The NGO Amnesty International recently issued a report, dated Aug. 4, titled “Ukrainian Fighting Tactics Endanger Civilians.” The report claimed that Ukraine is responsible for the deaths of Ukrainian civilians killed by Russian bombardments.
It further accused Ukraine of violating international humanitarian law and endangering its own citizens “by establishing bases and operating weapons systems in populated residential areas, including in schools and hospitals.” This, Amnesty stated, turned civilian sites into military targets, generating Russian strikes that caused civilian fatalities and destruction of civilian infrastructure.
Amnesty’s report has become the subject of considerable international criticism, which was exacerbated by the report’s implication that Ukraine may be committing war crimes and its soldiers’ actions could be interpreted as using civilians as human shields.
Much of the criticism revolves around the clumsy and negligent methodology used by Amnesty researchers, as well as the fact that the organization chose to publish its findings despite a lack of solid factual evidence and without taking the context of the Russian offensive into consideration.
One cannot avoid drawing a comparison between Amnesty’s concern for the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure in Ukraine and its demonstrated lack of concern for the actions of Palestinian terror groups in the Gaza Strip.
While Amnesty calls out Ukraine for allegedly endangering civilians, it has curiously refrained from addressing precisely the same tactics employed by the Palestinian terror groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). These groups quite deliberately use the Palestinian population of the Gaza Strip as human shields and direct thousands of rockets against Israeli civilian targets.
Given its criticism of Ukraine, one can justifiably ask why Amnesty has refrained from criticizing the Gaza terror groups’ practice of housing military headquarters and strategic command centers in and under hospitals, high-rise commercial buildings and civilian commercial centers.
Similarly, why has Amnesty not found it necessary to stress the dangers of Hamas locating rocket emplacements in or next to schools, mosques and private homes?
Why has Amnesty been silent about Hamas’s construction of hundreds of kilometers of tunnels underneath Gaza City, endangering roads, commercial centers and local communities living above?
Indeed, a brief perusal of Amnesty International’s website and daily media briefings reveals a plethora of accusations against Israel, as opposed to an acute paucity of any mention of the grave humanitarian violations by Palestinian terror groups.
During the hostilities of May 2021, Hamas and PIJ fired more than 4,000 rockets at Israeli civilian areas, of which almost 700 landed inside the Gaza Strip, endangering the Palestinian population. Similarly, during the clash between Israel and PIJ in August, 1,175 rockets were launched at Israel, approximately 200 of which landed inside Gaza.
In both cases, Amnesty paid minimal lip service to these abuses. For example, it glibly stated that “Palestinian armed groups have also committed violations of international humanitarian law with impunity.” Similarly, the NGO claimed it “has consistently condemned indiscriminate rocket fire by Palestinian armed groups” and said that “firing rockets which cannot be accurately aimed into populated areas can amount to a war crime and endangers civilian lives on both sides of the Israel/Gaza border.”
No less disappointing but sadly predictable is Amnesty’s evident need to couple its minimal criticism of Palestinian violations with wildly disproportionate condemnations of Israel. For example, the NGO blasted the Jewish state for allegedly having “a deplorable record of carrying out unlawful attacks in Gaza, killing and injuring civilians, including war crimes and crimes against humanity,” as well as for “disproportionate and reckless strikes by Israeli forces” and “unlawful targeted strikes on medical facilities and personnel.”
Amnesty’s evident bias against Israel violates its own stated mission and core principles of “impartiality, independence of any government, political ideology, economic interest or religion.” Moreover, such bias runs counter to its pledge “to take no position on issues of sovereignty, territorial disputes or international political or legal arrangements that might be adopted to implement the right to self-determination.”
To maintain credibility and dignity as a bona fide human rights watchdog, Amnesty International must carry out its duty impartially and without the slightest hint of political partisanship. It cannot permit itself to be intimidated by terror groups or political pressure into minimizing and prejudicing its humanitarian calling and stated impartiality.
Ambassador Alan Baker is director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and the head of the Global Law Forum. He participated in the negotiation and drafting of the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians, as well as agreements and peace treaties with Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon. He served as legal adviser and deputy director-general of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and as Israel’s ambassador to Canada.
This is an edited version of an article originally published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.