Claudia Mendoza: Amnesty International’s Tunnel Vision

JLC Head of Policy and Research Claudia Mendoza wrote the following article in the Jewish News which discusses Amnesty International’s latest report.  

Amnesty International’s latest report, Families under the Rubble: Israeli attacks on inhabited homes accuses Israel of war crimes during Operation Protective Edge, claiming the IDF showed “callous indifference” to civilians in airstrikes that killed entire families.

The majority of the report focuses on eyewitness testimonies in eight specific attacks by Israel. According to Israel, all eight of these cases are among the more than 90 under after-action review by the military itself.

We should welcome the scrutiny of war and alleged violations, but when a report on a conflict does not pay credence to both sides, questions of objectivity are raised.

Since Amnesty failed to mention it, it is worth remembering that Hamas is a terror group, recognised as such by the European Union, the United States and others. A fundamental flaw in the report is the failure to highlight the nature of Israel’s enemy.

Indeed, there is no mention of Hamas’ use of human shields or its firing of rockets from civilian populations. Perhaps most astonishingly, the word tunnel is not mentioned once in the entire report. Given that the existence of these terror tunnels was the raison d’être for Israel’s ground invasion, it beggars belief that there is no mention of them whatsoever.

To be sure, this calls into question Amnesty’s claim that Israel acted disproportionately when it doesn’t even mention what Israel’s military targets were. To that end, the unnamed field workers who were sent to Gaza were sent to interview surviving family members, not to assess Israel’s military targets.

One of the most astonishing parts of the report is the de facto defence of Hamas’ positioning among civilians, with the implication that Hamas had no choice about positioning of ‘Palestinian fighters’ because of how crowded Gaza is.

The report chooses to selectively quote from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to exonerate Hamas, completely ignoring the fact that Hamas deliberately built tunnels under civilian homes and shot rockets from civilian areas.

Unsurprisingly, Amnesty did not choose to quote parts of the ICRC documents, such as: “State practice indicates that an attacker is not prevented from attacking military objectives if the defender fails to take appropriate precautions or deliberately uses civilians to shield military operations.”

In doing so, they would have had to admit culpability on behalf of Hamas. Indeed, the ICRC specifically instructs combatants to remove civilians from military targets as much as possible, and Hamas did the opposite, telling civilians not to evacuate from areas that were about to be attacked. Amnesty also fails to mention the hundreds of extra-judicial killings conducted by Hamas, specifically for those Palestinians they deemed to be collaborators with Israel.

Yet, when one selectively highlights areas of international law to suit a broader narrative, such omissions should not come as a shock. The purpose of non-governmental organisations, or NGOs, is to bring about constructive change. Based on Amnesty’s recommendations in this report, the bearer of that change is Israel and Israel alone.

The only thing the Palestinians are asked to do is to issue a declaration accepting the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction over crimes committed since 1 July 2002 and to accede to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Other states are asked to do various things, such as exercise universal jurisdiction, and suspend the transfer to Israel of arms, munitions, weapons and military equipment.

There is not a single recommendation aimed at Hamas – the terrorist group responsible for this conflict. Given that Amnesty’s campaigns manager, Kristyan Benedict, last week thought it appropriate to use the hashtag #JSIL (Jewish State in the Levant) in reference to Israel, the lack of impartiality of Amnesty’s publications related to Israel and Palestine should come as no surprise.