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Sunday, February 05, 2012

Amnesty's mendacious use of language to demonize Israel

Amnesty International has published another broadside against Israel, this one in Huffington Post. It lists a long line of supposed Israeli crimes, without giving sources.

Here is just the first sentence:
As the Quartet celebrates the resumption of bilateral negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians in Jordan this month, a record number of Palestinians find themselves out in the cold this winter due to illegal home demolitions by Israeli authorities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).
Lets examine this sentence.

Its main point - repeated in its press release from December, released along with some twenty other NGOs - is that "a record number of Palestinians " are displaced.

What is this record number?
The figures show that since the beginning of 2011 more than 500 Palestinian essential structures were destroyed in the OPT, with over 1,000 Palestinians displaced -- doubling the number displaced over the same period in 2010, and the highest figure since at least 2005.
Amnesty's definition of a "record" is apparently "the most in the last seven years." That is not what the word "record" means.

And note that they aren't saying 500 homes, but 500 "essential structures." These include illegally built wells - wells that threaten the entire region's water supply. Amnesty is claiming that Palestinian Arabs have the right to damage everyone's access to water, and Israel has no right to stop them in territory they define as "occupied."

But if Israel is occupying the territory, as Amnesty claims, then Israel's responsibility is precisely to administer natural resources according to the Hague Convention - which presumably includes water.

Certainly, under the laws of occupation, Israel would be obligated to continue applying Jordanian law that applied to the areas before 1967, and it seems difficult to believe that Jordan did not enforce any zoning laws in the territory it occupied or that it tolerated the wanton illegal construction of housing. Amnesty pointedly does not address that issue - can any (Arab) who desires build anywhere they want in occupied territory?

Now, are the people who previously lived in these illegal structures out in the cold? Are they homeless? The NGOs give no evidence in that regard. This is Amnesty's hyperbole meant to demonize Israel and they have no basis in fact.

The real fact is that in 2011, the Palestinian Authority built or was expected to build 33,822 dwelling units. In just that one year. Israeli "record demolitions" are less than one percent of the total new construction last year. (In fact, the PA constructed more new units than Israelis did -not in the territories, but in Israel itself!)

And yet again, Amnesty - along with the UN and every other NGO - refers to the territories as "Occupied Palestinian Territories."

When international law scholar Eugene Kontorovich spoke at NYU last month, I asked him a question afterwards about Jordanian and Palestinian Arab claims to the West Bank. He stated:

If you think that the competing claims to the West Bank are Israel and its previous occupant, Jordan, then you would think that Israel would enjoy undisturbed title, and then this group of Palestinians organized themselves to challenge that title, it would have to be  a retroactive challenge, which is the difficulty of it.

When Newt Gingrich said that the Palestinians were an "invented people," he was much criticized. Some people said, and I think quite rightly, that even if they are invented, it doesn't really matter, because you can invent a people - people can be invented. If a group of people decide to think of themselves as a nation, that can actually have real force. Who's to stop a people from inventing themselves?

I completely agree with that. There is nothing wrong with being an invented people; every people is in some sense invented.

The only question is: what's the date of that invention? If it is a post-'67 phenomenon, it seems hard to understand how that can make territory, whose status changed in 1967, "Palestinian Territory" retroactively.
I have never seen any real legal opinion that describes exactly how Palestinian Arabs can be described as the presumed legal owners of the West Bank. As with the UN, Amnesty seems to be using the term "Occupied Palestinian Territories" as a catchphrase, without any legal basis. It has become part of the discourse based on repetition and wishful thinking, not based on fact. Calling Area C and perhaps Area B "occupied" is defensible from a legal standpoint, but not calling them "Occupied Palestinian Territory."

This single sentence in the Huffington Post shows four separate examples of how Amnesty is less interested in truth than in demonizing Israel. For people who believe that Amnesty is the paragon of impartiality, this should be troubling indeed.

(h/t Erik)