Bigger fish to fry: Balancing human rights and security
International Human Rights Day provides an opportunity to both celebrate and reexamine the nature of global human rights.
Iran test fires a Fajr-3 missile [file photo] Photo: IRNA / Reuters
International Human Rights Day provides an opportunity to both celebrate and
reexamine the nature of global human rights. Following the escalation of violent
attacks against southern Israel in November, many human rights conversations
have centered on the rights of residents of Israel and Gaza. Political advocacy
non-governmental organizations (NGOs) specifically, continue to pressure Israel
to remove restrictions on the freedom of movement of Gazans. However, they do so
in a vacuum, ignoring the challenge of securing Israeli human rights – including
the right to security and selfdefense.
Israeli concerns regarding
unrestricted movement into and out of the Gaza Strip proved prescient when the
fighting began, as rockets and missiles that had been smuggled into Gaza were
used to target Israeli civilians.
The Fajr-5 missiles, which were aimed
at the largest population centers of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, originated in Iran
and were brought into Gaza through intricate smuggling channels.
Menai, a tribal leader who runs tunnels that run from Sinai to Gaza, told CNN:
“Beduin who are involved in arms smuggling receive the weapons from Sudan on
small fishing boats through the Red Sea and by land through rugged mountain
terrain only familiar to them and are almost impossible to intercept by security
Human rights organizations, like the Israeli group Gisha, chose
to ignore the flagrant threat to national security, instead calling the
Israel-Hamas cease-fire an “opportunity to finally end the civilian closure of
Gaza and enter into regional arrangements that will allow residents of Gaza the
freedom of movement to which they have a right.”
Similarly, on November
28, one week after the Israeli-Hamas cease-fire was announced, Israeli forces
arrested Palestinian fishermen when they crossed the nautical limit in the
Mediterranean Sea. This arrest came within the context of Israeli concessions,
as part of the cease-fire, to permit Gazans to fish further into the sea. A
spokeswoman for the Israel Defense Forces explained, “The process of easing
restrictions is exactly that: it’s a process. If the quiet continues, it allows
Israel to move forward in that process.”
In the wake of threats to
national security of this magnitude, calling this détente a “process” is not
only natural, it’s responsible. Yet human rights groups immediately moved to
condemnations, for the fishing incident as well as for other restrictions of
For example, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR),
funded by European governments, condemned “the continued Israeli violations
against Palestinian fishermen in the Gaza sea,” and urged Israel to “immediately
stop its policy of chasing and arresting Palestinian fishermen, and to allow
them to sail and fish freely.”
Pushing the envelope one step further was
head of Gisha, Sari Bashi, who was quoted as saying that “...even if fishermen
could venture out six miles... that’s not enough. Many people are concerned that
the more valuable fishing stocks are further out.”
expectations, a week after over a thousand missiles were aimed at Israel, raise
serious concerns about the ability of human rights groups to offer constructive
solutions regarding the balance of human rights and security.
demands, which ignore the security component, are irresponsible. In this
imagined reality, “more valuable fishing stock” trumps the threat of missiles;
the safety of Israel’s citizens is secondary to freedom of movement. Should this
be at all costs? Indeed, even as the conflict de-escalated and the ceasefire had
already taken effect, boats with a fresh supply of Fajr-5 missiles were
reportedly being deployed from Iran.
Yet, for these NGOs, the “continued
Israeli violations against Palestinian fishermen” is the perceived danger to
human rights, not the smuggling of new weapons meant for attacking innocent
The tension between security and human rights manifested
itself in another example from the recent conflagration.
One of the
cri-decoeurs of the human rights community is the 2003 Citizenship and Entry Law
and family unification cases, or instances where Palestinians are not given
Israeli citizenship via marriage, although their spouses reside in
Yet, the Tel Aviv bomber, who injured almost 30 innocent
civilians on November 21, was precisely such a case.
The suspect is an
Israeli-Arab originally from the West Bank who obtained Israeli citizenship when
he married an Israeli-Arab. Of course not every unification case will involve
would-be terrorists, but as part of its responsibility to protect its citizens,
Israel must proceed with caution.
If only Israel lived in the
pollyanna-ish reality created by the human rights community, a world where
access to ample fish was the only right at stake. Hamas and the armed groups of
Gaza have provided a stark reminder of the reality Israel actually faces when
balancing all sides of the human rights equation.
The writer is a
researcher with Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor.