September 19, 2006
September 2, 2006
The two principal “human rights” organizations are in a race to the bottom to see which group can demonize Israel with the most absurd legal arguments and most blatant factual mis-statements. Until last week, Human Rights Watch enjoyed a prodigious lead, having “found” – contrary to what every newspaper in the world had reported and what everyone saw with their own eyes on television – “no cases in which Hizbullah deliberately used civilians as shields to protect them from retaliatory IDF attack.” Those of us familiar with Amnesty International’s nefarious anti-Israel agenda and notoriously “suggestible” investigative methodology wondered how it could possibly match such a breathtaking lie.
But we didn’t have to wait long for AI to announce that Israel was guilty of a slew of war crimes for “widespread attacks against public civilian infrastructure, including power plants, bridges, main roads, seaports, and Beirut’s international airport.”
There are two problems with the Amnesty report and conclusion. First, Amnesty is wrong about the law. Israel committed no war crimes by attacking parts of the civilian infrastructure in Lebanon.
In fact, through restraint, Israel was able to minimize the number of civilian casualties in Lebanon, despite Hizbullah’s best efforts to embed itself in population centers and to use civilians as human shields. The total number of innocent Muslim civilians killed by Israeli weapons during a month of ferocious defensive warfare was a fraction of the number of innocent Muslims killed by other Muslims during that same period in Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan, Algeria, and other areas of Muslim-on-Muslim civil strife. Yet the deaths caused by Muslims received a fraction of the attention devoted to alleged Israeli “crimes.”
September 1, 2006
A Malaysian newspaper recently published an article headlined “Israel
deliberately targeting civilians, says Human Rights Watch.”
Turkish newspapers ran similar items, repeating HRW’s statements that
“Israel intentionally bombs civilians.” During the Lebanon War HRW’s press
releases, opeds and interviews with officials were cited in hundreds of
newspapers around the world, providing seeming legitimacy from a “neutral
source” to the violent anti-Israel protests and calls for revenge.
For HRW and executive director Kenneth Roth, Israel is a highly emotional
focus, and their reports are often biased and unreliable.
Roth’s ideological objectives and slipshod methods are illustrated in an
August 18 column published in The Jerusalem Post
(“Indiscriminate Bombardment”). Rejecting claims that “the IDF was doing the
best it could” or that Lebanese civilian deaths “were the result of
Hizbullah hiding its rockets and fighters among civilians,” Roth declared
that this “assertion doesn’t stand up to the facts.” This modern blood libel
accuses Israelis of “indifference to the taking of civilian lives.”
But the factual basis for this article itself was glaringly absent.
Instead, Roth relied on the “halo effect,” (the NGO version of “trust me”),
claiming that HRW “investigated some two dozen bombing incidents in Lebanon.
In none of those cases was Hizbullah anywhere around at the time of the
Lacking any verifiable evidence, Roth reassures his readers that HRW
research techniques “cut through people’s incentive to lie.” These
researchers “probed and cross-checked multiple eyewitnesses,” who “were
adamant that Hizbullah was not at the scene of the attack. We examined
bombing sites for evidence of military activity such as trenches, destroyed
rocket launchers and military equipment, or dead or wounded fighters….”
ROTH DOES not provide names, but it is likely that Lucy Mair, HRW’s
researcher for Israeli/Palestinian issues, was involved. A number of HRW’s
statements on the Lebanon war provided Mair’s name and a Beirut phone
number. Before coming to HRW, she published anti-Israel propaganda in
pro-Palestinian platforms such as the “Electronic Intifada.” This is hardly
a credible biography for an “independent” researcher.
Furthermore, none of Roth’s other claims can be checked, and they are
totally inconsistent with the hard evidence, such as the
4,000 missiles launched by Hizbullah at Israeli civilians during this
Reporters from The New York Times, The New Yorker and elsewhere had no
difficulty finding reliable detailed evidence of Hizbullah’s activities in
these areas, but HRW’s “probes” and “searches” came up empty. Perhaps they
were not looking very hard.
And in dismissing the justification for the IDF attack on Kana, Roth relies
on confused interpretations of an article by an Israeli journalist, and
denigrates video footage “trotted out” by the IDF “of Hizbullah firing
rockets from a village.” Instead, Roth makes the patently absurd demand for
a video that would show “that Hizbullah was in a civilian building or
vehicle at the time of an Israeli attack.”
Finally, Roth admits that “Hizbullah certainly should not be let off the
hook” – as if the kidnappings and massive missile bombardments by terrorists
are minor footnotes in terms of human rights. His claim that HRW has
conducted “detailed investigations of the militia’s obvious war crimes” is
also inconsistent with the evidence. Of the 24 HRW statements and opeds
during this war, as listed on NGO Monitor, most targeted Israel, and the
only lengthy study, of over 50 pages, also focused on allegations against
Israel. HRW’s very limited criticisms of Hizbullah, like its statements on
Palestinian terror, appear to be little more than fig leaves.
In assessing HRW’s biased and unprofessional performance in the Lebanon War,
previous examples provide a consistent picture. In October 2004, Roth flew
to Jerusalem to publicize Razing Rafah, HRW’s glossy 135-page publication
condemning Israel’s anti-terror operations in Gaza. The evidence in this
report, which dismissed the impact of the weapons smuggling through tunnels
from Egypt, was based largely on Palestinian “eyewitnesses” and claims by
Marc Garlasco, HRW’s “military expert.”
Garlasco’s published biosketch shows very limited military experience,
particularly in the areas of tunneling and forensics that were emphasized in
this report. Garlasco was also central to HRW’s public relations campaign
over the Gaza beach incident in June 2006, which supported the Palestinian
version and blamed Israel. In this case as well, Garlasco relied on evidence
provided by the Palestinian police, while ignoring details that were not
consistent with his thesis.
With an annual budget of $50 million, Roth and his funders are obliged to
insure that HRW’s reports are accurate and free of ideological bias. In
contrast, when these reports are instrumental in spreading anti-Israel
sentiment in Malaysia, Turkey, Bangladesh, Europe and elsewhere, the result
is the antithesis of the human rights objectives proclaimed by HRW.
Rather than the independent investigations of Israel that Roth always
demands, it is his HRW’s activities that need to be investigated.
The writer is the director of the Program on Conflict Management at Bar-Ilan
University and the editor of NGO Monitor.