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Human Rights Watch targets Israel

By Sarah Mandel - posted Wednesday, 26 July 2006

State “terrorism”, “starving the population”, “ignoring the civilian consequences of a planned attack”. These are not the mutterings of the Hezbollah propaganda machine, but parts of a statement put out by Human Rights Watch (HRW) on the conflict. HRW's statements not only bolster those who wish to see Israel wiped off the map, but epitomise all that is wrong with the NGO's approach to the Middle East.

The political bias of HRW's Middle East division is regularly expressed in its disproportionate focus on Israel and the selective use of human rights language to undermine any attempts at self defence. But recent statements have shown the extremes of hypocrisy and double standards that HRW will go to make a political point.

Its July 13 press release entitled, “Lebanon/Israel: Do Not Attack Civilians”, portrayed Israel's strikes on terrorist infrastructure in Lebanon as morally equivalent to Hezbollah's directing of rockets randomly at Israeli civilians. But in making this facile equation, HRW ignores Hezbollah's use of southern Lebanese villagers as human shields when it stockpiles and even launches weapons from their homes. In this and many other aspects, there is no Israeli equivalent.


Despite Human Rights Watch's campaign alleging use of Palestinian civilians as human shields by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF), particularly during the anti-terror actions in 2002, there is no parallel attention to Hezbollah's long running endangerment of civilians. This is one of many examples in which HRW applies double standards in using the rhetoric of human rights.

Similarly, this powerful NGO, which is run by a number of anti-Israel activists, has not said a word on Hezbollah's aggression against northern Israeli communities. HRW's July 17 “Questions and Answers” is a 4,000 word diatribe, demonising all Israeli responses to attack.

This “analysis” of human rights law as it applies to the current conflict brushes over Hezbollah violations but is careful to include unverifiable speculation about Israeli motivations.

HRW has released one statement condemning the presence of deadly ball bearings in Hezbollah rockets. Yet it has produced six reports condemning Israel, including characterising Israel's tactics as “open[ing] the door … to terrorism” and deliberately “prevent[ing] civilians from seeking safety”.

There is the usual mantra of Israel's “disproportionate” use of force, with no attempt to describe what might be a “proportional” response to an unprovoked attack of thousands of rockets and missiles by the proxy forces of Syria and Iran. And even Israel's practice of dropping leaflets to warn civilians of an imminent air strike is criticised as insufficient.

HRW's obsession in condemning Israel's actions as “excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated” has blinded it to the fact there are military advantages that indeed need to be gained. If Israel gave the civilians hours of notice before striking, there would be no reason to bomb, the stock-piled weapons having been moved elsewhere.


In this case, HRW has no qualms in making these allegations before it has been able to “conduct extensive on-the-ground investigation”. But an HRW “investigation” also begins with the desired political conclusion and works backward to find the “facts”.

After the June 9 Gaza beach explosion, HRW’s on-site “military expert”, Marc Galasco, ignored IDF evidence that indicated the explosion was not caused by an Israeli shell.

Galasco, whose credibility as a “battle damage expert” is widely questioned, held a high profile press conference to publicise his conclusions that included unverifiable Palestinian claims as well as testimony and “evidence” brought by the Palestinian police - an organisation with a low credibility.

HRW's history of blanket opposition to the IDF undermines its current claim that the military justification for air strikes on Lebanon is “at best debatable”.

Such tunnel vision towards its political goal not only undermines HRW's credibility as a defender of human rights, but also feeds the process of anti-Israel demonisation. Until it relinquishes its extremist political program with respect to Israel, and recognises the difference between terrorists and sovereign democratic states, HRW will continue to fuel the conflict that it condemns with such vigour.

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About the Author

Sarah Mandel is Associate Editor of NGO Monitor, which promotes critical debate and accountability of human rights and humanitarian NGOs in the Arab Israeli conflict

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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