and Norman Finkelstein condemn
for their ridiculous condemnation of Palestinian non-violent
resistance. Both texts are interesting and good; however, Cook
and Finkelstein refer to HRW’ s “error of judgment” and here
they are mistaken. The error of judgment is all theirs. They do
not understand that Human Rights bodies are agents of the enemy
pretending to be our friends. The very idea of “human rights” is
a hostile assault on “collective rights” entertained by the
neo-liberals against the underprivileged. It is time to give up
an attempt of fitting into liberal paradigm, but this thought is
sorely missing in both pieces. Read it and compare with Down
with Human Rights on
are being denied the right to non-violent resistance
Human Rights Watch has lost its moral bearings
Jonathan Cook in Nazareth
thing offers a terrifying glimpse of where the experiment in
human despair that is Gaza under Israeli siege is leading, it is
the news that a Palestinian woman in her sixties -- a
grandmother -- chose last week to strap on a suicide belt and
explode herself next to a group of Israeli soldiers invading her
“Man bites dog” news value of the story, most of the Israeli
media played down the incident. Not surprisingly: it is
difficult to portray Fatma al-Najar as a crazed fanatic bent
only the destruction of Israel.
equally difficult not to pause and wonder at the reasons for her
suicide mission: according to her family, one of her grandsons
was killed by the Israeli army, another is in a wheelchair after
his leg had to be amputated, and her house had been demolished.
Or not to
think of the years of trauma she and her family have suffered
living in a open-air prison under brutal occupation, and now,
since the “disengagement”, the agonising months of grinding
poverty, slow starvation, repeated aerial bombardments, and the
loss of essentials like water and electricity.
Or not to
ponder at what it must have been like for her to spend every day
under a cloud of fear, to be powerless against a largely unseen
and malign force, and to never know when death and mutilation
might strike her or her loved ones.
Or not to
imagine that she had been longing for the moment when the
soldiers who have been destroying her family’s lives might show
themselves briefly, coming close enough that she could see and
touch them, and wreak her revenge.
observers, and the organisations that should represent the very
best of their Enlightenment values, seem incapable of
understanding what might drive a grandmother to become a suicide
bomber. Their empathy fails them, and so does their humanity.
Just at the
moment Fatma was choosing death and resistance over
powerlessness and victimhood -- and at a time when Gaza is
struggling through one of the most oppressive and ugly periods
of Israeli occupation in nearly four decades -- Human Rights
Watch published its lastest statement on the conflict. It is
document that shames the organisation, complacent Western
societies and Fatma’s memory.
press release “Civilians Must Not Be Used to Shield Homes
Against Military Attacks”, which was widely reported by the
international media, HRW lambasts armed Palestinian groups for
calling on civilians to surround homes that have been targeted
for air strikes by the Israeli military.
almost as an afterthought that more than 1,500 Palestinians have
been made homeless from house demolitions in the past few
months, and that 105 houses have been destroyed from the air,
the press release denounces Palestinian attempts at non-violent
and collective action to halt the Israel attacks. HRW refers in
particular to three incidents.
3, Hamas appealed to women to surround a mosque in Beit Hanoun
where Palestinian men had sought shelter from the Israeli army.
Israeli soldiers opened fire on the women, killing two and
injuring at least 10.
week on two separate occasions, crowds of supporters gathered
around the houses of men accused of being militants by Israel
who had received phone messages from the Israeli security forces
warning that their families’ homes were about to be bombed.
that would have made George Orwell shudder, one of the world’s
leading organisations for the protection of human rights ignored
the continuing violation of the Palestinians’ right to security
and a roof over their heads and argued instead: “There is no
excuse for calling [Palestinian] civilians to the scene of a
planned [Israeli] attack. Whether or not the home is a
legitimate military target, knowingly asking civilians to stand
in harm’s way is unlawful.”
good reason to believe that this reading of international law is
wrong, if not Kafkaesque. Popular and peaceful resistance to the
oppressive policies of occupying powers and autocratic rulers,
in India and South Africa for example, has always been, by its
very nature, a risky venture in which civilians are liable to be
killed or injured. Responsibility for those deaths must fall on
those doing the oppressing, not those resisting, particularly
when they are employing non-violent means. On HRW’s
interpretation, Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela would be war
applies a series of terrible double standards in this press
Palestinians the right to protect homes from attack, labelling
these civilians “human shields”, even while admitting that most
of the homes are not legitimate military targets, and yet it has
not said a word about the common practice in Israel of building
weapons factories and army bases inside or next to communities,
thereby forcing Israeli civilians to become human shields for
prefers to highlight a supposed violation of international law
by the Palestinians -- their choice to act as “human shields” --
and to demand that the practice end immediately, while ignoring
the very real and continuing violation of international law
committed by Israel in undertaking punitive house demolitions
against Palestinian families.
But let us
ignore even these important issues and assume that HRW is
technically correct that such Palestinian actions do violate
international law. Nonetheless, HRW is still failing us and
mocking its mandate, because it has lost sight of the three
principles that must guide the vision of a human rights
organisation: a sense of priorities, proper context and common
Every day HRW has to choose which of the many abuses of
international law taking place around the world it highlights.
It manages to record only a tiny fraction of them. The
assumption of many outsiders may be that it focuses on only the
most egregious examples. That would be wrong.
truth is that the worse a state’s track record on human rights,
the easier ride it gets, relatively speaking, from human rights
organisations. That is both because, if abuses are repeated
often enough, they become so commonplace as to go unremarked,
and because, if the abuses are wide-ranging and systematic, only
a small number of the offences will be noted.
unlike the Palestinians, benefits in both these respects. After
four decades of reporting on Israel’s occupation of the
Palestinians, HRW has covered all of Israel’s many human
rights-abusing practices at least once before. The result is
that after a while most violations get ignored. Why issue
another report on house demolitions or “targeted
assassinations”, even though they are occurring all the time?
And, how to record the individual violations of tens of
thousands of Palestinians’ rights every day at checkpoints? One
report on the checkp oints once every few years has to suffice
case, there is an added reluctance on the part of organisations
like HRW to tackle the extent and nature of Israel’s trampling
of Palestinian rights. Constant press releases denouncing Israel
would provoke accusations, as they do already, that Israel is
being singled out -- and with it, the implication that
anti-Semitism lies behind the special treatment.
chooses instead to equivocate. It ignores most Israeli
violations and highlights every Palestinian infraction, however
minor. This way it makes a pact with the devil: it achieves the
balance that protects it from criticism but only by sacrificing
the principles of equity and justice.
press release, for example, HRW treats the recent appeal to
Palestinians to exercise their right to protect their
neighbours, and to act in soldarity with non-violent resistance
to occupation, as no different from the dozens of known
violations committed by the Israeli army of abducting
Palestinian civilians as human shields to protect its troops.
vounteering to surround a mosque become the equivalent of the
notorious incident in January 2003 when 21-year-old Samer Sharif
was handcuffed to the hood of an army Jeep and driven towards
stone-throwing youngsters in Nablus as Israeli soldiers fired
their guns from behind his head.
to HRW’s approach to international law, the two incidents are
The actions of Palestinians occur in a context in which all of
their rights are already under the control of their occupier,
Israel, and can be violated at its whim. This means that it is
problematic, from a human rights perspective, to place the
weight of culpability on the Palestinians without laying far
greater weight at the same time on the situation to which the
Palestinians are reacting.
Here is an
example. HRW and other human rights organisations have taken the
Palestinians to task for the extra-judicial killings of those
suspected of collaborating with the Israeli security forces.
is blindingly obvious that the lynching of an alleged
collaborator is a violation of that person’s fundamental right
to life, HRW’s position of simply blaming the Palestinians for
this practice raises two critical problems.
fudges the issue of accountability.
In the case
of a “targeted assassination”, Israel’s version of
extra-judicial killing, we have an address to hold accountable:
the apparatus of a state in the forms of the Israeli army which
carried out the murder and the Israeli politicians who approved
it. (These officials are also responsible for the bystanders who
are invariably killed along with the target.)
it can be shown that the lynchings are planned and coordinated
at a high level, a human rights organisation cannot apply the
same standards by which it judges a state to a crowd of
Palestinians, people gripped by anger and the thirst for
revenge. The two are not equivalent and cannot be held to
account in the same way. Palestinians carrying out a lynching
are commiting a crime punishable under ordinary domestic law;
while the Israeli army carrying out a “targeted assassination”
is commiting state terrorism, which must be tried in the court
of world opinion.
HRW’s position ignores the context in which the lynching takes
Palestinian resistance to occupation has failed to realise its
goals mainly because of Israel’s extensive network of
collaborators, individuals who have usually been terrorised by
threats to themselves or their family and/or by torture into
“co-operating” with Israel’s occupation forces.
majority of planned attacks are foiled because one member of the
team is collaborating with Israel. He or she not only sabotages
the attack but often also gives Israel the information it needs
to kill the leaders of the resistance (as well as bystanders).
Collaborators, though common in the West Bank and Gaza, are much
despised -- and for good reason. They make the goal of national
Palestinians have been struggling to find ways to make
collaboration less appealing. When the Israeli army is
threatening to jail your son, or refusing a permit for your wife
to receive the hospital treatment she needs, you may agree to do
terrible things. Armed groups and many ordinary Palestinians
countenance the lynchings because they are seen as a
counterweight to Israel’s own powerful techniques of
intimidation -- a deterrence, even if a largely unsuccessful
a report on the extra-judicial killing of Palestinian
collaborators, therefore, groups like HRW have a duty to
highlight first and with much greater emphasis the
responsibility of Israel and its decades-long occupation for the
lynchings, as the context in which Palestinians are forced to
mimic the barbarity of those oppressing them to stand any chance
of defeating them.
release denouncing the Palestinians for choosing collectively
and peacefully to resist house demolitions, while not
concentrating on the violations committed by Israel in
destroying the houses and using military forms of intimidation
and punishment against civilians, is a travesty for this very
sense: And finally human rights organisations must never abandon
common sense, the connecting thread of our humanity, when making
judgments about where their priorities lie.
In the past
few months Gaza has sunk into a humanitarian disaster engineered
by Israel and the international community. What has been HRW’s
response? It is worth examining its most recent reports, those
on the front page of the Mideast section of its website last
week, when the latest press release was issued. Four stories
relate to Israel and Palestine.
criticise Palestinian militants and the wider society in various
ways: for encouraging the use of “human shields”, for firing
home-made rockets into Israel, and for failing to protect women
from domestic violence. One report mildly rebukes Israel, urging
the government to ensure that the army properly investigates the
reasons for the shelling that killed 19 Palestinian inhabitants
of Beit Hanoun.
shameful imbalance, both in the number of reports being issued
against each party and in terms of the failure to hold
accountable the side committing the far greater abuses of human
rights, has become the HRW’s standard procedure in
But in its
latest release, on human shields, HRW plumbs new depths,
stripping Palestinians of the right to organise non-violent
forms of resistance and seek new ways of showing solidarity in
the face of illegal occupation. In short, HRW treats the people
of Gaza as mere rats in a laboratory -- the Israeli army’s view
of them -- to be experimented on at will.
priorities in Israel-Palestine prove it has lost its moral
Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His
book “Blood and Religion: The Unmasking of the Jewish and
Democratic State” is published by Pluto Press. His website is
Rush to Judgment
Human Rights Watch Must Retract Its Shameful Press Release
By NORMAN G.
by the grim standards of Gaza, the past five months have been
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
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
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
In what must surely be the most shocking
statement ever issued by a human rights organization, HRW
indicted Palestinian leaders for supporting this nonviolent
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
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
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
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
Whitsonfirstname.lastname@example.org - and HRW
executive director Kenneth Roth--RothK@hrw.org.