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Has Amnesty International Lost Its Way? (Part 4)

Norman G. Finkelstein photo
Norman G. FinkelsteinNew York, USA
Has Amnesty International Lost Its Way? (Part 4)
A forensic analysis of Amnesty's reports on Operation Protective Edge

(c) Shuhada al-Aqsa. Israel shelled Shuhada al-Aqsa hospital, killing at least four people and wounding dozens. Noting that Israel alleged it had targeted a cache of antitank missiles stored “in the immediate vicinity of the hospital,” Amnesty states that it “has not been able to confirm this” incident and calls for it to be “independently investigated.” Insofar as it obligingly reported Israel’s pretext for this atrocity, shouldn’t Amnesty also have cited credible eyewitness testimony from a nurse at her station, according to which, after four Palestinians were killed in vehicles parked outside, “the hospital was then hit 15 times in quick succession by tank strikes”? Whereas in Amnesty’s assessment, both Hamas and Israel might equally be culpable of violating international law,[1] the Medical Fact-Finding Mission concludes, “what is important here is that [al-Aqsa] was attacked by the Israeli military while patients were admitted, health professionals were at work and civilians were seeking refuge from attacks in the surrounding area.”[2]

(d) Ambulances. During OPE, 45 ambulances were also either damaged or destroyed as a consequence of direct Israeli attacks or as collateral damage. Amnesty reports that Israel “released video footage which it claimed showed Palestinian fighters entering an ambulance.” This 24-second video clip is the one and only piece of evidence Israel adduced to justify its targeting of ambulances during OPE.[3]  In fact, the video possesses zero evidentiary value. It shows a pair of unarmed Hamas militants on an unknown date at an unknown place entering an ambulance belonging to the emergency medical unit of Hamas’s armed wing (Al-Qassam Brigades). For all anyone can tell from the clip, they were en route on a routine medical rescue operation. Shouldn’t Amnesty have also noted that in prior operations Israel has methodically targeted Palestinian ambulances;[4] that, notwithstanding its high-tech surveillance technology, in only one single incident did Israel ever endeavor to adduce evidence justifying such a criminal attack; and that, in this sole instance, Amnesty itself found the evidence dubious?[5]  Indeed, Amnesty, the Medical Fact-Finding Mission, and the FIDH delegation extensively documented shocking premeditated and unprovoked attacks by Israel on Palestinian ambulances during OPE.[6]

Schools. Israel destroyed 22 schools and damaged 118 others during OPE.[7]   Amnesty reports, “The Israeli military has stated that rockets or mortars were launched from within several schools in the Gaza Strip during the hostilities,” and that “at least 89 rockets and mortar shells were launched within 30m of UN schools.” After professing its inability “to verify any of these specific claims,” Amnesty recommends “they should be independently investigated.” But why does Unlawful and Deadly cite only—and ad nauseam—Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Israel Defense Forces (IDF) press hand-outs?[8] Surely it could have cross-checked the official Israeli claims by consulting Palestinian human rights groups, UN officials and relevant NGOs based in Gaza. The UN Board of Inquiry investigated seven Israeli attacks, many deadly, on UN schools, all but one of which had been converted into an emergency shelter. A summary of its conclusions was released after Amnesty issued Unlawful and Deadly. The Board adduced no evidence to sustain, but copious evidence, including security guard and other witness testimony, to refute, stock Israeli allegations that Hamas launched rockets from within or in the vicinity of the specific UN schools it attacked. It further merits notice that, basing itself on UN press releases, Amnesty recounts widely publicized allegations indicting Hamas’s misuse of other UN schools not targeted by Israel: “Palestinian armed groups stored rockets and other munitions in…UN schools. UNRWA discovered Palestinian munitions in three of its vacant schools in the Gaza Strip,” specifically, “20 rockets in an elementary school in Gaza City,” “rockets…in an elementary school in Jabalia,” “another cache of rockets…at a school in Nuseirat.” The Board of Inquiry found, however, that the weapons stored in these empty schools (they were closed for summer recess)[9] were not rocket caches but, rather, one mortar and 20 shells in the Gaza City elementary school, “an object, seemingly a weapon” in the Jabalia school, and one mortar and three shells on one occasion and one mortar and 20 shells on a second occasion at the Nuseirat school.

Mosques. Israel destroyed 73 mosques and damaged 130 others during OPE. Amnesty reports that, according to Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “at least 83 rockets and mortars were launched from within 25m of mosques during the hostilities, in some cases from directly within the mosque compounds.” No other source is cited by Amnesty. This was not the first time Israel targeted mosques in Gaza. During Operation Cast Lead, it destroyed 30 mosques and damaged 15 more. The UN Human Rights Council mission headed by Richard Goldstone investigated an “intentional” Israeli missile attack during Cast Lead on a mosque that killed at least 15 people attending services. It found “no evidence that this mosque was used for the storage of weapons or any military activity by Palestinian armed groups.” In general, the case Israel has mounted to justify its targeting of Gaza’s mosques lacks coherence. It alleges that Hamas has used mosques to stash weapons but—as the Goldstone Mission’s military expert observed—with “abundant hideaways in the labyrinthine alleyways of Gaza,” Hamas would have been foolhardy to “store anything in an open building like a mosque, which had been pre-targeted and pre-registered by Israeli intelligence.” Israel has also alleged that Hamas placed weapons in mosques because, on the basis of prior experience, it “assumed that the IDF would not attack them.” But in fact, even before Cast Lead, Israel had damaged or destroyed 55 mosques in Gaza between 2001 and 2008. The final report of a fact-finding committee headed by eminent South African jurist John Dugard concluded that during Cast Lead “mosques, and more particularly the minarets, had been deliberately targeted on the grounds that they symbolized Islam,” while testimony by IDF soldiers who served in Gaza during Cast Lead confirmed the indiscriminate targeting of mosques.[10]   If it is going to quote official Israeli pretexts for the wholesale—indeed, Kristallnacht-like—assault on Islamic houses of worship, shouldn’t Amnesty also have noted that in the past they proved to be spurious?

Power Plant. Israel repeatedly attacked Gaza’s only power plant during OPE. The attacks exacerbated already severe electricity blackouts and devastated water, sanitation and medical services. This was not the first time Israel had attacked Gaza’s only power plant. In 2006, it launched multiple missile strikes precisely targeting the plant’s transformers. B’Tselem (Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories) deemed the 2006 attack a “war crime.”[11]  Amnesty states that the attack on Gaza’s power plant during OPE “could amount to a war crime,”[12] but then hastens to enter this qualification: “An Israeli brigadier-general denied that Israel had targeted the power plant intentionally, but did not rule out the possibility that it was hit by mistake.” If Amnesty quoted the brigadier-general’s predictable denial, couldn’t it also have taken note that in the past Israel did intentionally target the very same power plant? “The power plant’s location was well known,” the FIDH delegation meanwhile concluded after visiting Gaza. “Repeated strikes…and the refusal [by Israel] to guarantee the security of the plant do not support the assertion that these strikes were accidental.”[13]

[1]“If Palestinian armed groups violated international humanitarian law by storing munitions near the hospital, and this was what Israel was targeting when it struck the hospital and killed civilians, serious concerns about the manner and execution of Israel’s attack would remain.”

[2]Medical Fact-Finding Mission, pp. 50-51; see also FIDH, Trapped and Punished, p. 44.

[3] 2014 Gaza Conflict, para. 129.

[4]Finkelstein, “This Time,” pp. 73-76.

[5]Norman G. Finkelstein, Beyond Chutzpah: On the misuse of anti-Semitism and the abuse of history, expanded edition (Berkeley: 2008), pp. 128-30.

[6]Amnesty International, “Evidence of Medical Workers and Facilities Being Targeted by Israeli Forces in Gaza” (7 August 2014); Medical Fact-Finding Mission, pp. 44-49; FIDH, Trapped and Punished, pp. 32-38.

[7]An Israeli document reprinted in 2014 Gaza Conflict brazenly purports that, up until the last two days of OPE, “the IDF has refrained from causing damage to schools,” while the report itself states that Israel targeted schools in only “a very few cases” (p. 176, paras. 281, 404).

[8]The totality of sources cited reads:

Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hamas’ Violations of the Law of War, pp. 20, 23.

Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hamas’ Violations of the Law, p. 25, IDF, Declassified Report Exposes Hamas Human Shield Policy, slide 13.

Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hamas’ Violations of the Law, pp. 20, 22, IDF, Declassified Report Exposes Hamas Human Shield Policy, slide 14.

Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hamas’ Violations of the Law, pp. 20-21.

Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hamas’ Violations of the Law, pp. 20-26.

[9]2014 Gaza Conflict falsely states that, according to the UN Board of Inquiry, “at the time the weapons were found” in one of the three schools, it “sheltered approximately 300 Gazans” (p. 82 (caption), para. 280).

[10]Finkelstein, “This Time,” pp. 66-67, 252-53nn69-73, 75-76.

[11]B’Tselem, Act of Vengeance: Israel’s bombing of the Gaza power plant and its effects (Jerusalem: 2006).

[12]In a press release it issued during OPE, Amnesty stated that the attack “very likely” amounted to a “war crime” (“Gaza: Attacks on UN school and power plant are likely war crimes,” 30 July 2014).

[13]FIDH, Trapped and Punished, pp. 48-52.


#Amnesty International, #Israel-Palestine Conflict, #Israel, #Palestine, #Norman Finkelstein