeli-Palestinian hostilities (sic) beginning in October.”
- According to a later passage in the Israel section, “During an escalation of violence beginning in October, Palestinian civilians killed 18 Israeli and other civilians and 3 Israeli soldiers…as of November 30” alone. It is unknown why the lower figure was used at the outset.
- According to the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in January-November 2015, 20 Israeli civilians and 3 Israeli soldiers were killed by Palestinian violence.
- HRW makes the absurd claim that 11,953 Palestinian civilians were injured, “including bystanders, protesters, and suspected assailants.” This claim is unsourced, and HRW offers no methodology as to how it arrives at this wildly exaggerated figure. Moreover, HRW contradicts itself by claiming “protestors and suspected assailants” are civilians, but separately suggests that their injuries were part of “hostilities” (see below). Under its own created legal paradigm of armed conflict, Palestinian protestors and assailants violently engaging Israeli forces are directly participating in hostilities and can therefore be classified as combatants and not civilians.
Minimizing Terrorism to Demonize Israel
- The “sharp rise in killings and injuries… beginning in October” is not attributed to the mass wave of Palestinian terrorism and incitement, resulting in the deaths of innocent Israelis and Palestinian perpetrators. Rather, HRW describes this as “hostilities,” as if terror attacks targeting Israeli civilians on buses, at grocery stores, at cafes, on the streets, in their homes and cars, were fighting between Palestinian combatants and Israeli military forces. .
- Throughout the section, HRW claims that Israeli “security forces,” “settlers,” and “citizens” killed Palestinians “suspected of attacking Israelis.” This qualified language, implying illegal extrajudicial executions, is contradicted by video footage, media reports, hundreds of eyewitnesses, and testimonials from injured victims, proving that the “suspected assailants” were actually active attackers in the process of trying to murder as many people as possible.
- In sharp contrast and highlighting the double standard, HRW misleadingly cites “video footage and witness accounts” that allegedly “strongly suggest that excessive force” or extrajudicial killings” occurred.
- HRW states that “In two separate attacks in June in the West Bank, Palestinian civilians shot at Israelis in their car.” In fact, in these two incidents, two Israelis were murdered.
- HRW is silent on mass incitement and antisemitism promoted by Palestinian officials and in the Palestinian media.
- The only named victims are Palestinians; Israeli victims remain anonymous throughout.
Distorted Narrative on Gaza
In the Gaza subsection, HRW claims “Israel’s punitive closure of the Gaza Strip, particularly the near-total blocking of outgoing goods, continued to have severe consequences for the civilian population and impeded reconstruction of the 17,000 housing units severely damaged or destroyed during the 2014 war.”
Contrary to these claims, delays in Gaza reconstruction were primarily due to Palestinian infighting (Fatah wanted full oversight over the process); failure of donor countries (mostly Arab) in paying pledges; and diversion by Hamas of cement and other materials to rebuild their own infrastructure and terror tunnels.
Ignoring Iran and Hezbollah
A further indication of HRW’s politicized lens is the erasure of Iran and Hezbollah in the Middle East:
- The section on Yemen does not mention Iran’s backing of Houthi rebels.
- Aside from vague references to Iran providing “military assistance” to the Syrian government and “Syria, Iran, and Saudi Arabia maintain[ing] strong influence on Lebanese politics through local allies and proxies,” Iran’s role as a primary destabilizing force in the region goes unstated.
- Hezbollah is not mentioned, neither in the Lebanon nor the Syria section.