Context-Challenged – by Design
The ongoing crimes perpetrated against Gaza are chronic, and indeed, systematic. Arnon Soffer, one of Israel’s Dr. Strangeloves and “intellectual father of the wall”, had this to say about Gaza:
Q (Ruthie Blum): Will Israel be prepared to fight this war?
Arnon Soffer: [...] Instead of entering Gaza, the way we did last week, we will tell the Palestinians that if a single missile is fired over the fence, we will fire 10 in response. And women and children will be killed, and houses will be destroyed. After the fifth such incident, Palestinian mothers won’t allow their husbands to shoot Kassams, because they will know what’s waiting for them. Second of all, when 2.5 million people live in a closed-off Gaza, it’s going to be a human catastrophe. Those people will become even bigger animals than they are today, with the aid of an insane fundamentalist Islam. The pressure at the border will be awful. It’s going to be a terrible war. So, if we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day. 
To determine the reasons behind Israeli actions, one only has to read what their Dr. Strangeloves say – it is no secret. The aim is to create miserable conditions to drive the Palestinians off their land, warehouse the population in an open air prison called Gaza, and to disproportionately repress any Palestinian resistance. Israelis have to “kill and kill and kill, all day”. Such pathological reasoning put Israeli actions into perspective; they are major crimes, possibly genocidal. Recognition of such crimes has some consequences.
Criminalizing Palestinian Resistance
Amnesty dispenses with the Palestinian right to defend themselves by stating that the Palestinian rockets are “indiscriminate”, and proceeds to repeatedly call their use a war crime. Palestinian resistance is also told not to hide in heavily populated areas, not execute collaborators, and so on. While Palestinians are told that their resistance amounts to war crimes, the Israelis aren’t told that their attacks are criminal per se – here it is only a matter of scale.
|Whose violence is indiscriminate?|
|Fatalities during the Massacre in Gaza 2014|
|Fatality type||Israeli caused deaths||Palestinian caused deaths|
Amnesty International has received no substantive response to its inquiries about this incident from the Palestinian authorities. An independent and impartial investigation is needed, and both the Palestinian and Israeli authorities must co-operate fully. The attack appears to have violated international humanitarian law in several ways, as the evidence indicates that it was an indiscriminate attack using a prohibited weapon which may well have been fired from a residential area within the Gaza Strip and may have been intended to strike civilians in Israel. If the projectile is confirmed to be a Palestinian rocket, those who fired it and those who commanded them must be investigated for responsibility for war crimes.
Mother Teresa certainly provides enough comic material; an occasional joke makes it easier to read a dull report. The evidence for the provenance of this missile is taken at face value although it is supplied by Israel, but of course, it requires an “investigation” – it is suggesting that both Israel and the Palestinians should investigate this incident. If the Palestinian resistance was responsible for this explosion, then it was caused by a misfiring; thus there was no intention for consequent deaths. Suggesting that this amounts to a war crime is rather silly. But the title of the section advertising the report on the AI website suggests a motive for harping on this incident; the title reads “Palestinian armed groups killed civilians on both sides in attacks amounting to war crimes”. This conveys a rather warped and negative view of the Palestinian resistance – they kill civilians on both sides – and it suggests that it is not possible to be in solidarity with them.
Tyranny of Reasons
After any Israeli attack, Israeli propagandists regularly offer a rationale about why a given target was struck. The propagandists reported that there were rocket-firing crews at hospitals, schools, mosques, the power plant, etc. Presto! These places can be bombed whether or not these statements are true. What is disconcerting in the two reports on Israeli crimes is that AI imputes reasons for the targeting of buildings or families.
Amnesty International believes this attack was targeting one individual.
The apparent target was a member of a military group, targeted at a time when he was at home with his family.
The fighters who were the apparent targets could have been targeted at a different time or in a different manner that was less likely to cause excessive harm to civilians and destruction of civilian objects.
The apparent target of Israel’s attack was Ahmad Sahmoud, a member of the al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ armed wing. [...] Surviving family members and neighbours denied this.
Amnesty parrots the rationales provided by the Israeli military – one only needs to look at the footnotes of its reports. And Amnesty discounts the intentional bombing of buildings to create misery among the Gazan middle class to demoralize a key sector of society. Or by destroying the power plant it is creating generalized misery. But don’t worry, Mother T will always check with the Israeli military to determine why something was targeted.
AI is Not an Anti-war Organization
One would expect a human rights organization to be intrinsically opposed to war, but AI is a cheerleader of so-called humanitarian intervention, and even “humanitarian bombing”.  Even with this predisposition AI was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize – yet another questionable recipient for a prize meant to be given only to those actively opposed to wars. Today, one wonders if AI is going to jump on the R2P (Right to Protect) neocon bandwagon. A consequence of its “not-anti-war” stance is that it doesn’t criticize wars conducted by the United States, UK, or Israel; it is only the excesses that merit AI’s occasional lame rebuke – often prefaced with the term “disproportionate” or “alleged”. This stance is evident in its latest reports; here the premise is that the Israeli attack on Gaza was legitimate, but it is the conduct of “both sides” that is the object of the reports’ criticism.
Losing the Forest for the Trees
Amnesty International is a small organization without sufficient resources to conduct a proper report on the Massacre in Gaza 2014. And given the fact that it wasn’t given direct access to Gaza, it chose to focus on two aspects of the Israeli attack: the targeting of entire families, and the destruction of landmark buildings. Within these two categories it chose to focus on a handful of cases of each. The main problem is that AI harps on a few cases to the exclusion of the totality; AI loses the forest for the trees. There is no mention of some of the most significant total figures, say, the number of hospitals and schools destroyed, the tonnage of bombs dropped on Gaza , the tens of thousands of artillery shells used… and so on. The seriousness of the crime is lost by dwelling on a subset of a subset of the crimes committed. Amnesty isolates a few examples, describes them in some detail, and then suggests that unless there were military reasons for the attacks, then there should be an “investigation”. Oh yes, Amnesty has sent some polite letters to the Israeli authorities requesting some comment, but the Israelis have been rather non-responsive. Quite possibly the likes of Netanyahu, Ya’alon, Ganz, … are too busy rolling on the floor with laughter.
Methodology and Evidence
Every report contains a methodology section admitting to the fact that AI didn’t have direct access to Gaza. All its research was done on the Israeli side, and by two Palestinian fieldworkers in Gaza. The inability to enter Gaza possibly explains the reliance on many Israeli military statements, blogs and the Foreign Ministry about the Palestinian rocket attacks. One can verify all the footnotes to find a significant number of official Israeli statements to provide so-called evidence. It is rather jarring to find Amnesty relying on information provided by the attacking military to implicate Palestinian resistance in war crimes. How appropriate is it to use Hamas’ Violations of the Law issued by Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or Declassified Report Exposes Hamas Human Shield Policy issued by the Israeli military?
Execution of Collaborators – Who will be Criticized
AI has announced a publication of a forthcoming report on the execution of collaborators, and one can only speculate on its contents. But AI is not opposed to wars, and at the same time it is opposed to the death sentence; it is opposed to some deaths, but silent about others. Couple this stance with an unwillingness to recognize the Palestinian right to defend themselves, and consequently AI will deem the execution of collaborators as abhorrent.
Why Were These Reports Written at All?
All AI reports follow the same boiler plate formula: a brief overview, a methodology section about data sources, some emotional quotations by the victims, a section on accountability, and then some recommendations. These reports are trite, barely readable, and certainly not very useful either for legal purposes or to educate its volunteers. So why were these reports published and who actually reads them? AI would like to be known as one of the leading human rights organizations, and it must be seen as reporting on major violations/crimes. Its volunteers must be given the impression that AI cares for some of the wholesale atrocities, and not merely the retail crime or violation.
Impotence by Design
All the reports contain a list of recommendations to Israelis, Palestinians, and other states. One is struck by the impotence of the recommendations. AI urges Israel to cooperate with the UN commission of inquiry; allow human rights organizations access to Gaza; pay reparations to some victims; and ensure that the Israeli military operates within some legal bounds. Given that Israel can do as it pleases, ignoring commissions of inquiry, loudly proclaiming that it will engage in disproportionate attacks (i.e., the Dahiya doctrine), and that it refuses compensate any Gazan due to the previous massacres, all these recommendations ring rather hollow.
The Human Rights Industry
There are thousands of so-called human rights organizations. Anyone can set up a human rights organization, and thereby specify a narrow focus for the NGO, determine the parameters within which the NGO will operate – even define who is human – and now the new NGO can chime in with press releases, host wine and cheese receptions, bestow prizes, lobby politicians, launch investigations, and castigate the enemy du jour. Hey, Bono, Geldof and Angelina will hop along and sit on the NGO’s board! The human rights framework is so elastic, and it can be molded to fit legitimate purposes, but also to be manipulated for propaganda. The history of some of the largest human rights organizations show that they were originally created with the propaganda element foremost in mind. This suggests NGO output (reports, etc.) merit scrutiny not so much for what they say, but for what they omit. In the Palestinian context, a simple test on the merits of a so-called human rights organization is whether they challenge state power, call for accountability and prosecution of war criminals, and urge members to do something more than write out cheques or write a very formal and polite letters to governments engaged in criminal deeds.
“By its nature, the Israeli administrative detention system is a secretive process, in that the grounds for detention are not specified in detail to the detainee or his/her legal representative; inevitably, this makes it especially difficult for the detainee to challenge the order for, by example, contesting the grounds on which the detention was made. In the same way, it makes it difficult or impossible for Amnesty International to make a conclusive determination in many cases whether a particular administrative detainees can be considered a prisoner of conscience or not.” 
AI provides yet more comic material. AI admits that Israeli military courts can determine who can be considered a Palestinian POC! The only thing the Israeli military courts need to do is maintain the court proceedings secret or not reveal “evidence”. Alternatively, they can simply imprison the victims without trial or declare that they are members of a “banned” organization.  Presto! Israelis now won’t have to reply to those pesky polite letters written by AI volunteers. Once again, double standards in the treatment of victims raise questions about the nature of any human rights NGO.
Human Rights is Denatured Justice
Pushing for the observance of human rights doesn’t necessarily imply that one will obtain justice. The human rights agenda merely softens the edges of the status quo. As Amnesty’s position on the Israeli attacks on Gaza illustrate, pushing human rights can actually be incompatible with obtaining justice. Human rights are a bastardized, neutered, and debased form of justice. The application and effectiveness of international law is bad enough, but a pick and choose legal framework with no enforcement is even worse. If one seeks justice, then it is best to avoid the human rights discourse; above all, it is best to avoid human rights organizations.
Nabeel Abraham, et al.; International Human Rights Organizations and the Palestine Question, Middle East Report (MERIP), Vol. 18, No. 1, January-February 1988, pp. 12 – 20.
Dennis Bernstein and Francis Boyle, Amnesty on Jenin: an interview, CAQ, Summer 2002, pp. 9 – 12, 27.
Paul de Rooij, AI: Say It Isn’t So, CounterPunch, 31 Oct. 2002
Paul de Rooij, Amnesty International: The Case of a Rape Foretold, CounterPunch, 26 November 2003.
Paul de Rooij, Double Standards and Curious Silences / Amnesty International: A False Beacon, CounterPunch, 13 October 2004.
PIWP database: list of articles on the politics of human rights.
•Families Under the Rubble: Israeli Attacks on Inhabited Homes (MDE 15/032/2014), 5 November 2014.
•”Nothing is immune”: Israel’s destruction of landmark buildings in Gaza (MDE 15/029/2014), 9 December 2014.
•Unlawful and deadly: Rocket and mortar attacks by Palestinian armed groups during the 2014 Gaza/Israel conflict (MDE 21/1178/2015), 26 March 2015.
•The fourth report about the execution of collaborators has not been published yet.
I distinguish between Amnesty International, the international organization, and its well intentioned letter-writing volunteers.
Possibly the best overview of the Gaza Massacre 2014 is Al Haq’s Divide and Conquer; Statement made in 2006 by Dov Weisglas, one of Israel’s Dr. Strangeloves and close confidant of Ariel Sharon.
Ruthie Blum interviews Arnon Soffer, ONE on ONE: It’s the demography, stupid, Jerusalem Post, 10 May 2004.
Ali Abunimah, Israel “directly targeted” children in drone strikes on Gaza, says rights group, Electronic Intifada, 17 April 2015
Amnesty loves to trot out military experts and dwell on the type of weapons used. First, there is an issue about the military experts, and who they are. What is the ethics of showing up in Gaza with a military person who might still be in the armed forces of, say, the UK. One can hardly expect them to be “independent”. And why dwell on the type of munitions if their use is already criminal to begin with? Focusing on the type of weapon deflects attention from the damage and the victims – that should be the emphasis.
Alexander Cockburn, “How the US State Dept. Recruited Human Rights Groups to Cheer On the Bombing Raids: Those Incubator Babies, Once More?”, CounterPunch newsletter, April 1-15, 1999
While AI reports the total number of Palestinian rockets fired, there is no equivalent number to the totals used by the Israeli military. That number would be of interest because it would indicate the scale of the crimes committed. Tens of thousands of artillery shells were used requiring restocking by the United States in the middle of the attack.
The UN report on the Israeli attacks against schools lists several incidents where the Israelis falsely accused the Palestinians of firing on these schools. Such evidence should reduce the credibility of Israeli statements. See, e.g., Ali Abunimah, UN finds Israel killed dozens at Gaza schools but ducks call for accountability, Electronic Intifada, 28 April 2015.
In the lead up to the 1991 invasion of Kuwait/Iraq, Amnesty issued a report on the so-called babies out of incubators story. President Bush Senior showcased the report on the eve of the attack, and used it for its full propaganda potential. When it was pointed out to AI that they were pushing a propaganda hoax, AI doubled its estimate of the number of children dumped from the incubators. To this day, AI has never apologized for playing a role in selling an American war.
See here And notice that in the page after title page of AI’s reports the number of supporters increases from one report to the next.
Kirsten Sellars, The Rise and Rise of Human Rights, Sutton Publishing, 29 April 2002. Herein she discusses the origin of Human Rights Watch.
Malcolm Smart, Letter: Amnesty International’s Prisoner of Conscience lists and the reason for double standards, 9 August 2010.
Another technique to rule out sympathetic treatment of Palestinians is to suggest that they are members of a banned organization.