When Human Rights Watch Equates Aggressor with the Aggrieved

Father Peter Dougherty and Sister Mary Ellen Gundeck of the Michigan Peace Team participating in non-violent protest against illegal house demolitions in Gaza. (PCHR)


Three Palestinian human rights organizations (PCHR, Al-Mezan, and Addameer) sent the attached letter to Ms. Sarah Leah Whitson (Middle East Director of Human Rights Watch) in response to HRW position against Palestinian civilians exercising their right of peaceful, unarmed resistance against the illegal demolition of their homes by Israeli occupation forces. The letter expressed rejection of HRW�s position in this issue, and exposed the inconsistencies, contradictions, and misinterpretation of international law.

The letter text is:

Ms. Sarah Leah Whitson,
HRW Middle East Director

Subject: Equating Aggressor and Aggrieved

Dear Ms. Whitson,

We are writing to you to express our reservations on the HRW news item of 22 November 2006 entitled: “OPT: Civilians Must Not Be Used to Shield Homes Against Military Attacks,” discussing HRW’s position on Palestinian civilians acting against the destruction of civilian homes by Israeli forces in Gaza.

The HRW news item is self-contradictory and full of inconsistencies. While pointing that Israeli army destruction of civilian homes is illegal in the absence of concrete evidence indicating that these homes are legitimate military targets, HRW claims that unarmed civilian protest and action against these illegal Israeli activities is a “war crime!” The published news item failed to label illegal action by an occupying power as war crimes, while doing so with regards to the reaction of the civilian victims of these crimes.

HRW equated the coercion and detention at gunpoint by the Israeli army of Palestinian human shields in their homes during military incursions with the voluntary, unarmed protests and resistance by Palestinian civilians against the illegal destruction of civilian property.

HRW failed to mention that the Israeli army uses US-made air-to-surface missiles fired by fighter jets at densely-populated areas. All strikes in these population centers have caused damage to nearby houses. Thus, civilians gathered to protest against targeted houses are in effect defending their own homes, which will be damaged when the targeted homes are destroyed.

The news item praises the Israeli army for calling off two strikes, while not condemning the Israeli army for the killing of two women when, in the same circumstances, the Israeli army fired at an unarmed civilian protest.

The HRW statement failed to prove or disprove the guilt of innocent civilians living in the targeted houses. Are all the inhabitants guilty to a degree that they must suffer homelessness, refuge, and the destruction of their houses and property?

In a 2-page statement, HRW failed to point even once to the fact that Israeli forces are an occupying power in international law; thus failing to point to the real context of the events in question.

We regret that the HRW news item in question smells of politicized, selective human rights advocacy. Over the past three weeks, HRW has failed to condemn any Israeli human rights violations, many of which are more grievous that the alleged “war crime” perpetrated by Palestinians. By protesting the destruction of their homes, Palestinians have not killed any Israeli civilian; whereas the praised restraint of the Israeli army killed 15 civilians over the same period.

Palestinian Centre for Human Rights
Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights
Addameer Prisoners’ Support and Human Rights Association

Related Links

  • Palestinian Centre for Human Rights
  • Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights
  • Addameer Prisoners’ Support and Human Rights Association
  • Nonviolent resistance is not illegal: Human Rights Watch should retract statement, International Solidarity Movement (1 December 2006)
  • Human Rights Watch denying Palestinians the right to nonviolent resistance, Jonathan Cook (30 November 2006)