On October 18, Kenneth Roth, leader of Human Rights Watch, and Sarah Leah Whitson, head of HRW’s Middle East and North Africa Division, held a press conference at the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem to publicize a 135-page report headlined "Razing Rafah" and condemning Israeli security actions in Gaza. (see www.hrw.org)
The press release and report reflect the style of other HRW publications related to Israeli security actions during the past four years of intense violence, consisting of political and ideological claims, unsupported "military assessments", and denunciations that downplay the context of terrorism. This press release and report regarding IDF operations in Gaza reflect unverifiable Palestinian allegations and unsubstantiated security judgements for which HRW’s politicized Middle East Division has no credentials.
For example, HRW claims that IDF actions were taken despite the absence of "military necessity" and that the "IDF has apparently failed to explore well-established methods to detect and destroy tunnels…" However, the only evidence presented to back this claim is from interviews with three "experts", whose personal backgrounds, professional qualifications and assessments remain entirely hidden. Other sources cited in the report consist of journalistic impressions, claims by PLO-based NGOs such as Al Mezan, and unsubstantiated claims from Palestinians and Egyptians (on the other side of the smuggling tunnels). In many cases, these reports are circular, with one source simply quoting another, without verification. This closed process has been responsible for false allegations in the past, and as a result, HRW’s dismissal of legitimate security actions are without credibility.
This report also contains numerous allegations and assumptions that reflect HRW’s dominant ideology. In this context, Roth asserts that the Israeli response to the lethal missile attacks is a "pretext to justify home demolitions" and other actions are taken under the "pretext of protecting its soldiers". Such statements are clearly subjective, as is also true for claims regarding the legality of specific responses to terror.
This pattern of exploiting the rhetoric of human rights to advance a political agenda has been used repeatedly, as in the case of HRW’s role in the 2001 Durban conference that demonized Israel; in HRW’s exploitation of the term "war crimes" to refer to the IDF offensive in Jenin during Operation Defensive Shield following the murder of over 100 Israelis; in its one-sided condemnations of the Israeli anti-terror separation barrier, and in many other examples.
In addition, HRW’s 135-page report focusing on Israel’s security responses stands in stark contrast to this NGO’s minimalist approach to terrorism. In the past four years, HRW has issued well over 100 reports, press releases, and other condemnations of Israeli defensive actions, in contrast to a handful of low-profile reactions to terror. HRW’s single substantive analysis was issued in October 2002, and is never mentioned, including in the case of the current publicity campaign.
In conclusion, as this evidence indicates, HRW reports on Israel lack substantive credibility and are driven by a clear and consistent political and ideological agenda. Beyond contributing to the destruction of human right norms and demonization of Israel, this agenda also diverts attention from genuine human rights catastrophes, such as in Sudan, which received far less attention from HRW.