• The statement written by Joe Stork of Human Rights Watch (HRW) condemning Israel’s response to rocket bombardment from Gaza exploits and distorts international law.
  • Of the 34 paragraphs, Stork only mentions the hundreds of rocket attacks against Israel in two sentences, demonstrating the double standards in this invective.
  • HRW’s claim that Gaza remains “occupied” is a politically based fiction designed to negate Israel’s legal and moral right to self-defense.
  • There is no legal or moral precedent for a country to be forced to provide a hostile neighbor with the means to continue attacks on its territory and against its civilians.
  • HRW’s statement is a moral muddle that further undermines the universality of human rights.

HRW Accuses Israel of “Word Games” and Patronizes Hamas

A number of politicized NGOs have condemned Israel’s responses to the rocket attacks from Gaza. In parallel, HRW, World Vision, FIDH, Al Haq, and Defence for Children International1, addressed the UN Human Rights Council, repeating their allegations against Israel. In contrast, as numerous media reports demonstrated, the impact on the civilian population was orchestrated by the Hamas leadership, including staged scenes of hardship.

Joel Stork of Human Rights Watch (HRW) joined this campaign with a statement on January 26. Following HRW’s well-established pattern of statements related to the Arab-Israeli conflict, this one paints a very incomplete and selective picture of the crisis in Gaza. Joe Stork, who has been “acting director” of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division for many years, and has a history of anti-Israel campaigning, accuses Israeli leaders of “playing word games”, as if the daily rocket attacks were of no consequence. Stork patronizingly absolves Hamas of all responsibility for the attacks and response, claiming that “Gazans can’t turn on the lights, get tap water, buy enough food, or earn a living without Israel’s consent.” HRW demands that Israel end its “collective punishment” (a term that is not applicable to the Israeli policy2), while failing to demand that the Hamas government put an end to the daily rocket attacks on Israeli civilians by “Palestinian armed groups”.

Stork Invents “Facts”

Stork also gets the facts wrong, including the false implication that Israel cut off electricity supplies to Gaza3. In reality, Israel decreased fuel supplies but maintained its provision of electricity to Gaza. HRW’s statement also omits the fact that Israel supplied Gaza with cooking gas, 500,000 liters of diesel fuel for generators, primarily for hospitals, 2.2 million liters of industrial fuel for power plants, and 50 trucks of humanitarian aid.

While many journalists acknowledged that Hamas manipulated and manufactured this “humanitarian crisis”, including ordering bakery owners to keep their stores closed, this was inconsistent with Stork’s objective. He also ignored evidence that fuel intended for a European hospital in Gaza was diverted to supply the “Hamas-affiliated Executive Force.” HRW’s portrayal of the mass exodus through the border with Egypt as an act of desperation in response to the Israeli “blockade” is also misleading, in the light of the televisions and other luxury goods purchased by the Palestinians. They were clearly not starving, or in the middle of a life-threatening crisis.

HRW’s Own Word Games

As in most of HRW’s reporting on the Israeli-Arab conflict, this statement includes numerous misstatements and distortions of international law4. Following Palestinian claims, HRW asserts that since Israel “still controls Gaza’s airspace, territorial waters, and land borders”, it is an “occupier”, but fails to cite any provision of the Geneva or Hague Conventions – the international treaties that establish the law of occupation. In contrast, Article 6 of the Fourth Geneva Convention on the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War states that a foreign power is only considered an occupier “to the extent that such Power exercises the functions of government in such territory.” Since 1995, and certainly since Israel’s disengagement in 2005, Gaza’s Palestinian population has been under Palestinian Authority jurisdiction5. And Stork’s “facts” to the contrary, Gaza’s southern border is controlled by Egypt (and not only for “this week”, in Stork’s version.)

Minimizing Palestinian Terror

Stork’s ideology-based analysis also minimizes the context of terror, making only passing reference to the barrage of rocket attacks launched from Gaza on Israeli civilians. Between January 16 and 21, 2008, more than 225 rockets have been launched from Hamas-controlled Gaza against Israeli towns. From June to December 2007, the totals were 475 missiles and 631 mortar bombs. In addition, HRW fails to ascribe responsibility for these attacks to the Hamas government but rather only to “Palestinian armed groups” and “militants”.

Following HRW’s long-established pattern of ignoring the human rights of Israelis under daily bombardment from Gaza, Stork claims Israel’s real security concerns are merely a pretext to “arbitrarily block[…], delay[…] and harass[…] people with emergency medical problems who need to leave Gaza for urgent care” or to prevent “6,000 people with foreign citizenship, permanent foreign residency, work permits, student visas, or university admissions abroad,” from leaving Gaza. In this case, as well HRW is very selective with factual claims, omitting several instances where Palestinians have exploited Israel’s humanitarian policies to carry out terror attacks. In May 2007, for instance, a pregnant woman and her niece, who had been granted permission to seek medical treatment in Ramallah, were arrested for planning to carry out a double suicide attack in Tel Aviv and Netanya. In another incident four weeks ago, terrorists attempted to smuggle in explosives materials into Gaza hidden in sacks of sugar marked as European Union aid.

The result is a moral muddle and double standards that undermine universal human rights. As in many of its previous campaigns, such as “Razing Rafah” (October 2004), the flood of biased condemnations in the 2006 Lebanon War, the so-called “Gaza beach incident” (June 2006), false charges of war crimes in Jenin (2002), etc. HRW misuses and exploits international law to further political campaigns against Israel.