From December 27, 2008 (the beginning of Israel’s military operation in Gaza) to January 11, 2009, more than 35 NGOs claiming to promote human rights and humanitarian agendas have issued more than 175 statements on the fighting, and the number increases continuously.

NGO Monitor is tracking these statements to provide continual updates on the NGO campaigns — this second edition analyzes Human Rights Watch. (See also the January 8, 2009 report on Oxfam).

Human Rights Watch (HRW): Israel “in violation of international law”

  • In the buildup before the renewal of the conflict, HRW focused disproportionately on Gaza. 18 out of 27 HRW statements in 2008 dealing with Israel addressed Gaza, accusing Israel of “collective punishment,” “continued occupation” and contributing to a “humanitarian crisis.”
  • Between December 27 and January 11, HRW released eleven statements, primarily critical of Israel, including many using the rhetoric of international law for political objectives.  Since December 30, HRW’s internet site has featured emotive images of Palestinian victimization, and Sarah Leah Whitson carried HRW’s campaign to the UN (see quotes below).  This mirrors HRW’s campaigning during the 2006 Lebanon War, when the NGO issued hundreds of pages of biased condemnations of Israel, many of which relied on unverifiable “eyewitnesses”, are factually inaccurate, or based on distortion of international legal terminology.
  • HRW statements on Gaza repeat the slogans of previous publications, continuing to ignore the massive Hamas’ use of human shields, and claim a level of military expertise and targeting information that HRW does not possess. (See HRW on the 2006 Gaza beach incident and 2004 report “Razing Rafah.”)
  • HRW’s January 10 statements condemning Israel’s use of white phosphorus (WP) are not supported by credible evidence and are reminders of false statements made during the 2006 Lebanon war.  Media reports cite HRW’s Marc Garlasco, who makes claims about “the technique evidenced in media photographs of air-bursting WP projectiles at relatively low levels, seemingly to maximise its incendiary effect” while admitting that HRW “had no evidence that Israel was using incendiaries as weapons.”  [Garlasco’s credibility is low following his “investigation” into the Gaza beach incident, authorship of HRW’s 2004 report “Razing Rafah, and 2008 report “Flooding South Lebanon”].
  • HRW statements on this issue include a short mention that the IDF has denied using WP, yet repeat the claim that “photographs by the media” depicted WP munitions, without acknowledging the IDF response that “[the M825A1 shell that was photographed] is what we call a quiet shell – it is empty, it has no explosives and no white phosphorus. There is nothing inside it.”  In contrast, HRW relies on unnamed “researchers,” a fluid definition that elsewhere in HRW’s Gaza coverage includes Fares Akram (also “The Independent’s reporter in Gaza“); and “media reports,” which quote Mads Gilbert, a Norwegian doctor with a radical ideology and, as shown by NGO Monitor, little credibility.
  • HRW issued demands for numerous investigations of Israeli actions, and calls for prosecution for “laws-of-war violations in Gaza”, knowing that such procedures are always framed to indict Israel and erase the context of terror. HRW issued no demand to investigate the use of human shields by Hamas, or the sources of its weapons and training —  Syria and Iran.

For further information:

 “On Proportionality,” Michael Walzer, The New Republic, January 8, 2009

Did Israel Use “Disproportionate Force” in Gaza?” Dore Gold, Jerusalem Viewpoints, Vol. 8, No. 16, 28 December 2008

International Law and the fighting in Gaza ,” Justice Reid Weiner and Avi Bell, MESI, December 29, 2008

EU and NIF-funded NGOs Lead Condemnations in Gaza Conflict ,” NGO Monitor, (Updated daily)

Excerpts of unsupported or biased HRW statements on Gaza:

Israel: Stop Unlawful Use of White Phosphorus in Gaza,” January 10, 2009  “Israel should stop using white phosphorus in military operations in densely populated areas of Gaza… The IDF told both Human Rights Watch and news reporters that it is not using white phosphorus in Gaza.” (No substantive evidence to support this HRW allegation was provided.)

Q & A on Israel’s Use of White Phosphorus in Gaza,” January 10, 2009

HRW condemns White Phosphorus (WP) as it did “cluster bombs” in the Second Lebanon War, as a strategy to delegitimize Israel’s actions by proving the methods morally and legally unacceptable.  But unlike the Lebanon War, there is no credible evidence that the IDF used WP in Gaza.

“WP burns anything it touches. When air-burst as an obscurant, it can fall over an area about the size of a football field, about the same area affected by a cluster bomb. Those below may receive horrific skin burns, and it can set structures, fields, and other objects on fire. Using WP against military targets in densely populated areas would also raise concerns where the weapon could not be directed at a specific military target and thus would be indiscriminate in its impact, in violation of the laws of war.”

Israel: Investigate Former Judge’s Killing in Gaza,” January 9, 2009

“In a letter to Brig.-Gen. Avichai Mandelblit, IDF Military Advocate General, Human Rights Watch urged the military to investigate the attack, make the results of the investigation public, and prosecute any persons it finds to have acted in serious violation of international humanitarian law”

HRW calls for Israeli investigation into death of Akram al-Ghoul, father of the organization’s research consultant in Gaza,” January 9 ,2009

“A thorough, impartial and timely investigation is essential for holding members of an armed force accountable to enforce discipline, maintain responsible command, and ensure compliance with IHL. It is especially important to carry out such an investigation in situations like this where there is no apparent justification for the attack, in order to minimize preventable or unjustifiable civilian casualties in the future.”

Sarah Leah Whitson at the UN Press conference by humanitarian, human rights organizations on Gaza,” January 7, 2009

“… the closure of Gaza represented collective punishment, which was unlawful under international humanitarian law…

… Regarding yesterday’s attack on a United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) school, she said that it was an example of civilians being exposed to great harm.  Of course, the Israelis had said that there had been artillery fire from the vicinity of the school, but Human Rights Watch had spoken to witnesses on the ground, as well as UNRWA representatives, who had said that was not the case…

…she said that Human Rights Watch was calling for respect for international humanitarian law.  With regard to Hamas, that meant containing rocket attacks that were indiscriminate or targeted civilians.  With regard to Israel, it meant cessation of indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas.”

Gaza: Israeli Attack on School Needs Full UN Investigation,” January 7, 2009

” The United Nations Security Council, …should establish a commission of inquiry to investigate alleged laws-of-war violations in Gaza, Human Rights Watch said today..” [HRW’s call for an international enquiry ignores the strongly biased mandates and staff involved in such investigations.]

Israel: Allow Media and Rights Monitors Access to Gaza,” January 5, 2009

Fred Abrahams, senior emergencies researcher for Human Rights Watch: “Israel’s excessive restrictions on access to Gaza only end up impeding this deterrent effect and placing civilians at greater risk.”

Commentary by Fares Akram, research consultant for HRW in Gaza, on the death of his father” January 5, 2009  [Fares Akram is also “the Independent’s (UK) reporter in Gaza”]

“I am finding it hard to distinguish between what the Israelis call terrorists and the Israeli pilots and tank crews who are invading Gaza…”

Israel: Gaza Ground Offensive Raises Laws of War Concerns,” January 3, 2009

To the IDF:

“Issue clear rules of engagement that adhere strictly to the laws of war prohibition against attacks that target or indiscriminately harm civilians and the requirement to distinguish at all times between civilians and combatants.”

 “Israel/Hamas: Civilians Must Not Be Targets,” December 30, 2008

“Israel and Hamas both must respect the prohibition under the laws of war against deliberate and indiscriminate attacks on civilians . . . Israel’s severe limitations on the movement of non-military goods and people into and out of Gaza, including fuel and medical supplies, constitutes collective punishment, also in violation of the laws of war.”