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Wednesday, December 04, 2013

My conversation with an anti-Israel Amnesty spokesperson

I called Amnesty this morning to ask about the outrageous report they issued that I discussed earlier today. I waited about five hours for a response before posting my article.

I then received a phone call from Deborah Hyams, Amnesty researcher and media contact.

Hyams explained to me that the Amnesty press release was meant to not only discuss the current exacerbation of the fuel shortage since November 1, but to look at the longer history of Israel's closure and restrictions on exports to Gaza, to explain the "root causes," from Amnesty's perspective.

When I asked specifically about why Amnesty was calling for Israel to lift restrictions on fuel when there are in fact no restrictions, she said that there are restrictions on some types of fuel. In fact, she told me, it was because Israel refused to provide industrial fuel for Gaza's power plant that Hamas was forced to smuggle regular diesel from Egypt. She did admit that price was a factor.\

I explained to her my understanding that Hamas actually retooled the power plant to handle regular diesel smuggled from Egypt because they didn't want to pay Israel and they felt that with the Muslim Brotherhood in power they would have an unlimited supply of subsidized, cheap fuel from Egypt.

Hyams insisted that Israel has restrictions, today, on industrial diesel to Gaza. That is not my understanding and I told her that I've read COGAT reports since at least 2011 where they said that they can pump heavy duty diesel for the power plant and Hamas has refused. (Actually, I documented that Israel has provided heavy-duty diesel to Gaza since 2009.)

I pointed out to Hyams that, even if everything she said was true, the current crisis has nothing to do with Israel - Hamas decided it didn't want to pay the normal prices according to agreements between Israel and the PA as it has done in the past. She disagreed, saying that the current fuel outages must be looked at from a larger historical perspective and that Israel is the party most responsible for supplying Gaza with fuel under its legal obligations as an occupier; although she knows some disagree about whether Gaza is occupied by Israel, Amnesty's position is that it is. (We've discussed the hypocrisy of Amnesty vis a vis occupation in the past.)

I pressed on, saying that the press release is clearly taking advantage of a crisis that was not precipitated by Israel but the response essentially ignored all other parties but Israel. She admitted that the immediate trigger of the crisis was Egypt's closing of the tunnels (not really, since that happened over the summer and Hamas decided to stop paying the PA's taxes in late October.) However, this press release was pretty much a way for Amnesty to focus the world on Israel's role in the closure of Gaza.

It was a surreal conversation. Hyams didn't say it explicitly, but in effect she said that the current crisis with the sewage and water problems was an excuse to call attention to the fact that Israel has the primary responsibility for Gaza, according to Amnesty. Amnesty mentioned the other parties with responsibility (in wishy-washy language at the very end of the press release after paragraphs of blaming Israel) but the power problems are, in Amnesty's view, primarily an Israeli responsibility.

Immediately afterwards I called up Guy Inbar from the IDF COGAT unit and asked him if there were any restrictions on any specific type of fuel to Gaza - industrial, petroleum, cooking gas, anything. His answer was an unequivocal "no." The reason Gaza has no fuel is the PA/Hamas disagreements, not because of Israel.

Deborah Hyams is part of the problem. As NGO Monitor has documented:
Hyams has an extensive background in radical anti-Israel activism:
  • In 2001, Hyams volunteered as a “human shield” in Beit Jala (near Bethlehem), to deter Israeli military responses to recurrent gunfire and mortars targeting Jewish civilians in Jerusalem.
  • Hyams employs demonizing language regarding Israel: In 2008, she was signatory to a letterclaiming Israel is “a state founded on terrorism, massacres and the dispossession of another people from their land.” Hyams alsostatedin 2002 that “[some] of Israel’s actions, all the way back to 1948, could be called ‘ethnic cleansing’.”
  • In a 2002 Washington Jewish Week article, "Hyams said that while she does not condone suicide bombings, she personally believes they 'are in response to the occupation.'" In another instance she defended violence stating "occupation is violence...and the consequence of this action must result in violence [against Israelis]."
It is clear that at least in the Middle East, Amnesty is run by people with an anti-Israel agenda, where human rights, and even basic facts, are trumped by antipathy towards Israel.