Human Rights: Other Views – Part II

May 24, 2018

14 min read

Denis MacEoin

Palestinian human rights organizations such as Al-Mezan, along with their many supporters abroad and even within a substantial part of the Jewish diaspora, have turned the very concept of human rights on its head.

Although genuine and widely praised for their advocacy of human rights internationally, even Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, the International Federation for Human Rights and the humanitarian relief body Oxfam International have reputations of extreme bias against Israel.

What are any of these people doing actually to help the Palestinians — such as creating jobs, assuring good governance, establishing schools, hospitals, health care and dental clinics, safeguarding legal standards, stopping the arrests of journalists or others who dare to criticize the current governments and so on? Rather, the issues they address seem more a rationalization to destroy Israel.

We have seen in Part One of this article how far Western standards of human rights differ from those guaranteed by Islam. One obvious outcome of this disparity is, of course, that citizens of Muslim countries are accorded fewer rights than their counterparts in liberal democracies. Thus, women, girls, gays, members of religious minorities, “blasphemers”, bloggers (notably in Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia) reformers and others may be subjected to partial or total deprival of what the rest of the world considers to be unquestionable or God-given rights. Women may be forced to dress in all-encompassing clothing or hijabs. Minorities may be imprisoned or killed. Women even alleged to have committed adultery – but often just the victims of rape – may be flogged or else stoned to deathLGBT individuals may imprisoned or killed, while bloggers, reformist intellectuals, moderate Qur’an interpreters face flogging and murder by mobs.

All the while, the UN Human Rights Council does little or nothing to encourage Muslim member states to rethink these views; it even adopts resolutions that contradict the Universal Declaration, such as the 2009 resolution to treat “defamation of religion” as a rights violation. This resolution, launched by Pakistan on behalf of a group of Islamic states, while purportedly aiming to protect criticism of all religions, in reality seems aimed at preventing people worldwide from ever criticizing the Islamic religion.

Meanwhile, writing in 2017, human rights lawyer Anne Bayefsky describes how the Human Rights Council is actually focused elsewhere:

According to the U.N.’s top human rights body, Israel is the worst human rights violator in the world today. That’s the result of the latest session of the UN Human Rights Council which wrapped up in Geneva on Friday by adopting five times more resolutions condemning Israel than any other country on earth.

Bizarre as that may sound, it is, in the UN, normal procedure. In some ways even more bizarre is the revelation the same year of another Human Rights Council report, which shows violations by 29 countries that attack people working with the UN on human rights issues:

It was reported to OHCHR that these people had been abducted, detained, held incommunicado, or had disappeared, according to Andrew Gilmour, the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights.

Other victims lost their jobs, had their homes or offices raided, were targeted by travel bans and asset freezes, and forced to undergo unwanted psychiatric “treatment.” Many cases involved arbitrary detention and torture, sometimes by sexual assault or rape.

Israel is, for no apparent reason, on that list of 29. Out of that same number, however, more than half were Muslim-majority countries: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Algeria, Bahrain, Iran, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. That should not be surprising, given the Islamic human rights standard already examined in Part One.

Pictured: A session of the UN Human Rights Council, in Geneva, Switzerland. (Image source: United Nations/Flickr)

There is still one more bizarre feature: the insistence in some quarters that Israel is the leading violator of rights. There seem to be more human rights organizations in the West Bank than possibly anywhere else in the world, together with masses of international bodies that support the Palestinians and condemn Israel — usually in a distinctly one-sided, ant-Israel way. There are so many organizations that one can never be sure of an accurate tally, but it certainly seems disproportionately large for one small pluralistic democracy to be the target of so much criticism, given the number of genuine abusers of human rights — including the Palestinian Authority and Hamas — across the Middle East.

Of the 20 organizations, for example, listed as pursuing rights claims against Israel by the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice to commemorate a young American woman described as a “peace activist” but who was in reality an anti-Israel campaigner — several are international, but the rest are based in the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel. None is an advocate of Israel’s excellent human rights achievements, but are instead composed of political activists who often seem to place Palestinian rights — such as a supposed right to violent protests — above those of their fellow Israelis, including the Arab citizens of Israel — to defend themselves. Given that Israel is where Jews have lived for more than 3,000 years — and which only in the last century became the sole safe haven for Jews in a world of historically so many antagonists — this antagonism seems deeply perverse.

A wider survey shows that in countries such as the United States, the UK, and Egypt, at least eleven international organizations have a remit to investigate what are claimed to be Israeli human rights violations in the disputed territories, even though the Gaza Strip has been long-unoccupied, and is now ruled by the Islamic group Hamas, a Foreign Terrorist Organization, according to the U.S. Department of State. No one, it often seems, has a good word to say about Israel, or a less-than-good word to say, about Palestinian mayhem, terrorism or internal human rights abuses.

Although genuine and widely praised for their advocacy of human rights internationally, even Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, FIDH [Fédération internationale des ligues des droits de l’homme] and the humanitarian relief body Oxfam International have reputations of extreme bias against Israel. Amnesty regards Israel as an “apartheid” stateactively supports the international Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) movement that seeks to strangle Israel economically and academically, accuses Israel of “war crimes”, defends terrorists, and moreHuman Rights Watch does much the same. Even its founder, Robert L. Bernstein, has condemned it for its unjustified attacks on Israel and its failure commensurately to criticize groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah. The respected French international organization, FIDH has issued anti-Israel statements in collaboration with highly politicized Palestinian NGOs.

Most of these international organizations show genuine concern about human rights violations elsewhere, including North Africa and the wider Middle East. Here, for example, is a sample of FIDH’s current issues in that region. But when it comes to Israel, they portray far greater sympathy for Palestinian “victims” than for the countless Israelis who have been killed or injured by some of these “victims”.

Their bias often seems to originate in exposure to highly propagandistic, frequently counter-factual claims by the many Palestinian, Israeli, and left-wing Jewish organizations with whom the international bodies consult and with whom they periodically act in tandem. Likewise, it is not surprising that organizations which work on a daily basis to right the wrongs suffered by the world’s genuine victims of human rights abuses find themselves open to persuasion by Palestinians and their supporters, who often portray themselves as passive victims of Israeli actions without taking the smallest responsibility for their own provocative actions. For more, the psychologist Johanna Vollhardt has examined the role of victim beliefs in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Some of the smaller international organizations focus only on Israel and the Palestinians. The British Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights, citing the Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights and the World Organization Against Torture, recently delivered a joint written statement to the 37th session of the UN Human Rights Council. The statement calls for the Council to act on what it calls “impunity for torture, ill-treatment and related practices in Israel”, and relates to “the Israeli government’s policy and practice in regard to torture and ill-treatment”. In Israel, in fact, torture has been completely banned by Israel’s High Court since 1999.

As in the United States, however, moderate physical pressure is not. Israel is a country under constant terrorist attacks and threats of attacks. By ignoring these important distinctions and pretending not to know the truth about actual Israeli law and Israeli practice, such “rights organizations” only serve — possibly deliberately — to confuse the international public.

Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights has an extensive Gaza Accountability Project which aims “to secure justice and legal accountability for Palestinian victims of alleged serious violations of international law”, even as it says not a word about Palestinian persecution of Christians or Hamas’s abuses against women, children and Israelis. Even the Palestinian Authority claims that Hamas are reckless gamblers who sacrifice the lives of Gazan women and children.

Americans United for Palestinian Human Rights, based in Portland, Oregon, characterizes recent measures taken by Israeli border security as “the Passover Massacre”, when even Hamas and Israel effectively agree that 80% of the protesters shot were members of terrorist organizations, not civilians. See here. There was no “massacre” over Passover or any other period. Israel does not commit massacres. This simple fact, however, seems to make no impact on activists, the media, so-called human rights groups or the international community.

As some Americans recently wrote:

“For decades Zionists have blamed the Palestinians for Israel’s ongoing colonial project. ‘If only the Palestinians had a Mahatma Gandhi,’ many Israeli liberals have exclaimed, ‘then the occupation would end.'”

They then proceed to claim:

“But if one truly wished to find Palestinian Mahatma Gandhis all one needed to do is look at the images of protesters on Friday night’s news broadcasts.”

Not surprisingly, they fail to mention that these Palestinian Gandhis belonged to or were manipulated by terrorist organizations such as Islamic Jihad and Hamas.

The AUPHR applies the “apartheid” charge even to the situation of Arab Israelis as well as those on the West Bank. Many authors have used this argument, a claim unsupported by actual evidence and rejected by several, such as the Rev. Dr. Kenneth Meshoe, who have had direct experience of South African apartheid.

Of the human rights organizations working in Gaza and the West Bank, three stand out as spokesmen for anti-Israel propaganda and lawfare. These are Al-DameerAl-Haq, and Al-Mezan, all of which are well funded by a succession of international so-called human rights and humanitarian bodies. None of them gives any financial details, but, according to NGO Monitor, Al Dameer has received donations from Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, the European Union, the US, and the UN Development Program.

Al-Mezan, in 2014, listed “Core Programme Donors” from the same countries, as well as Germany, the UK, the EU, Oxfam GB, Save the Children, and several other humanitarian institutions.

Regarding Al-Mezan itself, a central actor in Palestinian human rights enterprises incorporating Gaza and the West Bank, there is not room here for an exhaustive account. But NGO Monitor has provided a valuable summary, from which useful information can be extracted.

Al-Mezan’s activities are truly bewldering. Over the years, it has accused Israel of war crimes, including Israeli Defence Forces’ “massacres” in Gaza, further “massacres” and “slaughtering civilians” there in 2009, a “despicable disregard to civilian life” by what they term “the Israeli Occupation Forces” — years after Israel had ended its occupation of Gaza.

Al-Mezan has, in addition, played an active role in the BDS movement to try to crush Israel economically. It submits blatantly anti-Israel material to international bodies such as the European Parliament and the UN. In 2016, along with another West Bank organization, Badil (Badeel), it hosted a forum at the European Parliament in Brussels, in which discussions were held about Israel’s alleged violations of international law. These violations included businesses operating in Israeli settlements (which they considered “illegal”, in line with a recent UN resolution to that effect).

Earlier that year, al-Mezan co-signed a joint statement on supposed infractions of international law:

For decades, Israel has failed to uphold its duties as Occupying Power and has instead deepened its occupation and regime of colonialism and apartheid. Human rights violations rising to the level of international crimes, including unlawful killings, torture, forced transfer, and other forms of collective punishment have become the norm.

The rest of the statement advocated smothering Israel economically on the totally false grounds that no governments or international bodies had the political will to hold Israel accountable for its “crimes”.

This supposed exemplar of human rights activism could not be more opposed to the state of Israel, about which it perpetuates a large battery of falsehoods and distortions. It claims, for instance, that Israel is an “apartheid” state; accuses it, wrongly, of “ethnic cleansing”; reports purported Israeli “war crimes”; repeats the historically false narrative of the 1948 Palestinian nakba [catastrophe – that of losing a war it started] which it characterizes as “a catastrophe born of discrimination and impunity”. In reality, five Arab states had sent in armies to destroy Israel on the day of its birth, but lost. A flight of Arab refugees took place because Arab authorities ordered civilians to leave to allow those Arab armies a freer hand wresting the area from Jews. [1]

Al-Mezan is also highly active in anti-Israel lawfare campaigns. These try, for example, to use courts and international legal bodies to issue arrest warrants against Israeli officials, and to lobby against Israel in the International Criminal Court.

Al-Mezan’s “war crimes” accusations use biased and emotive rhetoric alongside falsified statistics, especially for casualties in Gaza during warfare. Al-Mezan has gone so far as to allege that “Israel killed more children than fighters” during the 2014 Gaza conflict. In fact, a later analysis has shown that civilian figures were grossly inflated and militant casualties hidden:

The IDF’s analysis of fatalities demonstrates that while the 2014 Gaza Conflict did unfortunately result in civilian fatalities, the number and percentage of Palestinian civilian fatalities is actually much lower than has been reported in many channels. As discussed below, the IDF’s preliminary analysis has determined that 2,125 Palestinians were killed during the 2014 Gaza Conflict. Of these fatalities, the IDF estimates that at least 936 (44% of the total) were actually militants and that 761 (36% of the total) were civilians; efforts are still underway to classify the additional 428 (20% of the total), all males aged 16-50

These and other accusations, couched in bombastic “human rights” terminology and made in a parade of reports to the international media, are woefully short of evidence and context, but Al-Mezan and its associates, using what appear to be hard facts despite a serious lack of documentary evidence, claim the moral high ground. Needless to say, Hamas has used civilians as human shields (as openly admitted in 2008 by Hamas leader Fathi Hammad) and has launched missiles from inside civilian sites, such as school, hospitals, and mosques – all, according to Canadian law professor Irwin Cotler, war crimes.[2]

If Al-Mezan’s allegations were even moderately true, Israel would deserve the obloquy that is repeatedly dumped on it. A high-level military group, however, made up of senior military personnel from many countries declared in 2015 that the Israeli Defence Force is “the most ethical army in the world“. These experts, presumably vastly more knowledgeable about military affairs than Al-Mezan and other Palestinian rights groups, also stated in 2016 that the IDF had acted in combat entirely within the rules of international military law. Needless to say, Hamas has used civilians as human shields and launched missiles from inside civilian sites such as schoolshospitals and mosques.

Al-Mezan also declines to focus on what are argued as human rights issues, such as women’s rights, LGBT rights, or basic rights for all Palestinians living under the rule of the Palestinian Authority or Hamas. Instead, it Al-Mezan involves itself with overtly political activities that support efforts to destroy Israel economically. Although such efforts may be interpreted as a response to others’ human rights breaches, they are tightly linked to the untrue accusations of apartheid and the false claim that the Wall section of Israeli’s security fence is an “apartheid wall”, rather than a barrier Israel was forced to erect to defend itself from countless terrorist attacks. A wall is a passive form of defence that has proven effective over many years and saved countless lives.

According to the American politician Scott Walker, Israelis have “seen something like over a 90% reduction in terrorist acts in that country that they attribute to having an effective fence.”

More is happening here than might at first meet the eye. Palestinian human rights organizations such as Al-Mezan, along with their many supporters abroad and even within a substantial part of the Jewish diaspora, have turned the very concept of human rights upside down. All around the world, a majority of people and countries slam Israel as a country that violates human rights, when by any rational measure it does the precise opposite. Israel is the only country in the Middle East and far beyond to provide full rights, true pluralism, and equal justice under the law to all its citizens. The security measures Israel has been forced to take since 1948 can hardly be called — with few possible exceptions — human rights abuses.

What Israel’s enemies are doing is to repurpose claims of “human rights abuses” by turning the world’s attention away from their own abuses and trying to generate instead a fictitious image of Israel as supposedly the world’s greatest abuser. If one examines Freedom House’s 2018 report on the Middle East and North Africa, only one North African country – Tunisia – is listed as fully free, and only one Middle Eastern state – Israel – is fully free. The rest are mainly not free at all, with one or two partly free. The West Bank is recorded as not free. This is partly because the Arabs agreed in the Oslo II accord, also known as the Oslo Interim Agreement of 1995, that Israel would have “overall responsibility for external security and for the security of Israelis and settlements throughout the West Bank and the Gaza Strip”.

Since then, however, as Freedom House adds: “The PA itself has grown more authoritarian, engaging in crackdowns on the media and human rights activists who criticize its rule.” Why then do human rights activists focus on Israel rather than on the abuses under the Palestinians’ own leadership?

There are many abuses in Gaza and the West Bank. Honor killings of girls and women in the West Bank are a serious concern. After 2014, there was a major upsurge in such murders, carried out by members of the woman’s own family. The Palestinian Authority remains obstinate in its refusal to intervene in the matter. Protests are made, but the abuses continue. More generally, women’s rights are violated in both the West Bank and Gaza, as are children’s rights. In the West Bank and Gaza, homosexuality is a capital offence. In Gaza, a recent report on gay men shows them forced to live double lives out of fear of Hamas agents. Many head for Israel, where, since 1963, LGBT rights — made fully legal in 1988 — are assured.

Religious minorities, mainly Christians suffer much abuse in Gaza and the West Bank, where Islamic shari’a law and social attitudes that are profoundly discriminatory to non-Muslims inform popular and political opinion. Israel is the only country in the region where religious minorities have full freedom to worship and live without hindrance. The Baha’is, murdered, imprisoned and economically oppressed in Iran and banned in all Muslim states, have their world-famous international headquarters, their holiest shrines, and pilgrimage centers in Haifa and outside Acco.

The “human rights” bodies in the West Bank, such as Al-Mezan, Al Dameer, and Al-Haq, never involve themselves in complaints about any of the human rights abuses listed above. Instead, they do all they can to persuade the rest of the world that the world’s worst offender is Israel.

These organizations and their supporters have been trying, in fact, to repurpose the very concept of human rights, and in so doing, have turned them upside-down. These activists appear to have adopted a broad range of attitudes – many with their roots in an Orwellian ideology that turns white to black and good intentions to evil conspiracies. Thus, for example, we see how Iran is sending weapons, including missiles, to Hezbollah under the guise of humanitarian aid, even while Israel sends tons of genuine aid into Gaza every day, yet is accused of imposing a “crippling blockade“.

Similarly, some Western feminists have been claiming that the Islamic veil supposedly empowers Muslim women. To some, it is seen as a “feminist accessory“, or as a protection against harassment. This sort of thinking, however, seems based on the assumption that traditional conservative Islamic culture must take precedence over Western values, and ignores the male domination and repression that can often accompany it – such as forced obedience to men.

In the UK, we have witnessed a traditionally progressive, anti-racist political party, Labour, become deeply mired in the racism of anti-Semitism. Almost all of this is due to a well-intended but under-informed obsession with the suffering of the Palestinians and a deeply corrupt understanding of Israel. What are any of these people doing actually to help the Palestinians – such as creating jobs, assuring good governance, ending the corruption of the Palestinian leadership, protecting human rights in Palestinian courts, establishing schools, hospitals, health care and dental clinics, adequate electricity and how to care for drinking water drinking water; upgrading agriculture, safeguarding legal standards of proof in courts, stopping the arrests of journalists or others who dare to criticize the current governments, preventing torture in prison, and so on? Rather, the issues they address seem more a rationalization to destroy Israel. That attitude also seems linked to a sad ignorance of, wholesale indifference to, and even hatred of modern definitions of anti-Semitism. The 2016 International Holocaust Alliance Definition includes several clauses relating to false, bigoted, and extremist views of Israel, including the following:

  • Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
  • Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
  • Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.
  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.

Those are only a few examples of a fatal slip in the Western democracies, where extreme ideologies on both the left and the right have come to invert the real values of classic Western liberalism. The Palestinians and their supporters have taken advantage of this; they seem to know that much of the media, a goodly section of the political establishment, and people in Christian churches will swallow their views on human rights to perpetuate a “victimhood” – not to solve the problem but to perpetuate a modern assault on the Jewish people, whose rights have never been fully recognized in either the Islamic world or the West.

Israel is not a perfect country — no country is — and no country is above criticism when that criticism is just and based on fact. The United States is not perfect and is the subject of daily criticism, especially from within. The UK and Europe are not perfect either. All of that is normal if we bear in mind that democracies are, by their very nature, subject to changes and shifts. Freedom of speech is a central value in all genuine democracies, and now even that is being dangerously eroded in the West.

For all this, autocracies and theocratic regimes fall even shorter when it comes to human rights. The widespread inability to see the difference between occasional lapses on the one hand — with the democratic freedom to repair them — has served both to shelter ruthless dictatorships and to expose one of the most decent countries to unending obloquy. A wake-up call is long overdue.

Reprinted with author’s permission from Gatestone Institute

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