FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Human Rights Watch Must Retract Its Shameful Press Release

 

Even by the grim standards of Gaza, the past five months have been cruel ones.

Some four hundred Palestinians, mostly unarmed civilians, have been killed during Israeli attacks. (Four Israeli soldiers and two civilians have been killed.) Israel has sealed off Gaza from the outside world while the international community has imposed brutal sanctions, ravaging Gaza’s already impoverished economy.

“Gaza is dying,” Patrick Cockburn reported in CounterPunch, “its people are on the edge of starvation.A whole society is being destroyed.The sound that Palestinians most dread is an unknown voice on their cell phone saying they have half an hour to leave their home before it is hit by bombs or missiles. There is no appeal. ”

“Gaza is in its worst condition ever,” Gideon Levy wrote in Haaretz, “The Israeli army has been rampaging through Gaza–there’s no other word to describe it–killing and demolishing, bombing and shelling indiscriminately….This is disgraceful and shocking collective punishment.”

Predictably Gaza teetered on the precipice of fratricidal civil war. “The experiment was a success: The Palestinians are killing each other,” Amira Hass wryly observed in Ha’aretz, “They are behaving as expected at the end of the extended experiment called ‘what happens when you imprison 1.3 million human beings in an enclosed space like battery hens.'”

It is at times like this that we expect human rights organizations to speak out.

How has Human Rights Watch responded to the challenge? It criticized Israel for destroying Gaza’s only electrical plant, and also called on Israel to “investigate” why its forces were targeting Palestinian medical personnel in Gaza and to “investigate” the Beit Hanoun massacre.

On the other hand, it accused Palestinians of committing a “war crime” after they captured an Israeli soldier and offered to exchange him for Palestinian women and children held in Israeli jails. (Israel was holding 10,000 Palestinians prisoner.) It demanded that Palestinians “bring an immediate end to the lawlessness and vigilante violence” in Gaza. (Compare Amira Hass’s words.) It issued a 101-page report chastising the Palestinian Authority for failing to protect women and girls. It called on the Palestinian Authority to take “immediate steps to halt” Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel.

Were this record not shameful enough, HRW crossed a new threshold at the end of November.

After Palestinians spontaneously responded to that “unknown voice on a cell phone” by putting their own bare bodies in harm’s way, HRW rushed to issue a press release warning that Palestinians might be committing a “war crime” and might be guilty of “human shielding.” (“Civilians Must Not Be Used to Shield Homes Against Military Attacks”)

In what must surely be the most shocking statement ever issued by a human rights organization, HRW indicted Palestinian leaders for supporting this nonviolent civil disobedience:

Prime Minister Haniyeh and other Palestinian leaders should be renouncing, not embracing, the tactic of encouraging civilians to place themselves at risk.

The international community has for decades implored Palestinian leaders to forsake armed struggle in favor of nonviolent civil disobedience. Why is a human rights organization now attacking them for adopting this tactic?

Is it a war crime to protect one’s home from collective punishment?

Is it human shielding if a desperate and forsaken populace chooses to put itself at deadly risk in order to preserve the last shred of its existence?

Indeed, although Israeli soldiers have frequently used Palestinians as human shields in life-threatening situations, and although HRW has itself documented this egregious Israeli practice, HRW has never once called it a war crime.

It took weeks before HRW finally issued a report condemning Israeli war crimes in Lebanon. Although many reliable journalists were daily documenting these crimes, HRW said it first had to conduct an independent investigation of its own.

But HRW hastened to deplore the nonviolent protests in Gaza based on anonymous press reports which apparently got crucial facts wrong.

Why this headlong rush to judgment?

Was HRW seeking to appease pro-Israel critics after taking the heat for its report documenting Israeli war crimes in Lebanon?

After Martin Luther King delivered his famous speech in 1967 denouncing the war in Vietnam, mainstream Black leaders rebuked him for jeopardizing the financial support of liberal whites. “You might get yourself a foundation grant,” King retorted, “but you won’t get yourself into the Kingdom of Truth.”

HRW now also stands poised at a crossroads: foundation grants or the Kingdom of Truth?

A first step in the right direction would be for it to issue a retraction of its press release and an apology.

HRW executive director Kenneth Roth “commended” Israel during its last invasion for warning people in south Lebanon to flee–before turning it into a moonscape, slaughtering the old, infirm and poor left behind. It would seem that Palestinian leaders and people, too, merit some recognition for embracing the tactics of Gandhi and King in a last desperate bid to save themselves from annihilation.

Email HRW Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson–whitsos@hrw.org – and HRW executive director Kenneth Roth–RothK@hrw.org.

Norman Finkelstein’s most recent book is Beyond Chutzpah: On the misuse of anti-Semitism and the abuse of history (University of California Press). His web site is www.NormanFinkelstein.com.

 

 

More articles by:
September 20, 2018
Michael Hudson
Wasting the Lehman Crisis: What Was Not Saved Was the Economy
John Pilger
Hold the Front Page, the Reporters are Missing
Kenn Orphan
The Power of the Anthropocene
Paul Cox – Stan Cox
Puerto Rico’s Unnatural Disaster Rolls on Into Year Two
Rajan Menon
Yemen’s Descent Into Hell: a Saudi-American War of Terror
Russell Mokhiber
Nick Brana Says Dems Will Again Deny Sanders Presidential Nomination
Nicholas Levis
Three Lessons of Occupy Wall Street, With a Fair Dose of Memory
Steve Martinot
The Constitutionality of Homeless Encampments
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
The Aftershocks of the Economic Collapse Are Still Being Felt
Jesse Jackson
By Enforcing Climate Change Denial, Trump Puts Us All in Peril
George Wuerthner
Coyote Killing is Counter Productive
Mel Gurtov
On Dealing with China
Dean Baker
How to Reduce Corruption in Medicine: Remove the Money
September 19, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
When Bernie Sold Out His Hero, Anti-Authoritarians Paid
Lawrence Davidson
Political Fragmentation on the Homefront
George Ochenski
How’s That “Chinese Hoax” Treating You, Mr. President?
Cesar Chelala
The Afghan Morass
Chris Wright
Three Cheers for the Decline of the Middle Class
Howard Lisnoff
The Beat Goes On Against Protest in Saudi Arabia
Nomi Prins 
The Donald in Wonderland: Down the Financial Rabbit Hole With Trump
Jack Rasmus
On the 10th Anniversary of Lehman Brothers 2008: Can ‘IT’ Happen Again?
Richard Schuberth
Make Them Suffer Too
Geoff Beckman
Kavanaugh in Extremis
Jonathan Engel
Rather Than Mining in Irreplaceable Wilderness, Why Can’t We Mine Landfills?
Binoy Kampmark
Needled Strawberries: Food Terrorism Down Under
Michael McCaffrey
A Curious Case of Mysterious Attacks, Microwave Weapons and Media Manipulation
Elliot Sperber
Eating the Constitution
September 18, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Britain: the Anti-Semitism Debate
Tamara Pearson
Why Mexico’s Next President is No Friend of Migrants
Richard Moser
Both the Commune and Revolution
Nick Pemberton
Serena 15, Tennis Love
Binoy Kampmark
Inconvenient Realities: Climate Change and the South Pacific
Martin Billheimer
La Grand’Route: Waiting for the Bus
John Kendall Hawkins
Seymour Hersh: a Life of Adversarial Democracy at Work
Faisal Khan
Is Israel a Democracy?
John Feffer
The GOP Wants Trumpism…Without Trump
Kim Ives
The Roots of Haiti’s Movement for PetroCaribe Transparency
Dave Lindorff
We Already Have a Fake Billionaire President; Why Would We want a Real One Running in 2020?
Gerry Brown
Is China Springing Debt Traps or Throwing a Lifeline to Countries in Distress?
Pete Tucker
The Washington Post Really Wants to Stop Ben Jealous
Dean Baker
Getting It Wrong Again: Consumer Spending and the Great Recession
September 17, 2018
Melvin Goodman
What is to be Done?
Rob Urie
American Fascism
Patrick Cockburn
The Adults in the White House Trying to Save the US From Trump Are Just as Dangerous as He Is
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The Long Fall of Bob Woodward: From Nixon’s Nemesis to Cheney’s Savior
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail