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Has Amnesty International Lost Its Way? (Part 1)

Norman G. Finkelstein photo
Norman G. FinkelsteinNew York, USA
Has Amnesty International Lost Its Way? (Part 1)
A forensic analysis of Amnesty's reports on Operation Protective Edge

The Problem with Amnesty-

How Amnesty International’s attempt at a ‘balanced’ approach at the conflict turns into an apologetic for

Israel’s aggression against Gaza.

Amnesty International is among the premier human rights organizations in the world. Its pronouncements

shape public opinion, while councils of state feel obliged if not to heed them at any rate to respond. A

movement for justice aspiring to reach a broad public and inflect state policy can ill afford to ignore

Amnesty if and when it goes astray. It is the contention of this monograph that Amnesty has indeed lost

its way, and it is the intention of this monograph to document this proposition, in the hope that Amnesty

will perform—or its grassroots membership will compel it to perform—a midcourse correction.

In recent years, Amnesty International has issued meticulously documented, legally unflinching human

rights reports on the Israel-Palestine conflict, for example, Operation “Cast Lead”: 22 days of death and

destruction,1 a searing indictment of Israel’s 2008-9 assault on Gaza. But this has not always been the case.

For many decades, this venerable human rights organization effectively gave Israel a free pass on its

pervasive torture practices in the occupied Palestinian territories.2 Judging by the reports it issued after

Israel’s summer 2014 assault on Gaza, Operation Protective Edge, Amnesty is regressing to its earlier

apologetics. For those who have come to rely on and cite Amnesty as a source of accurate human rights

reportage, this development is troubling and deeply frustrating. The primary purpose of this monograph

is not to account for Amnesty’s apparent backpedaling, although some speculations on this score will be

ventured in the conclusion, but to thoroughly document it, focusing in particular on Amnesty’s

comprehensive indictment of Hamas,3 Unlawful and Deadly: Rocket and mortar attacks by Palestinian armed groups

during the 2014 Gaza/Israel conflict.4

SPURIOUS BALANCE

Table 1 presents the raw data from which a human rights assessment of Operation Protective Edge

(hereafter: OPE) necessarily begins.5

TABLE 1 Civilian Losses in Operation Protective Edge

Total fatalities

(of whom

children)

Israel 73 (1) 6** (8) 67 (92) 55,000,0006 1***

Gaza* 2,200 (550) 1,560 (70)7 640 (30) 4,000,000,0008 18,000****

* Gaza figures are rounded out. Throughout this monograph, larger numbers are similarly

rounded out to the nearest ten, hundred or thousand.

** One civilian was a Thai guest worker.

*** 11 others suffered some damage.

**** 38,000 others suffered some damage.

Civilians

(% of total

fatalities)

Combatants

(% of total

fatalities)

Direct damage to

civilian

infrastructure (in

dollars)

Civilian homes

destroyed/render

ed uninhabitable

1 2009.

2 Norman G. Finkelstein, Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish romance with Israel is coming to an end (New York: 2012), p. 97.

3 Hamas is here used to denote all armed groups in Gaza.

4 2015.

5 For background to OPE, see Norman G. Finkelstein, Method and Madness: The hidden story of Israel’s assaults on Gaza (New York: 2014).

6 Most of the Israeli data in this monograph draws from State of Israel, The 2014 Gaza Conflict, 7 July-26 August 2014 (May 2015). It

reports that total compensation for direct damages to Israeli civilians will reach $40 million, while the state will spend an additional

$15 million to repair public infrastructure that was damaged (paras. 112, 223).

7 The casualty figures and breakdowns for Gaza are based on UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA),

Fragmented Lives (March 2015). The major Gaza-based human rights organizations (Al Mezan, Palestinian Center for Human Rights)

put the number of civilians killed at 1,600-1,700. Israel’s 2014 Gaza Conflict alleged that, of the 1,700 Gazan deaths it has thus far

tabulated from a total of 2,125, 940 (44 percent) were Hamas “militants,” 760 (36 percent) were civilians, and 420 (20 percent) were

“yet to be categorized.” It also states that “in all but a few rare instances, women, children under the age of 16, and the elderly were

automatically categorized as ‘uninvolved’” in its calculations. Setting aside all the other absurdities in Israel’s bookkeeping, according

to OCHA, the number of Gazan women and children killed—that is, not including any adult males—already totaled 850. (The one

slight discrepancy is that OCHA reckoned a child as under 17 years of age.) The Israeli report faults OCHA for basing its

combatant/civilian breakdown on “daily fatality lists issued by the Hamas-controlled Gaza Ministry of Health,” which, it continues,

“do not identify whether the deceased was a militant.” It’s hard to figure how OCHA could have relied on the Ministry’s breakdown

if the Ministry didn’t give a breakdown. See 2014 Gaza Conflict, p. 56n165; Annex—Palestinian Fatality Figures in the 2014 Gaza

Conflict, paras. 9, 13, 26-27.

8 State of Palestine, The National Early Recovery and Reconstruction Plan for Gaza (October 2014), p. 9.

“On both sides,” Amnesty observes in Unlawful and Deadly, “civilians once again bore the brunt of the third

full-scale war in less than six years.” Although arguably true,9 this statement obscures the yawning gap

separating the magnitude of suffering inflicted on Gazan as compared to Israeli civilians.10 It is hard to

come up with a more palpable instance of a quantitative difference turning into a qualitative one than the

single Israeli child versus the 550 Gazan children killed, and it doesn’t diminish the sanctity of every life to

take note that, if the death of one Israeli child is terrible, then, on the same calculus, the child deaths in

Gaza are 550 times as terrible. An international Medical Fact-Finding Mission, recruited by the Israeli

branch of Physicians for Human Rights and comprised of eminent medical practitioners, concluded its

report on OPE with this caveat: “While not wishing to devalue in any way the traumatic effects of the war

on Israeli civilians, these pale in comparison with the consequences of the massive destruction wreaked on

Gaza.”11 Even UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who in the past has disgraced his office with

apologetics on Israel’s behalf,12 carefully distinguished between Israel’s lethal attacks on UN facilities

during OPE, which “I deplore,” and Hamas’s misuse of UN facilities, about which “I am dismayed.”13

One searches in vain for a comparable acknowledgment or nuance by Amnesty.

In keeping with its pretense of evenhandedness, Amnesty conveys the impression that Israel and Hamas

were equally guilty of breaching the laws of war. It issued a pair of postwar reports documenting Israel’s

crimes and a pair of reports documenting Hamas’s crimes (four altogether), while, amazingly, it devoted, all

told, many more pages to indicting Hamas (107) than Israel (78).14 In Operation “Cast Lead,” Israel bore the

brunt of Amnesty’s indictment (60 versus 13 pages), making this earlier report’s relative space allocations

more, if still far from fully, commensurate with the death and destruction inflicted by each side.15 The

introduction to each of its postwar reports on OPE methodically balances the distribution of guilt. As if

that weren’t problematic enough, Unlawful and Deadly details the death of the single Israeli child killed by a

Hamas attack across more than two pages. Were it truly committed to effecting—as against

affecting—balance, shouldn’t Amnesty have devoted 1,100 pages to the children in Gaza who were killed?

Amnesty even suggests that Hamas was the more manifestly culpable party to the conflict. Thus, Unlawful

and Deadly’s conclusion unequivocally deplores Hamas’s “flagrant disregard for international humanitarian

law,” whereas one of Amnesty’s reciprocal reports, Families under the Rubble: Israeli attacks on inhabited homes,

cautiously concludes that the destruction wrought—18,000 Gazan homes were destroyed or rendered

uninhabitable, leaving 110,000 people homeless—“raise[s] difficult questions for the Israeli government

which they have so far failed to answer.”16 It is, of course, conceivable that Hamas committed as many war

crimes as Israel, if not more, during OPE, but, prima facie, that would be a most anomalous conclusion.

In both absolute and relative terms, the scales of guilt appear to tilt heavily to the Israeli side: Hamas killed

73 Israelis of whom only 8 percent were civilians, whereas Israel killed 2,200 Gazans of whom fully 70

percent were civilians; the damage inflicted on Gaza’s civilian infrastructure ($4 billion) exceeded by a

factor of 70 the damage inflicted on Israel’s infrastructure ($55 million), while the ratio of civilian dwellings

destroyed by Israel versus Hamas stood at 18,000:1. The intriguing question is, how does Amnesty

manage to turn this wildly imbalanced balance sheet into a “balanced” indictment of both parties to the

conflict?

9 On the other hand, only eight percent of total Israeli fatalities were civilians.

10 In the last report it released, “Strangling Necks”: Abductions, torture and summary killings of Palestinians by Hamas forces during the 2014

Gaza/Israel conflict (2015), Amnesty does briefly mention that, “The extent of the casualties and destruction in Gaza wrought by Israeli

forces far exceeded those caused by Palestinian attacks on Israel, reflecting Israel’s far greater firepower, among other factors.”

11 Jutta Bachmann et al., Gaza 2014: Findings of an independent medical fact-finding mission (2015), p. 101. (Hereafter: Medical Fact-Finding

Mission)

12 Finkelstein, Method, pp. 101-20.

13 Ban Ki-moon’s remarks are appended to the summary of the final report of a UN Board of Inquiry he commissioned to investigate

“certain incidents that occurred in the Gaza Strip between 8 July 2014 and 26 August 2014.” (Hereafter: UN Board of Inquiry)

14 In addition to Unlawful and Deadly and “Strangling Necks,” Amnesty issued Families under the Rubble: Israeli attacks on inhabited homes

(2014), and “Nothing Is Immune”: Israel’s destruction of landmark buildings in Gaza (2014). It bears noting that these four reports were

released during the critical window of opportunity between the end of OPE and the issuance of the UN Human Rights Council

report on OPE in June 2015. Whatever Amnesty releases after the UN report will have little or no political impact. As it happens,

the UN Report did make extensive use of Amnesty’s quartet of publications, a topic to which this writer will return in a future

monograph.

15 A precise juxtaposition casts an even darker shadow on Amnesty’s space allocations: in absolute numbers, the scale of civilian death

and destruction inflicted by Israel during Protective Edge was much more massive than during Cast Lead, whereas in the case of

Hamas it was roughly the same.

16 On the other hand, “Strangling Necks” does categorically state, “Israeli military forces committed war crimes and other grave

violations of international law during Operation Protective Edge.” Human Rights Watch (HRW) has also been much quicker to

condemn Hamas than Israel. “It’s obviously easier to denounce as a war crime, say, Hamas’s efforts to shoot rockets into civilian

areas,” HRW executive director Kenneth Roth commented during OPE. “That’s, you know, blatantly obvious. It doesn’t take a huge

investigation to figure that one out. Israel, it does take more of an investigation” (http://m.democracynow.org/stories/9979).

[use-custom:20150708]

#Amnesty International, #Israel-Palestine conflict, #Israel, #Palestine, #Norman Finkelstein, #Operation Protective Edge

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Ms. M

2 years ago

Though I appreciate the fact that there is people like Norman Finklestein among us, the issue with the israel-palestine conflict is a-universe sized issue. this issue is not difficult to be honest. but it is designed to be difficult, its wars are designed to be never ending. until that moment comes when it finally ends. but it wont happen soon. the real issue here is somebody thought they were better than the rest. that they were God's chosen people. that they had special powers. etc...etc...etc..(yawn). bottom line is they think they are better...the same way, Satan thought he was Better than Prophet Adam because God made him from fire. they thought they could just take any land they fancy. they thought God made this earth for them solely. I dont know whether to call this attitude arrogant or just plain stupid. but this attitude then triggered all the rest of the nasty things such as cheating, stealing, wars, murders etc....it is not enough for the world to write a book or scream in the face of such grave evil and injustice. you do that, and the evil powerful people will just look at you and smile saying "nahh...let them yell like a child, they cant do anything" to solve an issue this grand, the people of this world need to have faith in God. true and sincere faith. one that is not corrupted by money, sex and other worldly pleasure. have we forgotten how to be sincere? have we forgotton how to have true faith? they tell the world, that faith is irrelevant in this era, that religion is backward and pre-historic etc etc....here is the true deception! this is a lie. have you ever heard that people use deception to create wars or create chaos? if you wanna truly help the palestinian people or any people out there being treated inhumanely, the first step is to come back to faith, love God, be a good person first, then be good to the rest of the people out there. educate yourself and open your mind to differences, so you dont get stuck in prejudices and biases. then learn all these fields if you can : religion, law, politics, communications, cultural studies, security and intelligence studies. combine your learning of these fields and you will find a red line that connects all the dots. and then you will understand the whole picture, the whole context. it would help if you also live in poor countries and experience their hardships. this would give you a total understanding of how the world works. becareful though, the evils are smart, they left booby traps everywhere. they not only manipulate the religious texts, they have infiltrated the education system. they like to mix twisted theories with the theories that reveal the real truth, thereby blurring everything so nothing stands out. their aim you see, is to hide or drown the truth with millions of lies. so that the people cant differentiate between truth and lies, and they hope we would follow their lies. this is how they spread misery globally. making we all follow the lies. dont let them do this to you please...yes, to embark on such journey would be really hard. the cowards wont make it through, the weak willed or weak hearted wont either. so it all goes back to our personal choices. if we are still lazy in fighting for the truth, please dont criticise Israel, criticise yourself first. indeed it is always easier to blame others than ourselves. again, this is what cowards do. I'm a tv news producer, i hope one day i could invite Mr Norman Finklestein to my show. Thank you for your essays Norman.

Ms. M

2 years ago

Hi, Petunia, sorry, just one more thing to add, if you disagree with me and my ideas, you can just ignore me y'know. just think of me as an idiot who dared to "talk disrespectly" at Norman and ignore me ok .. no hard feelings here.

Ms. M

2 years ago

oh, I did not know he was an atheist. But I did not mean any of what I say as an attack to Norman's beliefs. Are you his Manager or Agent? that I should officially apologize to you? are you an atheist, that I have offended you too? you should not be offended by a post on the internet darling :)

Ms. M

2 years ago

Hi, No I'm not telling Norman to turn to God and my words are not for him either. cheers :)

Byrnzie28

2 years ago

I'm not sure where Norman gets the figure of 70% Gazan civilians. I was under the impression that the figure was closer to 90% civilians. I'd be interested to learn how they calculate such figures. Do they include every able-bodied male above the age of 16 as a Palestinian combative?

Paul Russell

2 years ago

Dr Finkelstein is writing this work as a fundraiser for medical equipment in Gaza. We are getting great access to great knowledge. I fear (from one of the comments below) that Hasbara trolls may already be moving in. Go back to Ynet and let those who wish to read and learn do just that!

Mikhail Ramendik

2 years ago

Your article completely ignores the issue of Hamas using civilians as human shields, accounting for many of the civilian deaths that you unquestioningly attribute to Israel alone.

While Amnesty did take a number of debatable stands, including its positions on abortion and sex work, this is not one of them. Hamas is a terrorist organization that does not care for civilian lives on any side, and its actions show it.

Byrnzie28

2 years ago

You're trying to turn reality on it's head. Something I understand Israel's apologists attempt to do as a matter of course, maybe because the truth is not on their side.
Of all the major investigations by all of the worlds leading human rights organizations, no evidence has ever been found of Hamas having used Palestinian civilians as human shields. On the other hand, they've found ample evidence of the IOF cowards using Palestinian civilians as human shields. Google: 'Amnesty: Israel Used Children as Human Shields in Gaza':

'Amnesty on Thursday accused Israeli forces of war crimes in Gaza, saying they used children as human shields and conducted wanton attacks on civilians...but said it found no evidence to support Israeli claims that Gaza's Islamist rulers used civilians as human shields during Israel's massive 22-day offensive.'

Maximilien Robespierre

2 years ago

It is Israel, not Hamas, that uses human shields. The Goldstone report found no evidence that Hamas used human shields, but it did find evidence that Israel used human shields.

>Leading rabbi encourages IDF soldiers to use Palestinian human shields

http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/leading-rabbi-encourages-idf-soldiers-to-use-palestinian-human-shields-1.320311

>UN: Palestinian children tortured, used as human shields by Israel

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/06/20/us-palestinian-israel-children-idUSBRE95J0FR20130620


J. Berg

2 years ago

It does not matter what Hamas cares or does not care about. When you drop massive bombs on densely populated areas that civilians can not escape, you know that they are going to die. And it wasn't Hamas who was dropping such bombs. Fighting as hard as they could, Hamas only managed to kill six Israeli civilians. Their fighting capability is a joke, they do not present any real danger to the Israeli army. So what was the need to kill and maim so many Palestinian civilians? They are human, their pain and loss and fear matter too. It's the Palestinians who are living under occupation and blockade, it's their kids who froze to death last winter because Israel would not let Gaza rebuild itself. They are entitled to defend themselves and it's the duty of the international community to help them.
My Jewish great-grandfather fought in WW2 (а правильнее сказать, в Великой отечественной войне) to defeat Nazism and to make sure that kids don't have to die in blockaded cities. But after hearing an American journalist say that it was the fault of the Soviet army that so many Soviet people were killed by the Germans, nothing really surprises me anymore.

Rushdi Alul

2 years ago

Hi Norman, I am really impressed with the data you presented and commend you on your detailed research. The data in Table 1 speaks volumes-it is certainly not something you will see reported on CNN or in the editorial pages of the New York Times!

Lucille Anderson

2 years ago

"Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans—born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage—and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world." JFK 01/20/61
Thank You Norman Finkelstein for your words of enlightenment this 9th day of July 2015...

T1 CM

2 years ago

Thank you for your scholarship on this important matter, Norman.
Excellent, if poignant, essay.