As it did following the 2009 Gaza conflict, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-I) is preparing to send a “medical fact-finding mission” to Gaza. At this stage, the NGO is seeking partners, donors, and medical experts to contribute to the mission. Based on the terms of the current proposal and the conclusions of the 2009 investigation, it appears that the professional halo of the experts-activists will be used to accuse Israel of committing war crimes and other violations.
According to Crisis Action (“A catalyst and coordinator for organisations working together to protect civilians from armed conflict”), one of PHR-I’s European partners, “Currently Miri [Weingarten] is organising the creation of a medical fact-finding mission for Physicians for Human Rights-Israel to enter the Gaza Strip.” (Miri Weingarten, based in London, is EU Advocacy Coordinator for PHR-I.)
PHR-I and another partner, MedAct (aims “to mobilise the health community to support policy change and shift public attitudes”) published an “urgent call” for medical experts to join the mission, stating, “Information collected by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel” suggests there is “a repetition of past violations of International Humanitarian Law by the Israeli military forces and the Government of Israel.” In addition, “Past attempts to bring about adequate investigations, accountability and justice for the victims have failed so far. It remains to civil society to bring evidence of violations to the public at large and to demand accountability.”
As mentioned, a similar fact-finding mission was organized in January-February 2009 by PHR-I, in conjunction with anti-Israel NGOs Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) and Al-Mezan, and funded by “Medico International Switzerland, Medico International Germany, HEKS-EPER (Switzerland), Christian Aid (UK) and Oxfam GB.” As of 2013, PHR-I was funded by the governments of Belgium, Denmark, Spain, the Netherlands, and the EU, and also by the New Israel Fund (NIF).
At the time, “The entry of the mission into Gaza was facilitated by PHR-Israel by official request for entry permits submitted to Israeli government ministries and the Israeli military authorities at Erez Crossing.”
The resulting “Final Report: Independent fact-finding mission into violations of human rights in the Gaza Strip during the period 27.12.2008 – 18.01.2009” (April 2009) was one-sided, focusing entirely on alleged Israeli violations. It accused Israel of “specifically target[ing]” hospitals, mobile clinics, and ambulances; denying “wounded people access to lifesaving medical care, or even shot at civilians at short range”; using “unconventional weapons (anti-personnel bombs, ‘disc-bombs’) or other atypical weapons (DIME, White phosphorous bombs…or even depleted uranium)” against civilians; and attacks on places of worship, which “deprived ordinary civilians from worshipping at places of sanctuary and peace, and forcing them to pray outside in the road or squares.” (The report did not provide evidence for these allegations, in particular the serious charges of unconventional weapons use.)
The medical professionals who authored the report also editorialized on issues well beyond the scope of medicine and other areas where they may have expertise:
- “The underlying meaning of the attack on the Gaza Strip, or at least its final consequence, appears to be one of creating terror without mercy to anyone.”
- “In summary, an object of warfare is to acquire military dominance over the opponent. However, in the situation in the Gaza Strip, there seems to be already a significant military dominance from one opponent over the other. The real reason for this severe military attack on a predominantly civilian population remains rather obscure.”
The damage of this report was seen when it was cited in the discredited Goldstone Report as evidence of “the use of certain weapons,” including white phosphorous. It was also featured on Al Jazeera and in The Lancet medical journal.
A “medical experts’ independent fact-finding mission” is the first link in a chain of NGO activities meant to indict Israel. The mission’s credibility is null, and the results have been established in advance. Israeli authorities should investigate the identities of doctors, experts, and other activists requesting permits to enter Gaza and should not facilitate investigations by biased and unreliable NGOs.