NGOs dominate Gaza fact-finding commissions

Their claims should be treated with the same scrutiny they demand of Israel.

In recent weeks, two international "fact-finding" teams issued their reports on the Gaza war. One, commissioned by the Arab League, predictably accused Israel of "genocide" and "war crimes" and found no evidence of Hamas human shields despite overwhelming documentary evidence to the contrary. The second report, the UN secretary-general's board of inquiry on Gaza, accused Israel of "egregious breaches" and intentionally striking UN property. Ban Ki-moon tepidly transmitted the report to the Security Council, reminding readers that the BOI "is not a judicial body or a court of law; it does not make legal findings and does not consider questions of legal liability." He further noted that much of the evidence obtained by the board was unbalanced and unreliable. A third investigatory committee, appointed by the UN's Human Rights Council and led by Judge Richard Goldstone, began its own inquiry last week. The already biased mandate of the HRC calls for the investigation of "all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law by the occupying power, Israel, against the Palestinian people." ONE OVERLOOKED aspect of these commissions, however, is the powerful role that NGOs play in directing the course of these investigations. During the Gaza war, NGO Monitor documented more than 500 NGO statements, mostly accusing Israel of "war crimes," "crimes against humanity" and other violations, during the three weeks of fighting (contrast this with the less than six statements issued by these same NGOs during the same period on the atrocities occurring in Congo such as mass rapes, mutilations and other horrors resulting in the deaths of thousands). Once the fighting ended, these NGOs - including NGO superpowers Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch - launched campaigns calling for international investigations, war crimes trials, arms embargoes and boycotts against Israel. None acknowledged its right to defend its citizens against deliberate missile attacks. NGOs also played an integral part in shaping the reports of the investigations mentioned above. The EU- and European government-funded Palestinian Center for Human Rights played a central role in the Arab League mission. It "prepared the agenda for the mission and coordinated its meetings and field visits. It also provided technical assistance." It is no surprise that PCHR was appointed coordinator. PCHR regularly omits or minimizes the context of terrorism, referring to attacks on Israeli civilians as acts of "resistance." Its casualty figures in Gaza, widely repeated without question by international news outlets, have been shown to be grossly inaccurate. In one case, PCHR lists Nizzar Rayyan as a civilian, although he is actually one of the leading architects of Hamas terror attacks, sending one of his own sons on a suicide bombing mission in 2001. PCHR is also a leader in the anti-Israel lawfare movement, filing lawsuits all over the globe to "avenge" the 2002 death of Hamas military leader Salah Shehadeh, and has received hundreds of thousands in aid from the European Commission for this effort. The group claims it has more than 900 cases ready to file on the Gaza war. Not surprisingly, one of the recommendations of the Arab League commission was to call for "supporting legal steps and efforts made by NGOs" to prosecute Israelis over the Gaza fighting. The secretary-general's board of inquiry also relied heavily on NGO input. The board was headed by the former head of Amnesty International, and many of the claims in the report echo unsubstantiated accusations made by Human Rights Watch regarding Israel's alleged use of white phosphorous and Amnesty's charges of deliberate attacks on UN compounds. Unfortunately, the general public will never know the precise contributions of NGOs to the BOI because this information has been declared secret by the UN. The secret participation of NGOs in UN proceedings is not unique to the BOI. In mid-May, the UN Committee Against Torture conducted its periodic review of Israel's compliance with the Convention Against Torture. As part of the process, the committee conducted one-hour private meetings with accredited NGOs. Many, including Amnesty International and the World Organization Against Torture, submitted information wholly unrelated to the provisions of the convention, such as claims regarding "house demolitions," the "Gaza siege" and "the wall." Given this manipulation of the UN human rights frameworks, one can only guess what specious charges these organizations made to UN officials. THERE IS not much hope regarding the one-sided Goldstone mission. Although he is a well-respected jurist, Goldstone sits on the board of Human Rights Watch, presenting a serious conflict of interest. HRW has issued many statements lobbying the international community and the Obama administration to force Israel to cooperate with this investigation. Goldstone also signed a letter prepared by Amnesty International (which has led the calls for an arms embargo against Israel) claiming to be "shocked to the core" by events in Gaza. Undoubtedly, HRW and Amnesty will submit the results of their own tainted "fact-finding" missions to Goldstone's team. Given these connections, it is hard to imagine that such information will be treated with objectivity. With the Goldstone inquiry under way and mounting calls for "war crimes" trials and cases before the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice, the international community should demand full transparency regarding NGO submissions, meetings and other involvement with these commissions. It is time that NGO claims are treated with the same scrutiny these organizations demand of Israel. The writer is the legal adviser of NGO Monitor.