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Sunday, February 3, 2008

Double standard: Analysis of HRW 2008 report on Israel and the Palestinians

February 3, 2008

NGO Monitor's Analysis of the Israel and Palestinian chapter of HRW's 2008 World Report

(Human Rights Watch World Report 2008 - 'Democracy Charade Undermines Rights -- Human Rights Watch Highlights Abuses in Pakistan, Kenya, China, Somalia' (Jan. 31, 2008)

In keeping with NGO Monitor's mandate, we have reviewed the section headed 'Israel/Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT)' (pp.484-91). This chapter includes of a sketchy review of the main events of 2007, including the violent Hamas' takeover of Gaza, and acknowledging that "In 2007, for the first time since Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, more Palestinians died as a result of internal Palestinian fighting than from Israeli attacks." This is an important change in HRW's approach, which had generally ignored internal Palestinian violence, and focused primarily on allegations against Israel.

Nevertheless, much of this chapter (and the brief statement on the summary page) consists of a repetition of HRW's exaggerated blame for the "intensified humanitarian crisis in Gaza", and a "blockade" that constitutes "collective punishment" and "violates international law". The use of such terms in this context is inconsistent with customary usage and common sense.[1] (The same terms are used in HRW's January 26, 2008 statement on Gaza and in statements on this issue by many other NGOs.)   Subsections headlined "Palestinian Deaths and Israeli Impunity", "The Wall and Settlements", and "Discriminatory Legislation" adopt the Palestinian narrative and vocabulary. The various claims are not supported by evidence or sources, and are not reliable - as in the case of the "670 Palestinian university students trapped in Gaza, unable to continue their higher education" - a claim copied from another NGO report which has been shown to include fabricated evidence.

This chapter also continues HRW's pattern of failing to hold Palestinian leaders responsible for the terrorist and rocket attacks against Israeli civilians. In the period between the Hamas takeover of Gaza in June and December 2007, 475 missiles and 631 mortar bombs were launched -- each one a clear violation of international law and human rights. However, HRW simply refers to unnamed "Palestinian armed groups" and "militants" who are involved in these "indiscriminate rocket attacks on populated areas of Israel in violation of international law."  HRW's litany also alleges that "heightened Israeli restrictions on freedom of movement in the West Bank contributed to a serious human rights and humanitarian crisis", while failing to connect the link between these policies and the continued attacks against Israelis. This chapter briefly mentions Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped in June 2006, "Palestinian armed groups" are blamed, although Hamas officials head the negotiations for the release of Palestinian terrorists in exchange for Shalit.

In contrast, in the section on the "Palestinian Authority and Hamas (pp.488-91), HRW explicitly condemns Hamas for "reportedly engaged in torture and inhumane and degrading treatment of detainees during interrogation". If there is a reason for this inconsistency in holding Hamas responsible for internal violence but not for attacks against Israelis, it is not provided in this chapter.
[1] Article 33 of the IV Geneva Convention of 1949 states that "collective penalties and likewise all other measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited [by the Convention]". Drafted following World War II, the provision was designed to outlaw killing of civilians by an occupying power as a retaliatory response to acts of sabotage or resistance. Such acts included Nazi atrocities including the 1944 massacre of thousands of Polish civilians in Warsaw. The exploitation of this term to condemn Israel's policy in response to terror attacks reflects the politicized agenda of the NGO community

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