NGO Monitors Submission to the Human Rights Council Inquiry on the Gaza War, Led by Judge Richard Goldstone

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NGO Monitor’s submission includes factsheets on:

  1. Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR)
  2. Al Mezan
  3. Amnesty International
  4. Human Rights Watch (HRW)

Israel is a vibrant parliamentary democracy facing many challenges, including the need to defend its citizens against asymmetric warfare from Hamas-controlled Gaza, the West Bank, and Hezbollah-controlled Southern Lebanon, while protecting the rights of the populations in these areas. In this context, there are numerous and intense debates, and diverse views, on the nature of these responses among many non-governmental organizations (NGOs). NGOs and civil society thrive in Israel and often provide valuable humanitarian assistance, including health services, education, and other basic requirements under different and complex conditions.

However, this network also plays a counterproductive role in the context of efforts to end the Arab-Israeli conflict, and in presenting accurate and credible reports on the related human rights and humanitarian issues. As NGO Monitor and others have documented, some of the NGOs are highly politicized, and produce reports and launch campaigns that stand in sharp contradiction to their stated mandates of upholding universal human rights.  These NGO activities regularly obscure or remove the context of terrorism, provide false or incomplete statistics and images, and disseminate distortions of the humanitarian, human rights and international legal dimensions of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

This political impact of biased NGO reporting related to human rights is not unique to Israel. A 2006 study, “The Work of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch:  Evidence from Colombia,” conducted by the Bogota-based Conflict Analysis Resource Center and the University of London, reveals the lack of credibility in NGO reporting related to this conflict.

In addition, NGO reports and campaigns often stress the rights of Palestinians at the expense of Israelis, and promote the protection of some human rights – such as the “right to work” – at the expense of more fundamental rights – such as the right to life or the right to self-defense.  Moreover, violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed by Palestinian actors or terror groups, including Hamas, are systematically ignored or minimized.  As a result, such NGO publications and campaigns, including submissions to the United Nations, provide an incomplete and often non-credible picture of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Indeed, the role of NGOs in intensely campaigning for the creation of this inquiry, with its highly biased terms of reference, is in itself an example of these agendas and their impacts.

NGO reports on the Gaza conflict

Throughout Israel’s operation in Gaza, from December 27, 2008 to January 18, 2009, and in its immediate aftermath, over 50 NGOs claiming to promote human rights and humanitarian agendas issued more than 500 statements on the fighting (contrast with the less than half a dozen statements issued by these same NGOs during the same time period on the atrocities occurring in Congo such as mass rapes, mutilations and other horrors resulting in the deaths of thousands).  As documented by NGO Monitor, these statements exhibit severe bias and double standards, focus overwhelmingly on condemning Israel, and ignore or give minimal attention to Israeli human rights and casualties. Under the façade of morality and universality, they exploit international legal terminology and erase Hamas’ violations of international humanitarian law, such as the “reckless and cynical use of civilian instillations.”

During the period before the Israeli operation, including the six month informal ceasefire, the politicized NGOs failed to address the activities of Hamas that indicated preparations for renewed aggression, including the large-scale smuggling of weapons. The clearly documented use of schools and mosques for firing rockets at Israel was ignored, as were other examples of a human shield strategy in Gaza. In parallel, the condemnations of Israeli responses using terms such as “humanitarian crisis” and “collective punishment” illustrated the inherent political and ideological bias of the NGO campaigns.

Furthermore, once the fighting ended, these NGOs, including NGO superpowers Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, launched campaigns calling for international investigations, war crimes trials, arms embargoes, and boycotts against Israel.  None substantively acknowledged Israel’s right to defend its citizens against thousands of deliberate missile attacks.

Another integral and often overlooked aspect of NGOs is the role these organizations play in the “international fact finding commissions” regarding the war.  In the inquiries of both the Arab League and UN Secretary General, NGOs played a central role in directing the course of these investigations, providing evidence, and framing the interpretations of international law to be applied.  According to media reports, NGOs have engaged in similar activities with the UN Human Rights Council Inquiry.

One such NGO, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) was central to the Arab League report.  It “prepared the agenda for the mission and coordinated its meetings and field visits. It also provided technical assistance.”  However, PCHR is far from a source of information and analysis based on universal human rights principles. It regularly strips away or minimizes the context of terrorism in its reporting, referring to attacks on Israeli civilians as acts of “resistance.”  PCHR’s casualty statistics on the fighting in Gaza, which were widely repeated without question by international news outlets, have been found to be grossly inaccurate.  In one case, PCHR lists Nizzar Rayyan as a civilian, despite his being one of the leading architects of Hamas terror attacks who sent his own son out on a suicide bombing mission in 2001.

PCHR is also a leader in the anti-Israel “lawfare” movement filing lawsuits in several countries seeking to declare the 2002 death of Hamas military leader Salah Shehadeh (responsible for the murder and wounding of hundreds) a “war crime.”  In June 2009, PCHR claimed to have over 900 cases “ready to file” against Israeli officials related to the Gaza war, yet none appear to hold Hamas responsible for placing the lives of its citizens at risk.  Attached to this submission are several other examples of the demonization and bias found in NGO reporting on Gaza.

The Secretary General’s Board of Inquiry also relied heavily on NGO input.  Many of the claims in the report echo unsubstantiated accusations made by Human Rights Watch regarding Israel’s alleged illegal use of white phosphorous and Amnesty’s charges of deliberate attacks on UN compounds (specific examples attached).  Unfortunately, the BOI has kept the precise contributions of NGOs secret, and the Secretary General’s office refused to provide further information after repeated inquiries by NGO Monitor.  The secret participation of NGOs in UN proceedings is contrary to the principle of transparency that is central both for the UN and for civil society.

Given the impact of the HRC investigation, and campaigns to initiate “war crimes” trials and bring cases before the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice, it is imperative that the Commission’s final report be credible, accurate and impartial. Reliance on politicized NGOs discussed herein is entirely inconsistent with this requirement.  The obsessive condemnations of Israeli responses to daily attacks on its civilians, as well as disproportionate criticism of attempts to balance rights in the context of asymmetrical warfare, further highlight this issue.

On this basis, we urge the Commission and the Human Rights Council to carefully examine the credibility and biases in NGO submissions and claims. NGO Monitor has included with its submission an overview of the activities during the war of PCHR, Al Mezan, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch and an analysis of HRW’s report Rain of Fire.  In addition, we have included a copy of our monographs, The NGO Front in the Gaza War, and NGO ‘Lawfare’:  Exploitation of Courts in the Arab-Israeli Conflict.

We hope that this information will assist the Commission in its investigation.

Respectfully Submitted,

Dr. Gerald Steinberg, Executive Director
NGO Monitor

Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR)

  • PCHR’s anti-Israel campaigning during the war was among the most extreme including accusations of Israeli “war crimes,” “crimes against humanity,” “collective punishment,” “indiscriminate killing and continued systematic destruction of all the Palestinian institutions and civilian facilities in the Gaza Strip.”
  • It has not called on Hamas to cease rocket attacks on civilians, ignores Hamas’ practice of human shields, and until several weeks after the war remained silent on Hamas’ summary execution of alleged “collaborators.”
  • PCHR consistently refers to Palestinian terrorism as “resistance.”
  • PCHR is a leader in the anti-Israel “lawfare” movement.  It has filed the same case, seeking to declare the death of Hamas military leader Salah Shehada as a “war crime,” in England, New Zealand, the US, and Spain.  The same case was also heard by the Israeli Supreme Court more than once.  This type of forum shopping represents disregard for the rule of law and is an attack on the well-established judicial principles of comity and justiciability.
  • PCHR’s actions are also an abuse of the concept of universal jurisdiction which was intended to provide relief for victims of mass murders and despots in countries without a functioning judiciary.   Shehada was a legitimate military target, responsible for the murder and wounding of hundreds of civilians. He was planning new attacks when he was killed in 2002 and chose to do so within a residential area.  It is clear, therefore, that rather than obtaining “justice” for victims, PCHR’s cases are intended to punish Israel for its anti-terror methods, to prevent future operations, to interfere with Israel’s diplomatic relations, and to advance the demonization and delegitimization of Israel.
  • On January 21, 2009, PCHR alleged that there had been a total of 1,285 Palestinian deaths during the Gaza fighting, among which 895 were civilians – meaning almost 70% of were civilian. These statistics were contradicted by the IDF in February 2009, “put[ting] the civilian death toll at no higher than a third of the total.
    The credibility of PCHR’s figures has been questioned in a number of independent reports:

    • PCHR includes “255 non-combatant police officers” amongst the civilians, which accounts for part of the discrepancy. This classification, however, ignores evidence that these individuals were not “civil police” and that Hamas websites have announced that many were members of the Qassam Brigades.
    •   Senior Hamas military leaders, such as Nizar Rayan (whose home functioned as a command center and weapons’ warehouse), Said Siam, and others, are listed as civilians.
    •  PCHR officials have revealed their manipulation of IHL and its application for determining “combatant” status: “‘According to international humanitarian law, all armed people are classified as militants and all the people who are unarmed [are civilians],’ [a PCHR researcher] says. So if the person was armed at the time of death—which he or his fieldworkers determine by investigating the bodies as they arrive at the hospital—he’ll count them as a militant. If the person is not armed, his team will check with family members, neighbors, political parties and Palestinian armed factions to determine the deceased’s status as a militant or a civilian.”   Under IHL, whether a party is “armed” is not the sole determinant of combatant status and it appears PCHR is promoting a nonexistent standard to deliberately skew the casualty statistics.
    •  International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzilya):”By checking the names on the PCHR list against Hamas websites, we found that many of those claimed by PCHR to be civilians were in fact hailed as militant martyrs by Hamas. Others listed by PCHR as civilians killed in Israeli raids later turned out to be Fatah members killed by Hamas, some of them in execution style killings. While both PCHR and ICT consider civil policemen to be noncombatants, our researchers found that many of the civil policemen killed also held operational ranks in the Hamas military wing. In fact, due to the structure of the Hamas military, it was difficult to draw a clear dividing line between purely civilian police functions and activity in support of military operations.”
    •  CAMERA: “An analysis of the fatalities by age and gender shows that the majority of civilian fatalities recorded by PCHR are males between 15 and 50 years old, the same age profile as the combatants. This should raise concern that significant numbers of combatants may have been misclassified as civilians.”

Al Mezan

Al Mezan, a Gaza-based Palestinian NGO, claims “[t]o protect, respect and promote the internationally accepted standards of human rights.” However, its activities and reports indicate that this NGO’s goal is a political campaign against Israel, not human rights.

  • Al Mezan consistently refers to the Israeli army as the Israel Occupation Forces (IOF), framing the conflict in terms of false accusations of “occupation” of Gaza, erasing the context of terror, and delegitimizing Israeli self-defense.
  •   During the Gaza fighting, Al Mezan promoted allegations of “Israeli massacres,” “slaughtering civilians,” “scandalous war crimes,” and “despicable disregard to civilian life.”
  • Al Mezan’s daily press releases regularly exploited international law terminology, accusing Israel of “disproportionate” or “indiscriminate” force, “breach[ing] the rules of International Humanitarian Law,” intent to “target civilian premises directly and wantonly, while showing blatant disregard to civilian life and property,” and committing “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity.”
  • Al Mezan repeatedly asserts military expertise, including knowledge of Israeli army “advanced technology for surveillance and sophisticated weapons” and targeting decisions.
  • Al Mezan does not condemn Hamas’ use of human shields or illegal Hamas rocket attacks against Israeli civilians. In fact, it dismisses Israel’s claims of self defense against these terror strikes.
  • Like PCHR, Al Mezan claims that “about 70% of IOF’s attacks casualties of these attacks are from families who were hit inside their homes or as they left their homes to flee these areas. Most of the other victims were also civilians.” In another statement, Al Mezan asserts that only 13.9% of the deaths were “fighters.”

Selected Quotes from the Gaza War:

Press release: “Israeli Massacres in Gaza Continue: 284 Killed; Including 32 Children, and 755 Injured; Gaza’s Service Systems Paralyzed under Severe Lack of Medicine, Food and Power,” December 29, 2008

“It has been observed that the IOF target civilian premises directly and wantonly, while showing blatant disregard to civilian life and property. Israel’s attempts to prescribe its recent actions as self-defence against Hamas and rocket launchers is distorted and misleading.”

Press Release: “IOF Operations in Gaza Continue; More Civilians Killed and Civilian Premises
Destroyed,” January 11, 2009

“With advanced technology for surveillance and sophisticated weapons used, the IOF bears the responsibility to distinguish between civilian and non-civilian targets. Facts on the ground show the opposite, guided missiles and bombs have been fired deliberately at civilian targets; including homes, civilian shelters and ambulances.”

Press Release: “IOF Targets a 3rd UNRWA Shelter and Continues its massacres in the Gaza Strip – The Int´l Community Must End Slaughtering Civilians Immediately,” January 17, 2009

“The Center asserts that the IOF’s acts represent scandalous war crimes that must be investigated and punished.”

Amnesty International

Throughout 2008, Amnesty International continued its highly disproportionate condemnations of Israel’s policies, and led the NGO campaign accusing Israel of “collective punishment” in defense against aggression from Gaza. At the same time, this NGO superpower, which claims to promote universal human rights, largely ignored the hundreds of Hamas’ rocket attacks on Israeli civilians.

In a typically biased statement headlined “Trapped – collective punishment in Gaza” grossly misrepresented international humanitarian law and immorally equated Palestinian terror attacks targeting Israeli civilians with justifiable Israeli responses aimed at ending these attacks. Israel’s legitimate security concerns were entirely dismissed, and the role of other players in the conflict (i.e. Egypt, Hamas) were also erased.

NGO Monitor’s systematic analysis shows how AI’s reports lacked credible evidence, erased the context of terrorism, distorted international legal terms, selectively used data, and myopically focused on Israel as part of the wider ideological campaign to demonize the Jewish state.

Amnesty’s inability to distinguish between aggression and defense, and its artificial focus on very narrow aspects of international law are immoral and make a mockery of the foundations of the legal process.

Amnesty International sent a letter entitled “Gaza: World’s Leading Investigators Call for War Crimes Inquiry” to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the members of the UN Security Council, promoting another one-sided campaign against Israel. The letter makes no mention of Hamas, using instead, the generic phrase “Palestinian armed groups” and its signatories claim they were “shocked to the core” by the events in Gaza.  Neither Amnesty, nor the signatories have issued public calls claiming to be “shocked to the core” by the thousands of Israeli civilians including hundreds of children murdered and wounded by Palestinian extremists in suicide bombings, rocket attacks, kidnappings, shootings, stabbings, and vehicular attacks.  Nor has Amnesty or the signatories issued statements condemning incitement to genocide and widespread, vicious antisemitic attacks promoted by Hamas (and often Fatah) in its charter, in Palestinian schools, and in the media.

Following the fighting, Amnesty called upon the UN Security Council to impose an arms embargo on Israel. As with many previous Amnesty publications on Israel’s anti-terror responses in Gaza this report contains baseless accusations, misrepresentations of international humanitarian law (IHL), and an immoral equivalence between Hamas — a genocidal terrorist organization — and Israel — a  democratic sovereign state that respects the rule of law and minority rights, and is responding to attack.

Amnesty has issued multiple demands for Israeli officials to be prosecuted for “war crimes” (“lawfare”), while largely absolving Hamas and its state backers, Iran and Syria, of responsibility. This exploitation of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the UN is an attempt to punish Israel for legitimate self-defense operations.

On December 28, 2008, Amnesty accused the IDF of “unlawfully” killing “scores of unarmed civilians, as well as police personnel who were not directly participating in the hostilities.” Amnesty presents no evidence in relabeling Hamas operatives as “civilian” police officers, or in claiming that they were not “directly participating in the hostilities.” A Hamas-linked website claims that these men were members of Hamas’ Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam Brigade. By cloaking claims in Geneva Convention terminology, Amnesty seeks to transform Israel’s lawful attack on a legitimate military target into a war crime.

Human Rights Watch (HRW)

As NGO Monitor has demonstrated, HRW singles out Israel for special attention and applies unique standards compared with other countries in the Middle East. Israel is subject to particularly harsh and unjustified condemnation, using terms that delegitimize its policies and military responses to terrorism.

  • HRW statements on Gaza repeat the slogans of previous publications, continuing to ignore Hamas’ extensive use of human shields, and claim a level of military expertise and targeting information that HRW does not possess.
  • Although claiming to perform “objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy,” many members of its Middle East division have proven records of strongly politicized activity, and NGO Monitor’s analyses demonstrate HRW’s disproportionate condemnations of Israeli security policy.
    • Researchers include Marc Garlasco, whose previous work for HRW has exhibited factual inaccuracies and significant flaws in methodology; Fares Akram, a Palestinian whose father was killed during the fighting; and Darryl Li, a pro-Palestinian activist who has worked at the highly politicized Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR).
  • On January 10, HRW launched a public relations campaign condemning Israel for allegedly using white phosphorus weapons unlawfully in the conflict with Hamas. HRW’s disproportionate focus on this issue diverted attention from the far more significant aspects of the conflict such as Hamas’ systematic and illegal use of human shields, indiscriminate rocket attacks targeting Israeli civilians, and Iran’s role in fomenting the crisis.
  • The lack of credibility in HRW reports results from reliance on unreliable and tampered evidence; false and inaccurate claims; and internal contradictions.  In its “Rain of Fire” report, for instance, one section claims that the IDF targeted civilian areas with white phosphorous, but other sections admit that the “researchers were unable to determine precisely where the white phosphorous landed and what effect it had on the civilian population.”