Human Rights Watch reports on the 2006 Second Lebanon War demonstrate a
widespread pattern of methodological failures, distortion of evidence, improper
application of legal standard and bias, NGO Monitor claims in a new report it
issued this week.
The report, written by NGO Monitor head Prof. Gerald
Steinberg and Prof. Avi Bell, carefully analyzes dozens of reports that were
issued by both organizations, during and following the war.
provided to The Jerusalem Post ahead of the fifth anniversary of the
controversial July 30 Israel Air Force bombing in the southern Lebanese village
“They have no consistent methodology, and it seems that they
make it up as they go along,” Steinberg said this week. “In many cases, they say
they have researchers on the ground, but don’t give information about who they
are and how they go about doing their research.”
The Qana incident was
one of the more famous bombings during the war and was perceived as a turning
point for Israel – which lost the support of the Arab world and other European
countries to continue its fight against Hezbollah.
Following the bombing,
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert succumbed to American pressure and declared a
unilateral 48-hour suspension of aerial activity in southern Lebanon.
the days following the incident, HRW published nine reports, press releases and
op-eds which were widely circulated and reported in the media. A few hours after
the event, the NGO issued a press release with the claim that the “Israeli
military is treating southern Lebanon as a free-fire zone, relating to the
strike on Qana, killing at least 54 civilians – more than half of them
The statement also claimed that HRW researchers were in
Lebanon since the beginning of the war and had documented dozens of cases when
Israel indiscriminately attacked civilians – implying that the Qana allegations
were based on independent and qualified sources.
The NGO Monitor report,
though, brings later statements from Lucy Mair, an HRW employee based in
Jerusalem, who said that the information was based on interviews with
“survivors” and family members in Qana.
In early August, when HRW tried
explaining the discrepancy between its initial claim of at least 54 killed and
new reports that 26 people died, it said that while the Lebanese Red Cross
reported to have removed 28 bodies from the rubble, survivors from the bombing
spoke about 63 people living in the building.
“This variability in
factual claims suggests that the NGOs’ reports were closer to unverified claims
than researched conclusions,” the NGO Monitor report claims.
indeed, in all of the incidents, the lack of reliable sources of information is
Another incident analyzed by NGO Monitor took place on July
19 when the IAF carried out a number of bombings in the town of Srifa, in
HRW included the case in a number of reports and op-eds
published in late July and early August, and employed different casualty
figures; first reporting 42 dead civilians, than 26, then 42 again, and then 26.
It also claimed that all of the dead were civilians and that Israel had
committed a war crime.
In September, 2007, a year after the war ended,
HRW issued a report called “Why They Died” in which it claimed that the final
death tally was 22, and that five civilians and 17 Hezbollah fighters were
Steinberg said that NGO Monitor hoped its report would relay the
need for NGOs to conduct a more thorough fact-checking process and to admit in
initial reports that they do not have accurate and reliable information to draw
conclusions and make anti-Israel accusations.
“Organizations that deal
with human rights and conflict should admit that they don’t have all the
information and they should be far more circumstantial with their claims,” he
said. “Their reports should warn that their information comes, for example, from
Hezbollah members and that they don’t really have researchers on the
“We have a hard time taking NGO Monitor seriously when it has
never found Israel to have committed a single human rights violation, and its
reports are so often unreliable and factually inaccurate,” said HRW in response.
“In this case, unlike Human Rights Watch, NGO Monitor was not in southern
Lebanon during the war and did not meet with any of the scores of eyewitnesses
in southern Lebanon whom HRW interviewed, cross-examined, and corroborated in
preparing our report.”
“NGO Monitor's claim that Human Rights Watch was
biased against Israel is silly since at the same time as the report it complains
about, HRW produced a parallel report refuting Hezbollah's claim that it had
aimed at only military targets in northern Israel and showing that it was, in
fact, firing indiscriminately in civilian areas. In response, Hezbollah sought
the prosecution of one HRW researcher, threatened another, and forced the
closing of HRW's planned Beirut press conference-steps that backfired by greatly
increasing press attention to the report,” said a spokesperson for the group.