by Hugh Fitzgerald
Human Rights Watch has become, under the malign leadership of Kenneth Roth, almost comically one-sided in its endless, and almost always baseless, charges against the state of Israel. For HRW, Israel is a “colonial settler” state, a state that practices “apartheid,” a state that routinely commits “war crimes.” Recently – on July 27 — HRW released its report on the 11-day war in Gaza. While admitting that Hamas, too, may have been guilty of “war crimes,” the report focused most of its attention on Israel. A report on HRW’s charges, and the IDF response, is here: “IDF Says Human Rights Watch Report ‘Recycled Disproven Claims’ to Allege Israeli War Crimes During Hamas Conflict,” by Sharon Wrobel, Algemeiner, July 27, 2021:
The Israeli military rebuffed a Human Rights Watch report published Tuesday [July 27] that accused the IDF of carrying out attacks amounting to “war crimes” during the recent Gaza conflict in May.
According to the report by the international human rights organization, which focused mainly on three strikes it attributed to the IDF, both Israeli forces and Palestinian groups committed war crimes during the 11-day fighting in May.
“We regret that HRW chooses to recycle claims already disproved instead of condemning the blatant violations of international law by Hamas and other terror organizations, such as carrying out military operations from civilian areas including mosques, schools and hospitals, and firing indiscriminately at the Israeli civilian population,” the IDF said.
Hamas deliberately stores its weapons in or next to civilian buildings – school, hospitals, apartment houses, mosques — and also launches rocket attacks from these sites. Thus are the ordinary civilians in Gaza used by Hamas as human shields; the terror group hopes thereby to prevent Israeli attacks on its launching pads and weapons storehouses.
During Operation Guardian of the Walls, terror organizations including Hamas and the Islamic Jihad fired over 4,400 rockets and mortars at Israeli civilians, with 640 of them falling within the Gaza Strip leading to casualties. In response to the rocket barrage, which took the lives of 12 people in Israel, the IDF struck a total of 1,600 military targets, killed about 200 terrorist activists in Gaza, and dismantled more than 60 miles of the Hamas militant group’s tunnel infrastructure.
How does Israel know that it killed 200 “terrorist activists”? Its analysts study the names of those killed – death notices come from various Palestinian sources, including Hamas — and match them with their existing lists of Hamas and PIJ members. It’s not exact; some names of those killed are not published by the Palestinians, but the IDF has a fairly good idea of how many of those dead were terrorists and how many were civilians.
The group’s breakdown of the casualties showed that 16 died as a result of errant rockets that were fired by Hamas but which landed in Gaza. Those deaths included two Fatah operatives, seven people with unknown civilian-combatant status, and seven minors.
Out of the remaining 58 deaths, which were caused by Israeli strikes, 42 were identified as terrorist activists; among the operatives were 30 Hamas militants, 8 Fatah operatives and 3 Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) operatives. The other 16 deaths included six people listed with unknown civilian-combatant status; nine women or minors; and one 67-year-old male civilian.
According to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry, about 250 Palestinians were killed as a result of Israeli attacks.
Hamas could have given out any figure it wanted: 300, 350, 400. Who would be able to check on them? The IDF can calculate the numbers of those killed based on the various death notices that were published in Gaza, but those provide a lower, not an upper limit.
Israeli forces carried out attacks in Gaza in May that devastated entire families without any apparent military target nearby,” alleged Gerry Simpson, associate crisis and conflict director at Human Rights Watch. “Israeli authorities’ consistent unwillingness to seriously investigate alleged war crimes, as well as Palestinian forces’ rocket attacks toward Israeli population centers, underscores the importance of the International Criminal Court’s inquiry.”
Israel thoroughly investigates all charges made against the IDF of “war crimes” and publishes its findings. It has been particularly diligent in responding fully to HRW, as Gerry Simpson has reason to know.
The HRW report published the findings regarding three incidents that it said killed 62 Palestinian civilians.
In response to the first accusation in the HRW report — that an Israeli-guided missile on May 10, shortly after 6 p.m., struck near four houses of the al-Masri family near the town of Beit Hanoun, killing eight civilians, including six children — the IDF reiterated that the strike was a “failed launch attempt by a terror organization in Gaza.” On that day, it has said, the clashes were triggered by Hamas firing rockets towards Jerusalem after a 6 p.m. “ultimatum” elapsed which had called for Israel to withdraw security forces from the Temple Mount.
Hamas began firing rockets toward Israel just after its 6 p.m. ultimatum to Israel expired. And it was just after 6 p.m. that a rocket landed in Gaza, hitting four houses near the town of Beit Hanoun, killing eight civilians. This was hardly a coincidence. The timing suggests that this was a Hamas rocket, launched from Gaza but falling sort and landing near Beit Hanoun.
Regarding the claims of an anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) strike, an IDF examination of the matter found that the IDF did not carry out any strikes in the area at the relevant time, including the use of ATGMs,” the IDF said.
The IDF studied the claim of HRW that the Beit Hanoun casualties were caused by an Israei anti-tank guided missile; it found that no such strikes were carried out in the Beit Hanoun area just after 6 p.m. Of course, the HRW will simply reply that “the IDF is not telling the truth.” How do we know that it is? We know it because we have many decades of reports and communiques from the IDF; they have readily admitted when they made errors; they have not ever been shown to have deliberately lied; Hamas has a very different record of endless deceit.
The Israeli military also published a series of graphics that it said illustrated the trajectory and other details of the errant rocket responsible for the May 10 strike in Beit Hanoun.
According to the second incident, on May 15, the report found that an Israeli guided bomb destroyed a three-story building in the Al-Shati refugee camp, killing ten civilians, including two women and eight children from two related families.
“The IDF carried out a strike against a number of Hamas terror organization senior officials in an apartment used as terror infrastructure in the area of the Al-Shati refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip. Tragically, the strike led to the deaths of civilians. The details are under review,” the IDF said in response.
“Hamas deliberately embeds its military assets in densely populated civilian areas, endangering Gazan civilians in order to cover its unlawful terror activities that put civilians directly in harms way. At the same time, the IDF takes all feasible precautions to avoid harming civilians during its operational activities,” the Israeli army added.
The IDF admits that it hit an apartment in a refugee camp; its target was senior Hamas officials. Unfortunately, some civilians living in close proximity to the Hamas men were also killed. The fault was that of Hamas, which deliberately put its officials’ apartments in the midst of civilian buildings. The IDF said it took “all feasible precautions to avoid harming civilians.” In this case, the IDF likely would not have been able to warn inhabitants through emails, but it might have been possible to do so by telephone, and certainly the IDF would have practiced its “knock-on-the-roof” technique. What more could be expected of it? The IDF has no desire to harm civilians; it not only deplores the loss of life, but is keenly aware of how much such deaths harm Israel’s image. It is Hamas that wants to increase the number of civilian deaths on both sides.
The report also referenced a barrage of Israeli airstrikes on May 16 lasting four minutes, which struck al-Wahda street in Gaza city, causing a three multi-story buildings to collapse, and killing 44. It argued that the Israeli military presented “no details” to support the claim that it was targeting terror tunnels and an underground command center used by armed groups.
What “details” about a network of terror tunnels would satisfy the HRW? Didn’t the IDF release videos of some of the 62 miles of destroyed tunnels?
The IDF said that according to its preliminary findings, Israel aircraft struck Hamas underground military infrastructure located under the Al-Wahda street in the area.
“The underground military facilities collapsed, and caused, in an unexpected manner, the foundations of nearby civilian buildings to collapse as well, leading to unintended casualties. The target of the IDF strike was the underground military infrastructure. The IDF aims to avoid civilian casualties as much as possible. The IDF regrets the harm caused to civilians in the strike and views every civilian death as a tragedy,” the Israeli army said.
When the tunnels were hit in Israeli airstrikes, they collapsed, but in such a way as civilian buildings nearby, close to but not right above the tunnels, also collapsed. This had not been expected by the IDF, which had believed only buildings directly above the tunnels would be damaged. The Israelis promptly announced that “the IDF regrets the harm caused to civilians in the strike.”
In Tuesday’s report, HRW urged the US to condition security assistance to Israel and to take “verifiable actions to improve its compliance with laws of war.”
HRW is not only reporting on what it claims, wrongly and maliciously, are “Israeli war crimes,” but is attempting to fashion American policy toward the Jewish state, telling Washington it should make its security assistance dependent on whether Israel takes “verifiable actions to improve its compliance with the laws of war.” Israel has been taking such “verifiable actions” for decades; it does everything it can to warn civilians away from targeted buildings, by telephone, by email, by the “knock-on-the-roof.” The British commander Richard Kemp, who fought in a half-dozen wars, and led the British forces in Afghanistan, has repeatedly claimed that “no army in the world is more moral than the IDF.” Perhaps HRW would like to read his report on how Israel fights its wars – or more likely, it will make sure to ignore anyone who testifies so convincingly on the IDF’s behalf.
Additionally, HRW charged Palestinian armed groups for “unlawfully” killing civilians in Israel and Gaza by launching thousands of rockets between May 10 and May 21. The group said it would later release a separate report on Palestinian rocket attacks.
Note that HRW ‘s first report on the Gaza war– the one that will get the most media attention – was devoted almost entirely to Israeli “war crimes.” It mentions in passing only that Hamas may have “unlawfully” killed civilians. Why did HRW not use the phrase “war crimes” about Hamas, given that it had no difficulty in using it about the IDF?
HRW says that in its next report, it will focus on Palestinian rocket attacks. By this it means it will look at the firing of rockets by Hamas into civilian areas. Fine. But look what is apparently going to be left out: the deliberate placement of rocket launching pads, and of weapons, by Hamas, inside, or perilously near to, such civilian buildings as schools, hospitals, apartment houses, and mosques. Surely, in deliberately endangering its own civilians in this manner, Hamas is guilty of a “war crime.” But HRW knows that if it raises that issue — of where Hamas hides its weaponry and places its rocket launching pads — it would also help to exculpate the IDF, which needs to attack these targets, even as it does everything humanly possible to minimize harm to civilians, by warning them in advance of its attacks, And that exculpation is something Kenneth Roth and his anti-Israel staff at HRW would never want.
First published in Jihad Watch.