November 26, 2007

NGO Bias in pre-Annapolis Political Statements on Gaza

Promoting Accountability in the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Via NGO Monitor:

A number of influential international NGOs claiming human rights and humanitarian objectives have published highly political statements in advance of the Annapolis peace summit (November 27). Most use similar rhetoric (see below) and repeat one-sided condemnations of Israeli policy in response to attacks from Hamas-controlled Gaza, including accusations of “collective punishment” and blame for a “humanitarian crisis”. Following the pattern of the past decade and the 2001 Durban strategy of demonization, these NGO statements largely ignore systematic Palestinian violations of human rights, and use pseudo-legal language to deny Israelis the right to self-defense against terror. As a result, these publications lack credibility.

This wave of NGO statements began in September 2007 after Israel's decision to declare Gaza a "hostile territory" in response to ongoing rocket attacks, and the political campaigns have increased in the build-up to Annapolis. The groups active in this campaign include Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Oxfam, Christian Aid, the Alternative Information Centre, and ICAHD (funded by the European Union). In addition, Israel-based political NGOs funded by the New Israel Fund, including Adalah, B’Tselem, Gisha, and Ha-Moked, as well as PCHR, Al-Haq, Al-Mezan use highly publicized petitions to the Israeli High Court as a means of promoting these claims.

On November 23, 2007, over 40 NGOsled by Christian Aid (a powerful UK registered charity often involved in anti-Israel campaigns) and including War on Want and TrĂ³caire (Irish Catholic Church Aid) — issued a joint statement to coincide with the conference. The declaration again condemns Israel's policy on Gaza, accusing Israel of making "a mockery of international humanitarian law" and following "the illegal policy of collective punishment...serving to deepen despair and frustration in Gaza." The statement goes on to call for an end to the international isolation of Hamas.

Key Politicized Quotes from NGO statements:

Amnesty International
Nov. 24 Press Release: "Annapolis talks must lead to immediate, concrete action on human rights"

-Most of the statement consists of condemnations of Israeli activities; three of the four subsections deal exclusively with Israel.

-Labels Israel's decision to close its border with Gaza (in response to the Hamas takeover of Gaza and ongoing rocket attacks) as an "arbitrary and disproportionate blockade" (no definitions or criteria are cited) which constitutes "a form of collective punishment."

-Omits explicit mention of Palestinian terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians, including daily rocket fire from densely populated residential areas in Gaza (using Palestinian civilians as human shields – a central violation of international law which Amnesty officials ignore).

-Equates terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians with Israel's legitimate acts of self-defense by referring to "Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups"

-Omits internal Palestinian human rights abuses, including executions carried out by Hamas against its rivals, the use of torture, and fighting in Palestinian areas staged from, and against, residential homes, hospitals. Amnesty's earlier condemnation of Fatah and Hamas human rights abuses in the October 24, 2007 report — Occupied Palestinian Territories: Palestinian factional strife fuelling abuses — has been quickly forgotten.

-Reports that "recent years have seen a welcome and significant decrease in the number of Israeli victims", but erases the context of this decrease – including the security barrier, and anti-terror activities.

-No mention of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held by Hamas since June 2006, in violation of international law

Christian Aid
Nov. 23 press release (with 40 NGOs) – "Joint call to end isolation of Gaza Strip"

-"By sealing off the Gaza Strip, declaring it a hostile entity, cutting fuel and threatening to cut electricity, Israel is retreating from its responsibilities as the occupying power. Not only does it make a mockery of international humanitarian law, the illegal policy of collective punishment is only serving to deepen despair and frustration in Gaza. It does not provide security for either Israelis or Palestinians."

-"[Gazans] now effectively imprisoned and with only a drip-feed of humanitarian aid…"

"End Palestinian Isolation" – Fall 2007 website feature on Israeli Gaza policy

- Blames Palestinian internal fighting and Hamas takeover solely on Israel: “The collapse of the Palestinian unity government after intense fighting between Fatah and Hamas militants is the predictable result of prolonged Israeli blockade and isolation by the international community.”

-Describes Israel's closures are "siege-like conditions", failing to note Israel's ongoing facilitation of medical supplies and other essential goods into Gaza

Nov. 21 press release – "Gaza siege puts public health at risk as water and sanitation services deteriorate"

-Misleadingly labels Israeli threats to curtail fuel and oil supply to Gaza as "collective punishment"; demands "an immediate resumption of fuel supplies to Gaza" to avoid "a public health crisis."

-"As international efforts increase to breathe new life into progress towards peace, the international community is ignoring Gaza’s plight, allowing it to slip further into a crisis. Ordinary civilians in Gaza are being punished for crimes they have not committed, in clear violation of international humanitarian law."

Sept. 19 statement to the media by Oxfam executive director Jeremy Hobbs
-Israel's actions "immoral and contrary to the Geneva Conventions."

Human Rights Watch
Nov. 20 press release: "Gaza: Israel Blocks 670 Students from Studies Abroad" -“Israel seems determined to punish all Gazans, including students, for the behavior of Hamas… Israel should not make young people seeking education pay the price for its conflict with a political or military group.” Sept. 20 press release: "Threatened Sanctions on Gaza Violate Laws of War"

-“Israel has the responsibility to protect its citizens, but not by collectively punishing the people of Gaza, which seriously violates the laws of war.”

-cutting off fuel and electricity violates Israel’s duty as an occupying power

Adalah, B’Tselem, Gisha, Ha-Moked, PCHR, Al-Haq, Al-Mezan
Oct. 30 - Human Rights Organization's Petition to Israeli High Court

-"The petitioners [to the Israeli High Court] argued that the government decision to interrupt electricity and fuel supplies to the Gaza Strip is illegal…"

-"Deliberately obstructing the civilian infrastructure in the Gaza Strip is illegal. International law does not allow 'minor' punishment. It bans collective punishment entirely.”

-in response to the petition, the Israeli government presented detailed statistics to show cuts would not cause a humanitarian crisis nor impair essential services

Israel Committee against House Demolitions (ICAHD) – funded by the European Union
Sept. 20 letter to the UN

-ICAHD publicized a “letter” to UN Secretary General asking the UN and other organizations to “prevent the starvation siege Israel plans to impose on Gaza.”

-“If Israel wants to be part of the international community, it must obey the norms of the international community”

Alternative Information Centre
Oct. 30 press release

-"'We are declaring Gaza a hostile entity,' announced the Israeli cabinet, while ordering a full embargo on an area where more than one and a half million human beings reside. In other words, one and a half million men, women, children, ill people, and elders are not considered as human beings, protected by international humanitarian law, but merely a hostile 'entity'.” (emphasis added)

NGO Monitor Commentary: Exploiting the Specter of “Collective Punishment” to Condemn Israel

The frequent use of the term "collective punishment" in these statements is highly misleading and inconsistent with international law, morality and common sense. 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 such as the 1944 Wola massacre of thousands of Polish civilians in Warsaw, Poland.

Furthermore, the exploitation of this term to condemn Israel's policy of closing its borders and limiting electricity and fuel to Hamas-controlled Gaza, in response to terror attacks reveals the politicized agenda of the human rights NGO community. And the use of this specific term could be considered an implicit comparison of the Israeli government’s defense measures with Nazi behavior – an odious and entirely inappropriate analogy, reflecting the 2001 Durban strategy of demonization. In contrast, the NGO community has not condemned Hamas and Hezbollah rocket attacks and other forms of terror against Israeli civilians, although these are clearly examples of “collective punishment”.

The NGO network also disregards the ongoing and complex debate which has taken place within the Israeli government, involving the Justice Ministry and Supreme Court, regarding Israel's commitments to the Gaza population under international law. Detailed information (systematically erased from the misleading NGO statements) demonstrates the continued flow of medical supplies and other vital goods in Gaza. For example, between June and Aug. 2007, 50,000 tons of humanitarian food was transferred by Israel to Gaza. (The European Union suspended funding for Gaza’s electricity generators in August, 2007 following evidence that the Hamas leadership was siphoning off revenues.) To compensate for shortages, Egyptian and Israeli utility companies increased their output. The NGO community did not condemn this European policy as “collective punishment.”

In contrast to these politicized and distorted statements, which divert attention from genuine human rights abuses, NGO Monitor recommends a number of human rights and humanitarian issues, which should feature more prominently in NGO campaigns. We urge the NGOs to apply international law universally, and to conduct credible, source-based research in order to monitor the internal Palestinian security failures, including regular kidnappings, murders and intimidation rocket and other forms of terror attacks against Israelis endangering of civilians by Palestinians launching rockets from civilian areas (human shields) abuse and persecution of Christians in Gaza flow of aid and medicines into Gaza, and the role of the Hamas leadership in communicating humanitarian needs to Israel in a timely fashion.