HRW's selective ire

Human Rights Watch pays lip service to condemning terrorism; investigatory zeal is reserved for Israel.

death in gaza 88 (photo credit: )
death in gaza 88
(photo credit: )
When a Palestinian family was wiped out by an explosion on a Gaza beach on June 9, the reaction was swift and furious. Though the IDF could not immediately determine whether it was responsible for the tragedy, international newspaper headlines and governments immediately pronounced their verdict. "Israeli Fire Kills 7 Beachgoers in Gaza," blared The Washington Post. "Errant Shell Turns Girl Into Palestinian Icon," proclaimed the New York Times, referring to a surviving member of the decimated family. "Death on the Beach: Seven Palestinians Killed as Israeli Shells Hit Family Picnic," the Guardian headlined its account. The US promptly expressed "regret for the killing… of innocent Palestinians… as a result of artillery fire by the IDF" and urged "mutual restraint," while France "deplore[d] Israel's bombardments … whose disproportionate character has cost the lives of several civilians." Hamas immediately called off its "cease-fire" and over the next three days over 100 Kassam missiles rained down on Sderot. No dissent could be heard from PA leader Mahmoud Abbas, who said, "Undoubtedly... [Israel committed] a bloody massacre against civilians" and "one of the biggest crimes of human genocide against the Palestinians." Given all of this outrage, one might have expected a dramatic change of tone when it turned out that the explosion that killed the Palestinian family was not from errant Israeli artillery fire. No such change, unfortunately, has been evident. The IDF's investigation drew on videos taken from the air of the area, analysis of fragments extracted from wounded Palestinians who were being treated in Israeli hospitals, and testimony from outside experts to determine that Israeli shelling was not responsible. This result might not have been surprising to those who noted that some Palestinians had been acting rather strangely for people purportedly convinced of Israeli guilt. Immediately after the explosion, for instance, somebody ordered the collection of all possible fragments from the explosive device. As an apparent part of this effort, one of the Palestinian victims, who remains in serious condition in Ichilov Hospital, had almost all of the shrapnel sloppily removed from her body in a Gaza hospital before she was transferred to Israel, Ichilov reported yesterday. Why are the Palestinians demanding an international investigation with one hand and hoarding the evidence with the other? Even more troubling, why did a supposedly neutral human rights organization not only take upon itself to attempt to refute Israel's investigation, but also now seems to be ignoring the second thoughts of its own researcher? On June 13, Human Rights Watch issued a press release citing evidence it had collected, claiming that the Gaza beach explosion was "probably" caused by Israeli artillery shelling, and calling for an independent investigation. Two days later, HRW issued another release making more evidentiary claims and quoting its own analyst, Marc Garlasco: "The likelihood that the Ghalya family was killed by an explosive other than one of the shells fired by the IDF is remote… this new evidence highlights the urgent need for Israel to permit an independent, transparent investigation into the beach killings." On Monday, this newspaper interviewed Garlasco after he spent three hours going through all the evidence gathered by the IDF. "We came to an agreement with [chief IDF investigator] Gen. Klifi that the most likely cause [of the blast] was unexploded Israeli ordinance," Garlasco said. Despite some remaining disagreements, he also praised the IDF for its "competent" investigation and stated "we do not believe that the Israelis were targeting civilians." Despite all this, HRW is still demanding an independent investigation, and, as of press time last night, had issued no press release correcting Garlasco's own very different comments of just a week ago, which remain on its Web site. More importantly, HRW has issued no urgent demand for investigation of official Palestinian Authority culpability for the deliberate targeting of Israeli civilians. HRW last issued a press release calling on Hamas to stop Kassam attacks against Israelis a full year ago. HRW, evidently, has recently been so busy investigating Israel that the announcement by Hamas - which now controls the PA government - that it was openly launching dozens of rocket attacks against Israeli civilians passed without comment. HRW pays lip service to condemning terrorism; its investigatory zeal is reserved for Israel.