NGO News in Brief
By NGO Monitor
July 3, 2008
Gisha’s ‘halo effect’ reflected in false claims on Fulbright/Gaza scholars
On May 28 2008, Gisha publicized its report in a hearing it had requested in the Knesset, alleging that Israeli responses to rocket bombardments from Gaza violated the rights of Palestinian students. Gisha's press release, which erased the context of the attacks on Israelis, was featured in the press (including the New York Times and Los Angeles Times), and Israeli, American, and British politicians attacked Israel for its policy.
The State Department announced that it was canceling the Fulbright grants allocated for Gazans. Gisha blamed Israel for this as well. The US government had cancelled the interviews for this program following a Palestinian attack on the US Fulbright delegation in Gaza in 2003, but this was not reported in any of the discussion in the media or by Gisha. Furthermore, it later became clear that the Israeli government had not been asked or consulted regarding the request for entry permits for these Fulbright candidates, and when they were asked, four of the permits were granted, and further security checks were needed on the other three candidates.
Click here for NGO Monitor's extensive coverage of this issue.
PCHR Sues Israeli Military Officials in Spain – “Lawfare”
On June 24, 2008, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), funded by the European Commission, Denmark, Norway, Ireland, Holland, the Ford Foundation, the Open Society Institute, and Christian Aid, and a leader in anti-Israel “lawfare”, filed suit in the National Court of Spain, the highest Spanish judicial council, against seven former senior Israeli military officials: former Defence Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, former military advisor, Michael Herzog, former Israeli Army Chief of Staff, Moshe Ya’alon, and Dan Halutz, former Chief of Staff and Commander of the Israeli Air Force.
PCHR claims these individuals committed a “war crime” for their alleged involvement in a July 2002 IDF air strike targeting Sheik Salah Shehadah, one of the founders of Hamas’ military wing and among Israel’s most wanted terrorists. PCHR omits this context from its suit as well as that Shehada masterminded hundreds of terror attacks, including a bus bombing which killed many Israeli civilians in Jerusalem and his responsibility for an attack in Tel-Aviv in which eight Israelis were killed in an ambush by Palestinian gunmen dressed as Israeli soldiers. PCHR further claims it must file such suits in jurisdictions with no connection to the events at issue because “the Israeli judiciary [is] used as a legal cover for the perpetration of war crimes, and as a tool to deliberately hinder international jurisdiction under the pretext of a ‘fair’ national judicial system operating in Israel”.
This case is part of PCHR’s on-going campaign to harass Israeli military officials for anti-terror measures. In addition to the case in Spain, PCHR is involved in civil suits (all of which have been dismissed) filed in the US in conjunction with the Center for Constitutional Rights; the procurement of an arrest warrant against Doron Almog in the UK in 2005; an action to criminally indict former Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon in New Zealand; and the submission of two complaints to Switzerland’s Military Attorney General against former Israeli Minister of Defense, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer; former Chief of Staff of the Israeli military, Shaul Mofaz; former head of Israel's General Security Services, Avi Dichter; and Almog for alleged “grave breaches of international humanitarian law”.
NGO Monitor will be publishing a detailed study on NGO involvement in lawsuits against Israeli officials in Fall 2008.
Palestinian NGO coalition starts 2009 Durban Review Conference Campaign
The first Regional Preparatory Meetings for Durban 2009 were held in Brasilia, Brazil, June 17-19, 2008. During these meetings, an "open letter" to the "people, governments, movements, and organizations" of Latin American was sent by a coalition of NGOs active in the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment campaign, including BADIL. The letter refers to "The Palestinian people [as the] victims of the world’s last state-sponsored colonial apartheid regime," while Latin American human rights issues – such as human trafficking in Cuba, the abuse of children by peacekeepers in Venezuela and others – remain unmentioned. The NGO also spuriously accuse the governments that have declared that they will not participate in an antisemitic event as expected in the Durban Review Conference as trying to "silence the principled voices of the victims of racism that shaped the agenda of the civil society conference at Durban in 2001." For more on 2009 Durban Review Conference, click here.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) highlights "serious abuses" by Palestinian security forces; continues disproportionate focus on Israel in its film festival
In a June 23, 2008 statement, HRW challenged donors to condition increased funding to Palestinian security forces on "concrete steps to end politically motivated arrests, torture, and other serious violations that have increased over the past year.” Some of these charges have been independently corroborated. In their press release, HRW demanded that "donors should require the Ramallah authorities to build law enforcement institutions that are transparent, accountable and in compliance with international human rights standards."
At the same time, HRW continued the disproportionate focus on Israel at its international film festival, held in New York. Five, out of approximately thirty, films dealt with political themes related to the "occupation" and "victims" of Israeli army actions in Lebanon, the West Bank, and Gaza. Only the United States was the subject of a similar number of films–and one film on Israel followed the story of a Palestinian, Sami Al-Arian, "charged in 2003 with funding and supporting a Palestinian terrorist group."
Oxfam embarrassed by baseless claims at UK Parliament
The UK Parliament's International Development Committee is conducting an enquiry into the "Humanitarian and Development Situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories," to which NGO Monitor contributed evidence. A number of NGOs have submitted statements, including UNICEF UK, War on Want (WoW), PGAAWC, Oxfam, Machsom Watch, Trocaire and Al Haq. War on Want's "evidence" revealed that it partners with PGAAWC, and explained the "horrific nature of Israel's actions towards Gaza" and Israel's ""illegal aggression against the Palestinian people," while ignoring Palestinian rockets and attacks on Gaza border crossings. Troicare's statement also demonized Israel through distortions of international law, claiming "Israel's 'unlawful use of force,'" and that it has imposed "a regime of institutionalized violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL)."
Oxfam's submission provided a number of un-sourced statistics, in addition to repeating claims by Gisha, UN OCHA and Palestinian witnesses. Adam Leach, Oxfam's Middle East and North Africa Regional Director, gave oral evidence to the Committee on Wednesday, April 30, 2008. The Chairman asked Leach for more details about Oxfam's claim that "Israel unilaterally established a list of only 18 items it would allow into Gaza" [the UNWRA representative who gave evidence had no knowledge of this list]. Leach admitted that Oxfam did not know which 18 items appeared in this list, and that it was relying on the International Crisis Group (ICG) as a source for this claim. ICG's report cites the International Red Cross (page 6, footnote 2), yet there is no trace of the "list of 18" in the ICRC's publication. A cursory check by Oxfam's researchers would have found this claim baseless.
Oxfam also claimed that "Israel remains the Occupying Power in Gaza because it maintains effective control over Gaza's land, sea and airspace, making it responsible for the civilian population under international humanitarian law." This argument is completely fallacious (see "The collective punishment hoax"), and largely parrots a "legal" opinion circulated by the PLO shortly prior to Israel’s disengagement.
Adalah continues its political campaigning
In addition to participating in lobbying the EU against upgrading ties with Israel, Adalah twice protested decisions made by Attorney General Mazuz. In one instance, Adalah collected over 220,000 signatures for a petition to appoint an external inquiry into the October 2000 riots; in January 2008, Mazuz refused to indict police officers for their role in the riots, finding no evidence of criminal acts, despite protests from the Israeli Arab community.
In the second, Adalah attempted to stop investigations into representatives of the political party Balad, including Azmi Bishara. According to news reports, the General Security Services suspects that Bishara is recruiting for Hezbollah and other “enemy groups”.
Amnesty International, FIDH, and others critique Israel's Asylum/Infiltration law
International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) – which is based in Paris, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) and Mossawa released a statement on June 3, 2008, opposing the draft "Prevention of Infiltration Law 2008." Amnesty was also involved, sending a Memorandum to the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee, urging legislators to reject a proposed law that " lengthy prison sentences on asylum-seekers and irregular migrants, disregarding their reasons for entering the country, and allowing for their immediate deportation, without regard for their possible ill-treatment or persecution to which they may be subject upon their return."
As is often the case, these NGOs erase key context including the scale of the problem of immigrants (10,000 Africans in the last five years) and the significant funding allocated to helping African refugees.
'Halo effect' of political Palestinian NGOs in the Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
On June 6, 2008, the UN Human Rights Council issued a report detailing "human rights violations emanating from Israeli military attacks and incursions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, particularly the recent ones in the occupied Gaza Strip." The report repeats the standard misuse of international law in the characterization of Gaza as "occupied" and quotes from Hamas about their "commitment to 'respect (...) public liberties; to strengthen the establishment of democracy; to protect human rights (...); and its respect for international law and international humanitarian law insofar as they conform with our character, customs and original traditions." In addition, the report copies press releases and statements by pro-Palestinian NGOs that condemn Israel, without any independent verification, qualifications or response from the Israeli government. The political nature of these NGOs – including PCHR, Al Mezan, Gisha, among others – is entirely erased.
Canadian conferences denounce and vilify Israel in 'Naqba' commemorations
Amnesty International Canada held a workshop "Working Together for Peace and Justice the Middle East" at their Annual General Meeting on June 13-15, 2008. This one-sided event featured speakers referring to Israeli independence as "Naqba, the Palestinian Holocaust." Jim Joyce, Amnesty Canada's coordinator for Israel/PA, accused Israel of "arbitrarily" killing Palestinians and engaging in “collective punishment”, and demanded that Israel “lift immediately the arbitrary and disproportionate blockade” in Gaza. Joyce criticizes those who “espouse balance” in Amnesty’s reporting, while his own statement ignores the thousands of Palestinian rocket attacks aimed at Israeli civilians and the widespread use of human shields by terrorists in Gaza.
On June 28, 2008, the Canadian-Palestinian Educational Exchange (CEPAL) sponsored a conference on "60 Years of Exile: The Palestinian Right of Return," commemorating 'Naqba' and demonstrating "solidarity with the Palestinian people." The conference promoted the "right of return" as the "antithesis of racism and ethnic cleansing". Jim Joyce of Amnesty International also spoke at the CEPAL conference.
Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) releases new report
PCATI published a 65-page report on "the widespread phenomenon of violence against bound Palestinian detainees by IDF soldiers and the almost absolute indifference of the IDF, the Ministry of Defense and the Knesset towards the existence of this phenomenon." According to PCATI's website, the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee will deliberate on the findings of the report.
Yesh Din and B'Tselem propel Palestinian petition through court
Yesh Din – funded by the Dutch, German and UK Foreign Offices, the Open Society Institute (USA) and the New Israel Fund – and B'Tselem – a recipient of Ford Foundation funds – successfully petitioned the Israeli High Court of Justice for a temporary injunction to stop work on behalf of Palestinian landowners allegedly on whose property houses were being constructed.
Physicians for Human Rights – Israel (PHR-I) representative questioned by General Security Services for "hostile activities"
The General Security Service (GSS) questioned Salah Haj Yihyeh, director of mobile clinics for PHR-I, for alleged "hostile activities" related to his membership in the Al Aqsa Foundation and other alleged non-humanitarian aspects of his trips to Gaza on behalf of PHR-I.
UN Committee on NGOs considered revoking NGO-status of Jewish NGO
The UN Committee on NGOs decided not to revoke the NGO observer status of the World Union of Progressive Judaism (Reform), despite pressure from Cuba and Muslim countries. The threat of expulsion came after a Reform Movement representative protested a Human Rights Council session exclusively focused on Israeli "violations"; the representative read passages devoted to the destruction of Israel from the Hamas charter and labeled the Council "rotten" for refusing to hear evidence that would exonerate Israel. World Union leaders could not "help but note the palpable anti-Israeli context in which so much of the work of the NGO committee and other U.N. bodies takes place."