NGO Monitor late Tuesday published a report to “fill in the gaps in the UN’s investigation of the Gaza conflict” in a preemptive strike on the momentously important UN Human Rights Council report on the 2014 war, due to come out in the coming weeks.
One of the hallmarks of the report was also heavy criticism of a range of NGOs who have filed reports and statements alleging the IDF committed war crimes during the war.
Many of those reports have focused on the over 2,100 Palestinian casualties from the war and issues such as IDF airstrikes on residences and use of artillery in dense urban areas.
The report’s introduction states “the need for investigations that are conducted independent of the United Nations infrastructure” due to “defects” in past reports.
Nevertheless, the report expresses some hope that with Judge Mary McGowan-Davis replacing William Schabas in February as head of the UNHRC commission’s investigation and her calling “more witnesses” and consulting “a wider variety of source material,” the report may be more fair-minded.
Next, NGO Monitor hits the NGOs hard for allegedly failing to follow objective standards, lacking real military experts to analyze issues such as identifying munitions used in certain attacks, improperly applying the law of armed conflict and failing to approach Gazans’ testimony, while still under Hamas’ rule, with skepticism.
It accuses B’tselem and other NGOs of accepting the declarations of Gazan officials under Hamas’ control about who was a civilian and who was a combatant.
NGO Monitor says NGOs did this while ignoring later proof by Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center using Youtube, social media outlets and other sources that many persons listed as civilians were combatants.
After giving an exhaustive history of events leading up to the 2014 war, the report gives concrete examples where it says NGOs criticizing Israel made the above errors.
The report recounts that on August 23, 2014, the IDF targeted a weapons cache in Gaza.
It says that “due to an apparent malfunction in the guidance system, the launched bomb struck 100 meters from the intended target and instead hit the home of Hayel abu Dahrouj. Abu Dahrouj, a member of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad was killed along with four other members of the family.”
NGO Monitor notes that though the strike on the Abu Dahrouj house was a mistake and that the intended target was a weapons cache nearby, which was later hit by a second strike, an NGO accused Israel of deliberately targeting the home.
Further, the report says that the NGO fails to mention that Hayel abu Dahrouj was a member of Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Next, it says that “highlighting the lack of NGO expertise and intelligence regarding military operations, Amnesty claimed that the target was Abu Dahrouj himself and complained that ‘there are important questions about why no warning was given, as was apparently done before the 16 July attack, and why the Israeli military did not choose a time and means of targeting him that was less likely to kill civilians.’”
The report concludes by dismissing Amnesty’s analysis since “Abu Dahrouj was not the intended target, and Amnesty does not contemplate the possibility that the attack was a mistake.”
Honing in on the idea that NGOs filing reports on the war ignore mass casualty incidents caused by Hamas, NGO Monitor says “Hamas blamed Israel for a strike on a park near the Al Shati refugee camp that killed many Palestinians. Many NGOs and journalists reported the Hamas narrative without question, even though the IDF provided documentation that the attack was caused by a misfired rocket.”
The report notes that an Italian journalist in Gaza kept silent until leaving Gaza, and then confirmed the IDF account that the Palestinian casualties were caused by a Hamas misfire.
These accounts contradict both the Hamas specific narrative and draw into question other narratives of civilian deaths provided by Palestinian groups, said NGO Monitor.
Also, NGO Monitor’s Anne Herzberg noted in discussing the report that a contemporary blog post by Amnesty implied that the incident was an Israeli bombing incident, but that Amnesty, as a recurring theme in the report, never retracted the post later.
Physicians for Human Rights in Israel (PHR-I) was confronted on specific examples in which Herzberg said it both claimed that civilians had no safe place to flee, but then gave an example of “two patients who were injured on a motorbike while one of them was transporting weapons.”
Another example from Herzberg included a PHR-I report allegation that the IDF was undertaking indiscriminate attacks on civilian locations, including flouting norms of medical care, where in the same report an interviewer conducting interviews in the hospital mentioned that a Qassam rocket was fired from nearby.
NGO Monitor’s point was that some of the IDF’s conduct which could be labeled as flouting norms of medical care or unjustifiably attacking civilian areas, make more sense when analyzing the context of Hamas rockets being fired from the hospitals.
The report also included several submissions by a range of experts to McGowan-Davis' UNHRC Commission, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and others.
Among the submissions, was a submission by former British commander of forces in Afghanistan Col. Richard Kemp who gave detailed examples of Israeli efforts to avoid civilian casualties and Hamas efforts to increase its own civilian casualties in a cynical propaganda war to delegitimize in Israel, including sending human shields into a building which had already been evacuated and was in the process of being fired upon by IDF aircraft.
Kemp also does not deny the IDF could have made unintentional targeting mistakes, noting that the IDF had multiple "friendly fire" incidents where it's soldiers accidentally fired on their own, and adding that all militaries have individual bad apples who act against rules of engagement that emphasize restraint.
Amnesty International responded to the report stating, “NGO Monitor is well known as an organization which works to oppose scrutiny of human rights violations by the Israeli authorities. It regularly criticizes Amnesty International and other human rights organizations' reports that document the actions of the Israeli authorities and military.”
It continued, “Amnesty International prefers to engage with the Israeli authorities directly rather than with NGO Monitor and its claims.”
Human Rights Watch responded that it “stands behind its reports on violations by Israel and Hamas, which are based on detailed field investigations. As in all conflicts, we document the facts and don’t take sides.”
PHR-I said, “We stand behind our reports conclusions,” noting that nothing in the small number of incidents mentioned by NGO Monitor “would change the report’s conclusions, which were based on hundreds of testimonies and medical files.”
B’tselem declined to respond.
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