The distortion of international law is a primary weapon in the political war
attacking Israel’s legitimacy.
During the Gaza War, casualty statistics
were used by many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) claiming a human rights
agenda to bolster these campaigns.
NGOs issued dozens of publications
purporting to document the number of Palestinian civilian casualties. They
frequently compared those figures to the number of Israeli casualties, which
were lower. To pursue their political objectives, NGOs often deliberately and
grossly inflated the Palestinian count, mislabeling combatants as civilians or
“children,” and made other false accusations.
NGOs such as B’Tselem,
Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), and Defence for Children
International – Palestine Section (DCI-PS) each issued differing reports,
alleging that between 70 – 85% of those killed were civilians.
contrast to these NGO reports, the Israeli military stated that of 1166
Palestinian deaths, 709 “militants” were killed in combat; the Israeli evidence
was largely ignored or derisively dismissed. Recently, though, the IDF figures
were confirmed and the NGO accounts debunked by the most unlikely of sources –
In a November 2010 interview given by Hamas Interior Minister
Fathi Hamad to the Al-Hayat newspaper, Hamas acknowledged that 600-700 Hamas
members were killed in the Gaza fighting – more than double the number of
combatants published by the NGOs’ and Richard Goldstone’s unreliable version of
With these new revelations by Hamas, NGOs, media correspondents,
UN officials, and others that presented the NGO statistics as authoritative
should now issue corrections.
In a November 2010 lecture at the
University of Nebraska, Human Rights Watch founder Robert Bernstein noted the
new Hamas numbers and their impact on the credibility of NGO reports: “It will
be interesting to see if the Goldstone Report and Human Rights Watch reports are
reevaluated by them.”
Indeed, Goldstone and these NGOs have a moral
obligation to immediately acknowledge that their allegations against Israel were
THE DISPARITY between Palestinian and Israeli casualties was
presented by the NGOs as “proof” that Israel’s military operation to stop rocket
attacks on its population centers was illegitimate. It also served as the basis
for “war crimes” accusations.
The media and the UN Human Rights Council
repeatedly highlighted these allegations without independent verification; they
were a prominent theme in Goldstone’s report indicting Israel.
particular, NGOs and Goldstone used their unsupported casualty claims as the
sole basis for charges of “disproportionate” or “indiscriminate” Israeli attacks
against Gaza civilians, even though under international law, the number of
casualties is not a dispositive factor in determining whether war crimes were
Instead, international law requires assessments of what was
known to military commanders prior to an attack, such as enemy locations,
presence of military objects, presence of civilians, anticipated harm to
civilians, military advantage, and evidence of intent.
NGOs ignored these
aspects because they did not posses the expertise or access to information that
would allow them to make these assessments – and because more complex
evaluations would conflict with their political agendas.
NGO conveyed its version of events. B’Tselem alleged that 75% of those killed
were civilians. PCHR originally claimed 70% and later increased to 85%, and
DCI-PS alleged that Israel killed 352 “children” (PCHR claimed 313).
reviewing the list, however, it is clear that many were actually members of
Hamas’ Qassam Brigades or Islamic Jihad.
Shockingly, although DCI-PS
claims to advocate for children’s rights, this group did not condemn the terror
groups that enlisted child soldiers. NGO superpowers HRW and Amnesty
International, along with the Goldstone report, accepted their various
allegations as facts, including them in their condemnations and
Some of the NGO attempts to boost the numbers of Palestinian
civilian casualties were clearly absurd. B’Tselem accused the IDF of committing
“war crimes” by “targeting” what Hamas defines as its police force. The NGO
claimed that they were not combatants, because at the time of the IDF attack,
they were undergoing a “training course” on “first aid” and “human rights.” In
September 2009, B’Tselem revised this charge, belatedly admitting that “many
police officers in the Gaza Strip [were] also members of the military wings of
Palestinian armed groups.” Yet, by then, B’Tselem’s initial claims had been
repeated and adopted by the media and copied in Goldstone’s report. Similarly,
PCHR labeled many fighters as “civilians,” including Nizar Rayan and Said Siam,
architects of Hamas’ military campaign.
But again, the media, the UN, and
others disregarded this gross manipulation.
THIS EPISODE highlights the
repeated unreliability of NGO claims, and reinforces the need for their careful
and skeptical evaluation. Now that Hamas has revealed the correct statistics, a
reexamination of these NGO reports is warranted.
demonstrates the need to discard and reject politically motivated, false
“investigations” that consist simply of a collection of such NGO
The writer is the legal adviser of NGO Monitor, a
Jerusalem-based research institution that promotes accountability and
transparency among nongovernmental organizations that claim to protect human
rights in the Middle East. She is the author of NGO ‘Lawfare’: Exploitation of
Courts in the Arab-Israeli Conflict.