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NGO Monitor's monograph: The NGO Front in the Gaza War: The Durban Strategy Continues

[Updated: To view additional NGO statements on Gaza, and further critical analysis click here.]

    In January, Israel reduced fuel supplies to Gaza following rocket barrages aimed at Sderot, Ashkelon and other cities. (Between June and December 2007, 475 missiles and 631 mortar bombs were launched; in January 2008 these attacks intensified).  While the Israeli measures were limited, and designed to force an end to the attacks without resorting to a full scale military operation, the Hamas leadership sought to create an image of widespread suffering and “collective punishment”. In parallel, supporters are again pressing efforts on a UN resolution to condemn Israel.

      As in the past, a number of international NGOs have joined in this campaign, including Amnesty International, Oxfam, and World Vision. (As of January 22, 2008, Human Rights Watch and Christian Aid had not issued statements.) These NGO statements and press releases use the politicized rhetoric of human rights, such as “collective punishment” and "crimes against humanity," in selective and one-sided condemnations.

      Amnesty International has been the most active NGO in the current campaign, and its January 21 statement (Gaza Blockade: 'collective punishment' condemned) demonstrates the exploitation of human rights for political goals. The headline and most of the text focuses exclusively on the “Gaza blockade”, and accuses Israel of "collective punishment" – an inappropriate term used frequently to promote political objectives.[1] While Amnesty "acknowledged Israel's right to take measures to protect its population from rocket and other attacks," this statement was disconnected from the rest of the condemnation.

      In addition, Malcolm Smart, Director of Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa Programme, demonizes Israel by claiming (against all evidence) that Israel's border closure "appears calculated to make an already dire humanitarian situation worse”, one in which "the most vulnerable -- the sick, the elderly, women and children -- will bear the brunt, not those responsible for the attacks against Israel…" The Amnesty statement also incongruously claims that "the Israeli authorities cite unspecified 'security' reasons" to justify closures, erasing the use of “civil” materials for Palestinian rocket bombardment, and the incidents, including one last week in which tons of potassium nitrate used for explosives were found in humanitarian shipments from the EU to Gaza.

      Oxfam’s statements parallel Amnesty’s.  In a January 20, 2008 press release, this NGO accuses Israel of "collective punishment," and Barbara Stocking, Oxfam UK's executive director, blamed both sides, erasing the distinction between terror and defense (as in Oxfam's statements in November 2007 on similar issues).  World Vision, a frequent contributor to such campaigns, issued a statement on January 21, 2008 headlined 'Gaza: worsening violence and humanitarian conditions' . This statement included a general condemnation of the "wave of violence between Palestinian militants and Israeli forces […]," and then focused on accusations against Israel. 

Activities by Palestinian and Israel-based NGOs

      As in many similar instances documented by NGO Monitor, NGOs that promote the Palestinian narrative by using the language of human rights and international law have been very active in this campaign.. The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions – ICAHD (funded by the EU), Alternative Information Centre (funded by the Irish Government via Christian Aid), Physicians for Human Rights (Israel), Bat Tsafon, Gush Shalom, and The Women’s Coalition for Peace issued a joint declaration on January 21, 2008 – 'Gaza: An Israeli Call for Urgent Action' – which accuses the Israeli government of “serious war crimes” and claims Israeli policy represents "a clear and unequivocal crime against humanity." In a separate statement issued January 21, ICAHD referred briefly to the suffering of the residents of Sderot and Ashkelon, and then blamed Israel for the "siege", which, it asserted, is the 'root cause' of all  Palestinian suffering and violence, asserting “The siege is an immoral act and a violation of International Law…."

      Other groups (many funded by the European Union and the New Israel Fund) including Adalah, B’Tselem, Gisha, Ha-Moked, PCHR, Al-Haq, Al-Mezan, and others, published a statement and petition on January 21, demanding an Israeli Supreme Court injunction to "prevent Israel from continuing to bar fuel from reaching Gaza." This statement repeated the slogans of the NGO campaign: "Israel’s continuing punitive sanctions against the population of Gaza are intended to harm Palestinian civilians for political purposes, and amount to collective punishment, which is illegal under international law.” (The NGOs ignored B’Tseslem’s January 16 statement headline: Ecuadorian citizen killed by Palestinian gunfire in the south of Israel. Addressing Hamas, they declared “Attacks aimed at civilians undermine all rules of morality and law. Specifically, the intentional killing of civilians is considered a 'grave breach' of international humanitarian law and a war crime. Whatever the circumstances, such acts are unjustifiable.”)
 
Criticism of NGO Statements

      A January 21, 2008 op-ed in the The Jerusalem Post by Erik Schechter – 'Prisoners of Gaza', challenged the double-standards of NGOs such as Amnesty International and Gisha, as well as Human Rights Watch, in their condemnation’s of Israeli policy on Gaza.  Schechter notes that Gisha's January 2007 report, Disengaged Occupiers: The Legal Status of Gaza (analyzed in detail by NGO Monitor), "comes off vague and arbitrary…The group offers no formula for how much 'indirect control' makes an occupation. Nor it does explain how [Israel's] domination of Gazan airspace and waters differs from an ordinary blockade."

      Schechter also reports that "most other military occupations (i.e., foreign rule, troops and settlers) go unremarked upon by the human rights community," citing the conflict in Western Sahara. But "none of this registers with Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Both groups insist on calling Western Sahara a 'disputed territory' or 'Moroccan-administered' - anything but 'occupied. … This legal conservatism stands in stark contrast to the super-elastic category used for Gaza." Schecther continues: "Explaining, the contradiction, Human Rights Watch legal adviser James Ross tells me that his group uses terms "widely accepted" by the international community. True, interested parties often shape this discourse, but not to worry: The law, not the label, is what counts. And human rights law is applied to Western Sahara…"

      In a separate analysis, Prof. Elihu Richter, from the Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Public Health, has noted that “There is no hope for change in the current dismal situation until the international NGO's stop applying paradigms in which the perpetrators of terror directed against entire populations are presented as the victim, and the targets of such terror are seen as the perpetrators. …Outsiders who tolerate, condone or endorse or remain silent about genocidal terror are as much a part of the problem as the perpetrators.” 

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[1]  The term "collective punishment" in these statements is 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 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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