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Thursday, February 14, 2013

HRW can't wait to publish hit pieces on Israel

From The Volokh Conspiracy:
Human Rights Watch has just released a report on Israel’s recent “Pillar of Defense” operation to suppress rocket fire from Gaza. The report concludes that 18 airstrikes violated international law by not being properly targeted. I do not know if 18 is a little or a lot for an operation of this scale, as there an no good comparative data (though the report is released as Afghanistan says yet another NATO airstrike hit a house with innocent women and children inside.)

The report, by its description of its methods, appears to be a hit piece. Here is what the report said about the group’s investigative method (emphasis added):

Human Rights Watch sent detailed information about the cases to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on January 14, 2013, requesting further information. At a meeting on January 24 and in subsequent phone conversations, the military spokesperson’s office told Human Rights Watch that the military chief of staff had ordered a general (aluf) to conduct an “operational debriefing” (tahkir mivtza’i) concerning “dozens” of Israeli attacks during the conflict, including the cases Human Rights Watch investigated, which would be completed by late February.

Because previous Israeli “operational debriefings” involving attacks were not conducted by trained military police investigators or dedicated to investigating alleged laws-of-war violations, Human Rights Watch has decided to publish its findings rather than wait for their results.

In other words, HRW received high-level and consistent cooperation. A meeting between HRW and the IDF took place on Jan 24 (just 10 days after HRW asked for further information), and were told that the IDF would have a more detailed response by late February after its own investigations were over. One month is not a long time to wait, certainly not covering an incident that occurred months ago.

It is completely baffling why HRW would rush to publish their report a mere two weeks before they could hear in full Israel’s response to their allegations. Furthermore, HRW’s explanation why they chose not to wait lacks any coherence. What is so special about designated military police as opposed to other investigators? And even if the IDF investigations were not conducted by trained military police, it is unquestionable that the IDF investigators would have access to sources HRW does not. One would expect that an organization whose influence is completely based on their reputation for objectivity and thoroughness would wish to have all the facts before rushing to publish.

Well-meaning observers are often puzzled why Israel sometimes does not cooperate with the multitudinous foreign investigations into its military operations. The minimal lack of procedural fairness investigations such as HRW’s is surely one reason for their reluctance.
NGO Monitor went into more detail:
HRW possesses neither the military expertise nor the appropriate fact-finding methodology to make these assessments and conduct proper investigations. Such judgments require knowledge of the military intelligence possessed by Israeli commanders at the time of the strikes, and information on intent of the officers. In contrast, HRW’s “evidence” consists solely of its inability to identify “indication[s] of a legitimate military target at the site at the time of the attack” and Israel’s refusal to explain its operational decisions to the NGO.

HRW’s press release is its seventh document relating to the November 2012 fighting in Gaza and Southern Israel. The disproportionate obsession and political agenda are further seen by HRW’s decision to conduct “field investigations” on that particular conflict, at a time when the UN estimated that over 10,000 people were killed in the Syrian civil war in the month of January 2013 alone.

HRW’s statement also denounced Israeli investigations, claiming that they “were not conducted by trained military police investigators or dedicated to investigating alleged laws-of-war violations.” Therefore, HRW did not wait for a response from the IDF, dealing with HRW’s cases and other attacks, which is anticipated “by late February.”

In fact, Israeli investigations meet international standards, as noted by Judge Mary McGowan Davis (empanelled by the Human Rights Council to lead the follow-up committee to the Goldstone Report), Judge Richard Goldstone, and the Turkel Committee. The real reason HRW does not want to wait for the IDF report is because it will demonstrate that HRW’s claims are baseless, as happened with Israeli responses to the 2009 Gaza conflict and the 2006 Lebanon War.
I visited NGO Monitor in Jerusalem on Thursday, and asked them about the supposed expertise of the "field investigators" HRW sends into Gaza. They are not completely transparent on who writes and contributes to many of their reports, but apparently they rely on people who live in Gaza to fill out much of the information in these reports - and they, in turn, rely on biased sources like PCHR and the Gaza Health Ministry to get the "facts" about particular incidents to them.

One of their Gaza researchers, Fares Akram, also has written for the New York Times - even about HRW itself, without disclosing his affiliation in the article!

This incestuous relationship between native Gazan "investigators," news organization stringers and reporters, and biased "human rights" organizations and NGOs is sorely unreported.

One other fact that NGO Monitor noted to me that is terrifically important: HRW does not have a published methodology on how they conduct these "field investigations." Without a rigorous and known methodology, bias isn't only possible - it is inevitable. Facts that conform to the "researcher"'s preconceived notions will naturally get highlighted and anything that contradicts it will be silently ignored. This is natural, after all, the news media do this all the time. But an organization like HRW must adhere to the higher standard it demands from others. Its standards must be far greater than that of journalists. In this case, there was no "deadline" that forced HRW to release this report before waiting for the official investigation by Israel. They simply decided to ignore any response before the fact.

HRW claims that Israel's investigations do not reach some arbitrary level of professionalism and objectivity that they made up. Yet if HRW would investigate itself with the same standards, it would come out far, far worse. Its bias has been exposed over and over again, here as well as elsewhere. HRW never admits it was wrong,  and when caught doing something unethical itself.

This is not the way an organization dedicated to the truth should act. But  it is exactly how a biased organization with an agenda would act.