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Focus: The NGO Front in the Gaza War (NGO Monitor)

January 2009 Digest (Vol. 7, No. 5)


Focus: The NGO Front in the Gaza War

Lawfare Update: EU-Funded PCHR Behind Spanish War Crimes Case

Durban Review Update: Currently, Insufficient funding for NGO participation

NGO Monitor in the Media: Extensive coverage during the Gaza fighting

Focus: The NGO Front in the Gaza War


NGOs deny pro-Palestinian bias in BBC confrontation

Following the Gaza war, the BBC and Sky News refused to air a television appeal on behalf of Palestinian victims by the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) on the grounds that it would jeopardize the broadcasters’ impartial and objective stance on the conflict. According to the BBC’s director general Mark Thompson, "no matter how carefully couched, [broadcasting the appeal] ran the risk of calling into question the public’s confidence in the BBC’s impartiality in its coverage of the story as a whole." DEC’s 13 members include British NGOs Oxfam, Christian Aid, Save the Children, and World Vision, whose one-sided campaigns, as seen in NGO Monitor’s detailed reports, reflected their strong bias.

During the fighting, Oxfam claimed that "[t]he international community must not stand aside and allow Israeli leaders to commit massive and disproportionate violence against Gazan civilians in violation of international law."  Similarly, Christian Aid campaigned against the upgrade of EU-Israel relations; its director, Daleep Mukarji, declared, "[i]t is inconceivable that we should extend further benefits of European partnership to a government that violates international humanitarian law and refuses negotiation in favour of continued violence."

The BBC and Sky News’ decision was controversial in the UK, and was widely reported by international media.  Christian Aid attempted to defend its "impartiality," claiming that it has, "always been unequivocal in its support for the security of Israel and the rights of all Israeli people to live safely and securely" and "our development and humanitarian relief reaches Palestinian and Israeli; Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities."  However, NGO Monitor analyses, including the statement above, demonstrate Christian Aid’s highly politicized approach which disproportionately focuses on alleged Israeli "violations" and minimizes the impact of Palestinian terrorism. 

NGO statements repeat false claims on UNRWA School incident

NGOs widely reported the reports of 43 civilian deaths in Jabalya, Gaza on January 6, 2009 -- most claiming that they were killed in an UNRWA school.  However, according to a detailed investigation  (Patrick Martin, "Account of Israeli attack doesn’t hold up to scrutiny," Globe and Mail, January 29, 2009), quoting  John Ging, UNRWA’s operations director in Gaza,  "all three Israeli mortar shells landed outside the school and … ’no one was killed in the school.’"

Although a minority of NGOs reported the facts accurately, many NGOs misrepresented the situation to demonize Israeli actions and justify intensified condemnations.  The contradictions between NGO accounts also indicate a readiness to publish unverifiable and unreliable information that demonizes Israel.

  • Adalah, Al Mezan, and Al-Haq (press release – January 13, 2009) asserted that one of the missiles "landed in the school yard, killing 40 people." Defence for Children International – Palestine Section (DCI-PS) alleged that the school "was targeted with three shells" and only one of the shells landed outside the school (on an adjacent house, according to DCI-PS). Both of these accounts were contradictied in Patrick Martin’s account.
  • The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) "harshly condemned...the shelling of the UNRWA school yesterday that serves as a shelter for many civilians who had fled the fighting" (Press release – Hebrew – January 7, 2009).
  •  B’Tselem inaccurately reported that the Israeli army "attack[ed]" and "fired a mortar shell at an UNRWA school."
  • Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-I) repeated an unreliable testimony that the "UNRWA school was shelled."
  •  PCHR claimed that the "IOF are targeting schools."
  • The Palestinian NGO Network (PNGO) accused Israel of "bomb[ing] schools, even those which were topped by the flag of the United Nations."
  •  Ittijah issued a press release entitled "About the Israeli massacre in an UNRWA school – act of destruction" (Hebrew).
  • Miftah published a piece, accusing Israel of "once[ing] the gates of hell to the Palestinians. Forty civilian refugees dead in a United Nations school," "an atrocity on the level of the Balkan wars of the 1990s," surpassing "normal Middle East bloodletting." It also labeled Israeli claims of self-defense as "scandalous fabrications," such as "the Hamas-was-in-the-UN-school lie" and "the anti-Semitism lie." (In 2005-6, Miftah received a grant from the European Commission’s Partnership for Peace Program "to encourage a public and media discourse free of incitement, prejudice and dehumanization of the other.")
  • In a statement to the UN Human Rights Council (January 12, 2009), the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) used the "shelling [of] the UN school in Jabaliya" as the example of "indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks."


PCHR, Amnesty Lead Gaza Lawfare Claims, Ignore Hamas Crimes

Since the 2001 Durban Conference, the NGO strategy of exploiting legal mechanisms to pursue political goals, has been ongoing (see NGO "Lawfare": Exploitation of Courts in the Arab-Israeli Conflict and Lawfare Update).
In the wake of the Gaza War, NGOs (including International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH (France)) are lobbying the UN for either a Security Council referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC) or a General Assembly referral to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).  According to media reports, Amnesty International is transferring files to the ICC Prosecutor regarding alleged "war crimes" committed by Israel.  These reports make no mention of any Amnesty initiative or transferring of files to the ICC Prosecutor regarding Hamas war crimes aided by Iran and Syria.

PCHR (funded by the EU, Denmark, Norway, Ireland, Holland, the Ford Foundation, Open Society Institute and Christian Aid) has declared that it is preparing for lawsuits to be filed abroad and appears to be focusing on filing a case for the killing of  Nizar Rayan, one of the leading architects of Hamas atrocities and who sent his son on a suicide bombing mission in 2001.  An Indian newspaper  reported on January 25, that PCHR is preparing cases in six countries, targeting 87 Israelis for harassment.  In the article, PCHR’s Director claims that "dozens of arrest warrants have already been issued."

Other NGOs calling for lawfare in the wake of the Gaza war include the Alternative Information Center ("Barak and all Israeli Leaders—To the Hague"), Adalah (Statement to the UN Human Rights Council), Amnesty International (Oral Statement to the UN HRC, Open Letter to George Mitchell), Ittijah (Adalah is a coalition member -- January 7, 2009 Press Release), and the Arab Association for Human Rights ("Israel is not above International Law," January 7, 2009 Press Release).  One anonymous group established a website, entitled "Wanted," with pictures of Israeli government and military officials.  The website asks those with "information about the suspect[s] when [they] are outside of the Israeli borders" to contact the Prosecutor of the ICC.  

See NGO Monitor in the Media on Gaza lawfare:

HRF: Increase in anti-Semitic attacks in Europe -- Gaza backlash

Human Right First has identified a rising number of anti-Semitic attacks in Europe, an  “apparent backlash to recent events in Gaza.” These attacks are fueled in part by the obsessive NGO commentary accusing Israel of “war crimes.” A similar trend was noticed during the Second Lebanon War in 2006.  HRF was one of the only NGOs to report on these attacks, in contrast to Human Rights Watch, Oxfam, Amnesty International and others who ignored these hate crimes.

NGO Monitor reports on Gaza

During the fighting in Gaza, and in its aftermath, NGO Monitor compiled over 500 statements made by NGOs during the three weeks of the war; and published numerous reports analyzing NGO activity.

Lawfare Update: EU-Funded PCHR Behind Spanish War Crimes Case

On January 29, 2009, a Spanish judge ordered a "war crimes" investigation against seven Israeli officials, in connection to the death of the head of Hamas’ military wing, Salah Shehadah, in 2002.  Shehadah was responsible for the murder and injury of hundreds of Israelis, including scores of women and children.

The judge’s order was issued in a case filed by PCHR in June 2008, an example of anti-Israel lawfare, whereby NGOs exploit universal jurisdiction statutes in Europe to bring cases in venues with no connection to the events in question, in order to harass Israeli officials.  Under Spanish law, NGOs can file lawsuits calling for criminal investigations without the knowledge or agreement of the Spanish government.  In its filings, PCHR claims that Israel "deliberately" killed 15 bystanders in the Shehadah operation.  PCHR, makes no mention, however, of how Shehadah exploited Gazan civilians by hiding in a residential neighborhood or of how Shehadah was