Abuse of Palestinian Children
The use of children in the conflict is a clear violation of the most basic of human rights, yet most major human rights NGOs, including Human Rights Watch, EMHRN, Oxfam, etc. responded to the abuse of Palestinian children for terror with deafening silence. Even those organizations dedicated specifically to the protection of children, such as Save the Children (www.savethechildren.org), did not condemn these violations.
Of the major international human rights organizations, only Amnesty International issued a press release on 24 March claiming that the organization “has repeatedly condemned suicide bombings and other attacks against civilians by Palestinian armed groups as crimes against humanity. Using children to carry out or assist in armed attacks of any kind is an abomination. We call on the Palestinian leadership to publicly denounce these practices.” The statement continued: “Palestinian armed groups, including Hamas, Islamic Jihad and al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, must put an immediate end to the use or involvement of any kind of children in armed activity.”
Local human rights organizations B’Tselem and Physicians for Human Rights – Israel (PHR-I) did, however, issue press releases. B’Tselem, in a press release issued on 16 March stated that “using a child to transport explosives is in and of itself a war crime. The intentional harming of civilians must cease. Children must be kept out of the cycle of violence (italics added).” PHR-I also issued a detailed statement jointly with two Palestinian NGOs — the Gaza Community Mental Health Program (GCMHP) and Defence for Children International / Palestine Section (DCI / PS).
However, while condemning the use of a Palestinian child to carry explosives, these highly politicized groups also condemned “the Israeli Occupation for using him in their propaganda”. This statement is further evidence of the deeply politicized nature of PHR-I’s claims to focus on universal human rights, as documented here. After the second incident, PHR-I issued a press statement on 24 March stating that the organization viewed “the use of children in the armed conflict as illegal and immoral, and condemns such actions.” It also expressed “total condemnation of Palestinian militant actions that inflict harm on Israeli citizens, of whom many are children.”
One-Sided Condemnation of Assassination of Hamas Leader Sheikh Yassin
Immediately after this event, Amnesty issued a press release condemning what it termed “the extrajudicial execution” of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. It stated: “Once again Israel has chosen to violate international law instead of using alternative lawful means. Sheikh Yassin could have been arrested and prosecuted.” Amnesty’s very narrow and unrealistic interpretation of international law failed to take into account the likely loss of both Israeli and Palestinian lives in the event of such a military operation in the Gaza Strip. While calling on Israel to put an end to its “policy of assassinations”, Amnesty also demanded that “Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups …immediately stop targeting Israeli civilians in indiscriminate suicide bombings and other attacks.”
In sharp contrast, Hanan Ashrawi’s Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH) continued its exploitation of human rights norms in order to demonize Israel. Ignoring Yassin’s vows to destroy Israel, MIFTAH cynically condemned "Israel’s cold blooded murder" as a "calculated measure aimed at a quadriplegic wheelchair-bound elderly man" and "an assault on all Palestinians." Similarly, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), which ignored the violation of the human rights of Palestinian children, condemned Israel’s "illegal and excessive use of force" in a press release issued on 22 March which termed the killing of Yassin as “an act of state terrorism”. PCHR, whose political agenda was analyzed in the NGO Monitor (Palestinian Affiliates of ICJ (Vol. 1, No.6)) receives funding from sources that include the Ford Foundation, NOVIB Holland, Open Society Fund, USA, Christian Aid, UK, CAW Social Justice Fund, Canada, Dan Church Aid, Denmark, Grassroots International, USA (covered in NGO Monitor #3), the European Commission, the Royal Danish Representative Office, Representative Office of Norway and Ireland Aid. In both press statements, MIFTAH and PCHR repeat the standard PLO demand for “international intervention”, while ignoring Palestinian responsibility for the ongoing terrorism that continues to destroy the aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians alike.
The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network, which is funded primarily by the European Union, also highlighted the death of Yassin with links on its website to the statement from Amnesty International as well as one from the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT), which joined “the members of its network and other partner NGOs in Palestine – notably Al-Haq, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) and the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group (PHRMG)” in condemning the Israeli action against Yassin. EMHRN did not offer links to any statements regarding the use of Palestinian children for acts of terror and violence.
In summary, the reactions of these human rights NGOs to these events demonstrates the continuing failure to address gross violations of human rights committed by Palestinians against their own people. Palestinian NGOs, including those supported by Europe, focused on condemning Israeli actions against the leader of a terrorist organization, and remained silent on the exploitation of Palestinian children for terrorism. This behavior further highlights the systematic erosion of human rights norms in the pursuit of the anti-Israel political agendas of these NGOs.