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Monday, January 04, 2010

HRW's Ken Roth shows his bias against Israel

HRW's Ken Roth goes out of his way to bash Israel in the latest proof (as if any was needed) that HRW has lost all sense of objectivity concerning the Jewish state.

The Geneva Conventions—the bedrock of the laws of war and one of the world’s most widely ratified treaties— turned 60 this month. But one government was not celebrating. In fact, Israel had already launched a campaign to undermine these essential rules for protecting civilians caught in war.
Notice how he writes that "one government was not celebrating," implying that Israel is the world's biggest violator of human rights and every other government besides Israel was celebrating the Geneva Conventions.

In fact, the ICRC has a page showing various countries' markings of the anniversary. Israel is represented there. But Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, Qatar, the UAE and practically every other Arab state save Lebanon and Iraq are not listed. His rhetorical excess in the very first paragraph of this screed is simply a lie.

Shortly after a UN fact-finding mission led by former South African Justice Richard Goldstone issued a report this fall lambasting Israel (and Hamas) for war crimes, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed his government “to examine the facilitating of an international initiative to change the laws of war in keeping with the spread of terrorism throughout the world.” Israeli officials said the laws of war tied the hands of democratic governments.
There may be an argument that international law does not stop democratic governments from defending their citizens appropriately, but NGOs like HRW consistently choose to interpret those laws in ways that indeed do hamstring free governments. Either way, the idea that international law does not account for modern terrorism is not unique to Israel, unlike Roth's implication.

Israel is understandably frustrated by the difficulty of fighting Hamas, an urban-based armed group that indiscriminately attacks Israeli civilians. But the kind of asymmetric warfare that typifies combat with terrorist and other armed groups is nothing new. It was widespread at the time of the adoption of the Geneva Conventions in 1949, as illustrated by the militant Zionist group Irgun’s fight against the British colonial rule of what was then Palestine. And it continued during the many wars of national liberation of the 1950s to 1970s.
Roth has a plethora of examples of terrorist groups to choose that existed before 1949 - and he specifically chooses the Jewish Irgun. And while the Irgun did perform some horrible terror attacks against civilians, they were not the cornerstone of the organization's efforts, unlike modern Arab terror.

And as Yisrael Medad points out, a much more appropriate example would be the Arab terror wave of the 1930s. This terror was met with a huge British response, of dynamiting entire areas of the old cities of Jerusalem and Jaffa to facilitate fighting the terrorists - and making thousands of Arabs homeless.

The Geneva Conventions and their additional protocols have long imposed strict rules on the conduct of hostilities designed to protect civilians from the hazards of these conflicts. These rules apply to governments and armed groups alike, regardless of who is the defender or the aggressor.
And what provisions, pray tell, does international law have to punish armed groups who are not signatories to any of the international law conventions? Declaring that Geneva applies to Hamas or Al Qaeda as much as it applies to the United States or Britain or Israel is simply not true, because there is no way to enforce it, and therefore it can be ignored with impunity. Moreover, terror groups are not even subject to moral pressure, as they justify their very terror with moral arguments. This statement is either breathtakingly naive or an outright lie.

In fact, Israel’s problem is not that the rules are inappropriate for asymmetric conflict, but that the government chose to ignore them in Gaza. As the Goldstone report pointed out, when the Israeli military used such weapons as heavy artillery, flechettes, and white phosphorous (which causes horrible burns) in densely populated areas of Gaza, and when it authorized the massive destruction of civilian infrastructure, it flouted the law. No other Western military doctrine today would permit such indiscriminate attacks or deliberate destruction.
The IDF released a 159 page report on Cast Lead, and that was just an initial response. Notwithstanding what Netanyahu asked his government to investigate (which is very ambiguous), the IDF's report was based exactly on international law and it described many of the major incidents of the war in that very context. In other words, the IDF didn't argue that international law did not apply to Gaza - it argued that it did not violate international law at all.

Goldstone only selectively quoted the IDF document and did not address the IDF's legal defense of its actions at all. As far as I can tell, HRW never wrote a paper showing the flaws in the IDF's legal reasoning.

From the IDF perspective, the problem is not international law - the problem is the narrow way that groups like the UNHRC and HRW choose to interpret that law, invariably to the detriment of democratic actors.

If Roth would have spent his time actually answering those arguments, this essay might have had some value. Instead, he reverts to flawed HRW arguments - and he falls back on equally flawed Goldstone arguments - that use international law to single out and demonize one nation.

It is hardly worth mentioning that the US and allied actions in Iraq and Afghanistan have resulted in far more civilian deaths, on a wider scale, than anything Israel has done.

...[A]s the foreign minister at the time, Tzipi Livni, said during a wartime debate in parliament: “On my way here I heard that Hamas declared the man killed by a rocket in Ashkelon ‘one of the Zionists’ despite being an Israeli Arab. They don't make a distinction, and neither should we." With culpability running to such senior levels of government, it is no surprise that Israel wants to rewrite the rules.
Here we see Roth's bias, and disregard for the truth, in a clear light. The article he quotes indicates that Livni's comments were towards Arab MK Ahmad Tibi, who had just said that he is more saddened by innocent Arabs being killed by the Hamas attack than he is for Jews being killed, because he is an Arab. Roth tries to make it sound as if Livni is saying that the IDF should not distinguish between civilians and terrorists.

Israel’s view that one prevails in asymmetric warfare by pummeling rather than protecting civilians is not only illegal but also counterproductive.

This is again a purposeful lie, one that ignores and almost belittles Israel's almost superhuman attempts to avoid civilian casualties in a war that Hamas deliberately started to maximize the deaths of its own people. The cell phone calls, the flyers warning civilians (and terrorists) what targets are coming next, the rockets redirected away from civilians at the last second - all of those show Roth to be a liar, and his characterization of Israel in this sentence as having a policy of "pummeling civilians" is nothing short of slander.

This piece is simply a hatchet job by an organization that long ago has lost its own moral compass in regards to Israel.