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OpinionIsrael at War

Human Rights Watch’s latest hit job

The NGO’s new report is filled with anti-Israel bias.

Palestinians unload medical aid from a truck at the Nasser hospital in Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip, on Oct. 23, 2023.  Photo by Atia Mohammed/Flash90.
Palestinians unload medical aid from a truck at the Nasser hospital in Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip, on Oct. 23, 2023. Photo by Atia Mohammed/Flash90.
Rabbi Shlomo Levin. Credit: Courtesy.
Rabbi Shlomo Levin
Rabbi Shlomo Levin is the author of The Human Rights Haggadah.

On Feb. 26, the NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report widely covered by the media that declared Israel is violating the order of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to enable the provision of humanitarian aid to Gaza. Unfortunately, as many of us know, HRW has a long history of anti-Israel bias. This report is more of the same.

The primary evidence HRW presents are statistics published by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Before examining the data, we should note the biases of these sources.

The OCHA website is covered with large icons documenting the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza. With regard to Gazans, not only are deaths, injuries and displacement documented, but also problems related to food insecurity, sanitation, health and much more.

The only mention of Israel states that more than 1,000 Israelis were killed by Hamas on Oct. 7. This is noted in almost invisibly small print next to the number of casualties claimed by the Palestinians, which is quite literally around 10 times larger. The fact that hundreds of thousands of Israelis have been forced from their homes by the threat of cross-border attacks and rockets does not even appear next to the statistics on how many Gaza residents have been displaced. Destruction of Israeli agriculture and disruption of other basic services such as education are not mentioned either. They are documented fully on the Palestinian side.

The anti-Israel bias—and much worse—of the Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA is well known, particularly in light of evidence Israel has presented that UNRWA employees actively participated in the Oct. 7 massacre and collaborated with Hamas in almost all of its terrorist activities.

Even if we accept these sources, the key OCHA statistic upon which HRW bases its claims states that the average number of aid trucks entering Gaza fell in the weeks following the ICJ ruling from an average of 147 per day to 93. However, HRW provides absolutely no evidence that this is Israel’s fault.

Likely recognizing this deficiency, HRW goes on to quote a survey of NGO representatives conducted by the Association of International Development Agencies. The survey concludes that lack of transparency regarding how aid trucks can enter Gaza, delays and denials at Israeli crossings and inspection points, and concerns about the safety of trucks are the primary obstacles to bringing in aid.

None of that is evidence of any Israeli wrongdoing. Aid operations require the cooperation of numerous actors and a lack of transparency can be attributed to any one of them. There are also many reasons why Israel might legitimately delay or deny shipments, such as attempts to transport contraband. Moreover, threats to safety may well be the fault of Hamas.

Furthermore, the survey in question is only of NGOs. As the survey methodology readily admits, the vast majority of aid trucks are sent by U.N. agencies or consist of bilateral donations. Those responsible for administering that type of aid were not included in the survey, rendering it largely irrelevant.

The HRW report does quote Israeli officials saying that Israel places no limits on aid entering Gaza. The officials blame Hamas for diverting the aid and Gaza police for failing to secure the convoys. Rather than acknowledge that these may be legitimate points, HRW states that the Israeli government “cannot shift blame to evade responsibility. As the occupying power, Israel is obliged to provide for the welfare of the occupied population and ensure that the humanitarian needs of Gaza’s population are met.”

HRW is essentially saying: If Hamas steals humanitarian aid from needy civilians to supply its terrorists, it’s still Israel’s fault. Perhaps Israel should use its military to stop Hamas from stealing the aid. But then, no doubt, HRW would demand that it do so without harming any Palestinians, which would constitute yet another war crime and violation of the ICJ orders. That is obviously impossible.

Or perhaps HRW thinks Israel should just flood Gaza with aid, allowing Hamas to obtain mountains of food, fuel and even rockets and ammunition, since searching aid trucks for weapons causes too many delays. All this will be done in order to make sure Palestinian civilians get the scraps left over after Hamas has finished taking everything it wants. This is absurd.

HRW ends its report by saying that Israel’s disregard for the ICJ ruling poses a direct challenge to the rules-based international order. Moreover, the NGO asserts that Israel’s alleged conduct threatens to undermine the institutions charged with ensuring respect for international law and for the system that protects civilians worldwide. In other words, Israel is somehow not just a threat to Palestinians but to the entire world.

Appallingly, HRW’s report does not even acknowledge the flagrant violations of international law and crimes against humanity committed by Hamas. Ironically, the ICJ ruling upon which HRW lavishes so much attention explicitly called on Hamas to unconditionally release the hostages it has been holding since Oct. 7. HRW does not mention that Hamas has thumbed its nose at this completely. Nor does it wax poetic on how this threatens the safety of civilians around the world who may well be taken hostage by other armed groups emboldened by Hamas’s impunity.

I have no first-hand knowledge of the situation regarding aid to Gaza. I don’t claim to know whether Israel is responsible for obstacles to aid shipments. Clearly, Israel has a legal and moral obligation to allow aid into Gaza and, if it isn’t doing so, it should. But biased anti-Israel hit jobs such as this report do nothing to help ascertain or to improve the situation on the ground.

Worse still, when such a report is published by an organization that purports to advocate for human rights, it sullies the reputation of the human rights movement in general. This threatens to undermine protections for all innocent civilians, the powerless, refugees and the oppressed around the world.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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