Human rights in jeopardy

Norman Finkelstein, November 29:

How has Human Rights Watch responded to the [Gaza] challenge?

It criticized Israel for destroying Gaza’s only electrical plant, and also called on Israel to “investigate” why its forces were targeting Palestinian medical personnel in Gaza and to “investigate” the Beit Hanoun massacre.

On the other hand, it accused Palestinians of committing a “war crime” after they captured an Israeli soldier and offered to exchange him for Palestinian women and children held in Israeli jails. (Israel was holding 10,000 Palestinians prisoner.) It demanded that Palestinians “bring an immediate end to the lawlessness and vigilante violence” in Gaza. (Compare Amira Hass’s words.) It issued a 101-page report chastising the Palestinian Authority for failing to protect women and girls. It called on the Palestinian Authority to take “immediate steps to halt” Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel.

Were this record not shameful enough, HRW crossed a new threshold at the end of November.

After Palestinians spontaneously responded to that “unknown voice on a cell phone” by putting their own bare bodies in harm’s way, HRW rushed to issue a press release warning that Palestinians might be committing a “war crime” and might be guilty of “human shielding.” (“Civilians Must Not Be Used to Shield Homes Against Military Attacks”)

In what must surely be the most shocking statement ever issued by a human rights organization, HRW indicted Palestinian leaders for supporting this nonviolent civil disobedience:

“Prime Minister Haniyeh and other Palestinian leaders should be renouncing, not embracing, the tactic of encouraging civilians to place themselves at risk.”

The international community has for decades implored Palestinian leaders to forsake armed struggle in favour of nonviolent civil disobedience. Why is a human rights organization now attacking them for adopting this tactic?

Is it a war crime to protect one’s home from collective punishment?

Is it human shielding if a desperate and forsaken populace chooses to put itself at deadly risk in order to preserve the last shred of its existence?

Indeed, although Israeli soldiers have frequently used Palestinians as human shields in life-threatening situations, and although HRW has itself documented this egregious Israeli practice, HRW has never once called it a war crime.

It took weeks before HRW finally issued a report condemning Israeli war crimes in Lebanon. Although many reliable journalists were daily documenting these crimes, HRW said it first had to conduct an independent investigation of its own.

But HRW hastened to deplore the nonviolent protests in Gaza based on anonymous press reports which apparently got crucial facts wrong.

Why this headlong rush to judgment?…