On January 21, 2014, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released its 2014 World Report, which purports to examine and summarize key human rights issues in more than 90 countries worldwide. HRW also issued a press release (Israel/Palestine: Growing Abuse in West Bank) focused on the Israel-related elements of the World Report.1
NGO Monitor’s analysis of the relevant sections of HRW’s 2014 World Report demonstrates that HRW continues to exhibit a biased and disproportionate obsession with Israel. HRW’s methodological failures, including factual inaccuracies and selective narrative of events, are compounded by unsupported and nebulous allegations of Israeli violations of international law.
HRW’s strong prejudice and one-sided agenda is portrayed in the press statement on Israel that accompanied the release of the report. HRW identifies “[o]ne positive development in 2013… the European Union’s decision to prevent its funding to Israel under its Horizon 2020 programme from benefiting settlements.”
These EU guidelines follow extensive lobbying by advocacy NGOs, as part of political warfare campaigns against Israel in which HRW has played a leading role since the infamous 2001 NGO Forum of the Durban Conference. Thus, according to HRW, the “[o]ne positive development in 2013” relating to human rights in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, was a form of sanctions against Israel, as well as the accompanying diplomatic tension.
Examples of HRW’s obsession with Israel and flawed methodology
Syria and the International Criminal Court (ICC)
HRW’s claim: “In the case of the ICC, Washington also has not publicly backed a role for the court, apparently guided partly by a desire to avoid the unlikely possibility that Israeli officials would be prosecuted for transferring people to the relatively static settlements on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.” (HRW 2014 World Report, p 4)
Fact and Analysis: The speculation, in the absence of any evidence that U.S. policy on Syria and the ICC relates to Israel, reflects HRW’s continued obsession with pursuing a case against Israel in the ICC, in particular against settlement policies. It also constitutes a tendentious attempt to introduce Israel in a negative context into the brutal Syria warfare, as well as to implicate Israel for the failure to prevent mass atrocities in Syria.
The inclusion of Israel in its discussion on ICC and Syria is part of HRW’s extensive lobbying campaign for an ICC case against Israel. For example, as it stated in its September 2009 press release (Israel/Gaza: Implement Goldstone Recommendations on Gaza): “The ICC, the only permanent international criminal court, is the obvious international tribunal for war crimes committed during the Gaza conflict.” This has included HRW’s support for the discredited Goldstone Report, as well as direct pressure on the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC.
Gaza (Pillar of Defense) – November 2012
HRW’s claim: “Israel did not open any criminal investigations against members of its forces for wrongdoing during ‘Operation Pillar of Defense’ in November 2012, during which aerial bombs and air-to-surface missiles killed scores of Palestinian civilians in attacks that apparently violated the laws of war.” (p 554)
Fact and Analysis: In this section, HRW recycled unsubstantiated reports of incidents from 2012 in order to bolster its narrative of Israeli “war crimes” and “impunity.” Contrary to HRW’s claims, Israel conducted investigations of incidents that resulted in civilian deaths in November 2012, but concluded that there was no justification for criminal indictments.
As noted previously by NGO Monitor, HRW’s allegations on the November 2012 conflict are misleading and false, reflecting the absence of a credible fact-finding methodology and the military expertise necessary to make such assessments.
Israel/Egypt Blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza
HRW’s claim: “Israel’s punitive closure of the Gaza Strip, particularly the near total blocking of exports, continued to have severe consequences for the civilian population. Egypt also blocked all regular movement of goods at the crossing it controls and imposed increased restrictions on the movement of people…” (p 554)
Fact and Analysis: HRW uses the subjective and politicized term “punitive” only in relation to Israel and fails to use this designation for Egypt. HRW also failed to mention that the purpose of Israel’s blockade is to prevent the flow of weapons and “dual use” items to Hamas and other terror groups. In 2013 alone, the IDF uncovered three long tunnels dug by Hamas into Israeli territory for use in mass terror attacks on Israeli border towns. Hamas commandeered the materials to build the tunnels after Israel had loosened some of its security-based restrictions.
In December, Hamas terrorists killed an Israeli construction worker near the border fence, but this was omitted from HRW’s report. This and other examples demonstrate HRW’s selective use of language and erasure of context highlights, as well as the NGO’s double standards, inconsistency, and obsession, specifically when it comes to Israel, as opposed to other significant players in the Middle East.
Distortions of legal claims
HRW’s claim: “The IDF fatally shot at least 15 Palestinian civilians including 3 children in the West Bank as of September 31, most in circumstances that suggest the killings were unlawful…..” (pp 553 and 556)
Fact and Analysis: HRW’s non-specific and vague statement does not cite any reference whatsoever or provide substantiating evidence that “suggest the killings were unlawful.” In fact, HRW only brings two examples of apparent civilian deaths. Indeed, even B’Tselem acknowledges that the vast majority of Palestinian casualties occurred during combat or violent clashes and confrontations with Israeli security personnel – factors that undermine HRW’s allegations. Moreover, HRW uses the word “children” to describe participants in clashes to generate additional hostility towards Israel. According to B’Tselem’s list of casualties, the only “children” involved in these incidents were 15-17 year old males killed during violent incidents with the IDF.
HRW’s claim: In its report, HRW describes an Israeli civilian who was murdered, as follows: “…a Palestinian civilian killed Eviatar Borovsky, a security guard from Yitzhar settlement.” (p 559)
Fact and Analysis: HRW’s description of this incident is false and misleading. Borovsky was not a security guard; he was an actor who was murdered while waiting at a bus stop in the West Bank. In addition, HRW’s recounting omits key details regarding the incident: Borovsky’s murderer was a Fatah operative who had been recently released from prison where he served three years for other acts of violence. After stabbing Borovsky, the terrorist stole a gun and fired on Israeli border guard police, in hopes of inflicting additional casualties.
By attributing the term “civilian” to the perpetrator and falsely implying that the victim was working as a settlement security guard, HRW mitigates the depravity of the murder and minimizes the blatant violation of human rights.
Campaigns regarding the Bedouin citizens of Israel
HRW’s claim: “Bedouin citizens of Israel who live in ‘unrecognized’ villages suffered discriminatory home demolitions on the basis that their homes were built illegally….In September, according to Israeli rights group Adalah, the Interior Ministry stated that it had demolished 212 Bedouin homes in 2013 and that Bedouin themselves, under threat of heavy fines, demolished an additional 187 homes.” (p 559)
Fact and Analysis: In this section as well, HRW’s methodological deficit is clearly evident. The NGO relies on the claims of another biased and politicized NGO, Adalah, instead of approaching the Israeli government to confirm the data and obtain additional information (which was selectively omitted).
Additionally, NGO Monitor has shown that HRW, Adalah, and other political NGOs have exploited the controversy related to the land claims of the Bedouin citizens of Israel and the expansion of unrecognized villages in the Negev to advance a narrow political agenda. In condemning Israeli policy, HRW and others distort the complexities and difficulties facing the Bedouin population, ignore the rule of law and the democratic process, and neglect basic rights of other populations in the Negev.
The simplistic NGO activities and statements on this issue, such as HRW’s selective account in its World Report, demonstrate a deeply biased agenda that conflates the Bedouin issue with the broader Arab-Israeli conflict as part of HRW’s wider delegitimization campaigns against Israel. For more details, see NGO Monitor’s report “NGOs and the Negev Bedouin Issue in the Context of Political Warfare.”