Sunday, December 27, 2015

HRW non-in depth examination of war crimes in the Gaza conflict of 2014 Part 5 of 5

Human Rights Watch as war criminals

Helping criminals avoid justice is a criminal offense in its own right. It is known as accessory after the fact. And when that crime is a war crime, those who help the perpetrators avoid justice, should be regarded as war criminals as well.  There are several reasons why this entire account, of all three incidents is an accessory to the war crime committed by Islamic Jihad against their people at Rafah, on August 3rd, 2014, in front of the Preparatory 'A' Boys' School.

1.       This is what it does. By focusing their investigations and the resulting accusations only against Israel and the IDF, they build a mindset were Israel is the only guilty party to be considered. This mindset turns people away from the possibility of a Palestinian responsibility.

2.       According to their account they were there on August 3rd, the day it happened, and they could not see it?? They investigated, gathered information, build a picture of the events that took place in that horrible day, and nothing? The details of Islamic Jihad's crime are in the account and testimonies they collected, and they could not see it? Kids are outside the safety of a public shelter after the collapse of a cease fire and as far as HRW is concern it is as mundane as buying ice-cream on Venice Beach, California? Even if there was no criminal intention behind this, how could human rights activists of all people be indifferent to it?

3.       Nameless 45. Nameless 45 is one of the perpetrators of this war crime. His age suggests he had some kind of a command function. By treating him as a regular witness they gave him the aura of legitimacy.

4.       Where are the other two witnesses? They promised six witnesses, but published the testimonies of only 4 witnesses. The most noticeably missing testimonies are those of the UN staff that run that school. Why omit them? As employees of the United Nations their testimony is the most valuable there is. Even if HRW is biased against Israel there should be no reason to do that. The relationships between Israel and the UN agencies working in the Gaza Strip, especially UNRAW, are so bad and bitter that the likelihood that the testimony of any of their employees will carry even the slightest favorable view of Israel does not exist. The absence of their testimonies, especially of the UN organizer present at the open front gate at the time leading to the incident, omits only one thing. It omits their side of the debate that took place at that open front gate. The debate between him and the three volunteers. These volunteers did not share the nature of that debate, nor where they asked about it. If they were a part of a criminal activity that took place there, then they certainly had a good reason to hide this. But what were the reasons HRW investigators had to hide this debate or ignore it? Isn't it necessary background, like the family that asked nameless 45 for an extra gallon of water, or the heat and humidity of that day?

5.       This is the best way to cover up a crime. What is the best way for corrupt criminal investigators to cover - up a crime? What is their best way to hide the identity of the criminal actually responsible for the crime? The best way to do that is by not asking a single question that can raise that suspicion.
Look at what they did, and look at what they did not do. They were able to ask a common sense question criticizing the Israeli side but were unable to ask common sense question that criticizes the Palestinian side. On one hand they were puzzled by the IDF's decision to take out that motorcycle at that specific time and place. On the other hand, they were undisturbed by the presence of kids outside the safety of their shelter during wartime. One sided questioning does not make any sense, unless some kind of bias is involved. But it is more than just bias, because each of these questions leads to a different place.
Asking the IDF why it chose that time and place to fire at that motorcycle is a legitimate question. One that has an answer, there was no choice. Fast moving objects are simply difficult to hit. There is no reason to believe the drone did not try to hit it before; after all the motorcycle was running away from it. But only when it slowed down, the missile was able to catch it. There was no option to take out the motorcycle after it slowed down because this could have been a part of getaway maneuver. The presence of a getaway vehicle over there shows that indeed it was.
On the other hand the question not been asked of the Palestinian side leads to more questions. Why the gate was open after the collapse of the cease fire, and the sighting of the drone? What the ice-cream and sweats vendors were doing out there, tempting the kids to step into a likely danger zone, especially when they couldn't make a profit? The answer to these questions requires an investigation that digs out more details from this account. These details portray the most probable explanation regarding that horrific day. According to this explanation, members of an armed Palestinian group, most likely Islamic Jihad, operated inside that school. Acting as volunteers they kept the gate open with the ice-cream vendors outside in order to tempt children to leave the safety of that shelter. Their plan was to use some of those kids in the escape maneuver of their friends on the escaping motorcycle.  They wanted the drone to site the children in order to have it cancel the pursuit. Whether the drone operators were able to spot them in time or not, is needed to be investigated. But one thing is without any question. If it had not been for the Islamic Jihad cell working inside that UN run school all those kids (and adults), would have been alive and well today. In HRW account there is not a single reference to that possibility. Every word, every phrase, every sentence, and every question leads away from that possibility.  A possibility that once dug out of this account becomes the best explanation to this murderous incident, if not the only one.  HRW treatment of the horrific events of August 3rd 2014 in Rafah is simply a cover-up. It functions as a cover-up, it is constructed as a cover-up, and it produced a cover-up. Therefor it is extremely likely, if not certain, that it was intended to be a cover-up. A cover-up that helps war criminals avoids justice by removing any suspicion from them.

6.       What's the rush?  On August 11th Sarah Leah Whitson, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, North Africa and Middle East Division, wrote a public letter to US secretary of state John Kerry. The letter demanded from the United – States to place severe punishments on Israel. This was before their investigation was complete. As the account reviewed here says, they visited the Beit Hanoun School on August 12, 13, and 29. And the Jablya school at August 13. The only investigation they did complete was the one in Rafah, on August 3. This raises the suspicion that Israel's guilt was decided in advance.  Thus shedding a negative light on all previous investigations. By the nature of their work human rights activists are in-charge on one of the most ethically demanding subject of modern lives. Here however they had violated the most basic of ethical codes by pre-determining guilt before an investigation is completed. Why would, intelligent persons do that?  This could be a simple case of over confidence, which again sheds negative light on all previous investigations.  But working under the shadow of criminal complicity is a more powerful motivation. The sooner they can point the finger at Israel, the sooner they can point the finger away from themselves.
Sarah Leah Whitson,
 Human Rights Watch Director of Middle East and North Africa division
7.       HRW's poor criticism of Islamic Jihad. Historically HRW had criticized Israel, a lot, and offered some criticism of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. But there is very little criticism in their archives of the Islamic Jihad. This is strange and puzzling since it is the third largest Palestinian military organization, and second largest official organization in the Gaza Strip. With an estimate of 8,000 fighters it is far smaller than Hamas, but significantly bigger than the DFLP (Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine), and the PLFP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine). Yet, it had been the subject of the same amount of criticism as these two small organizations, little to nothing between 2002 and the end of Operation Protective Edge.

8.       A letter of self-incrimination. The content of Sarah Leah Whitson's letter can serve as a verification of these charges. In this letter she begins by accusing both sides of human rights violations. What is incriminating is the kind of actions she wants the United States and the world to take. On one hand she calls on the United States to limit the military technologies given to Israel. Technologies Israel is using to successfully defend its citizens. On the other hand she calls for the removal of all barriers over the transportation of goods and commerce into the Gaza Strip. An act that will allow Hamas and Islamic Jihad to get better military technologies, allowing them to violate more human rights. If both sides are violators of human rights, shouldn't there be restrictions on both of them? If her recommendation were to be implemented it will be more difficult for Israel to protect its civilians, and easier for Hamas and Islamic Jihad to kill them. She is literally offering aid to the Gaza based armed Palestinian organizations in violating the human rights of Israelis. If she can do that, what is keeping her from helping them violate the human rights of Palestinians?

9.       The actual series of events vs. the actual series of investigations. Is this entire account a case of gross incompetence or criminal complicity on behalf of Human Rights Watch? So far this review has argued that it is a cover up. A cover up that helps members of Islamic Jihad evade war crimes charges regarding a war crime they committed against their own people. Islamic Jihad's guilt cannot be disputed. However, HRW culpability could be simply a case of gross incompetence.  Such cases, of mind boggling illogical and stupendously amateurish decision making processes, are known to have happened throughout history. They happened to governments and militaries, banks and corporations, associations of various kinds, and religious institutions. Just as it happened to them it could happen to any human rights organization. No type of organization is immune. If this is the case here, then they are so incompetent that they are acting as if they are guilty of covering up someone else's war crime. It is certainly a possibility, but a weak one. The first thing that points to a cover up rather than incompetence is the actual series of investigations. The account describes each of the tragic events in their order of occurrence.  First is what happened in the coeducational elementary school in Beit – Hanoun, on July 24. This is followed by the Jablaya girls` school tragedy from July 30. And concludes with the attack on the motorcycle, outside the Preparatory 'A' Boys' School in Rafah on August 3. This lineup supports a scenario of ever growing incompetence. In their account of the tragedy at the UN run school in Beit Hanoun, they showed limited understanding of mortars fire behavior in an urban area, with no necessary supporting technical information. In the Jablaya incident they showed poor understanding of international law. This is a far worse case of ignorance in the material been used, since international law supposed to be their area of expertise.  And in Rafah they could not distinguish between war criminals and witnesses, unable to see what is in front of their eyes. But this is not the order of their investigations. First to be investigated was the Rafah motorcycle attack, on the day it happened, followed by Beit Hanoun, investigated on August, 12, 13, and 29, and Jablaya on August 13. The biggest demonstration of incompetence is the first investigation they made. This raises a great suspicion since the motive to a crime always comes before the crime. According to the cover up accusation, the later bad investigations are a part of the cover up, aimed to consolidate an anti – Israel mindset. Therefore it will be logical that the crime been covered up, will be the first investigation.

10.   Growths of the poisoning motive. With the Rafah investigation been the actual first investigation; it's not only stands at the beginning of this process like a motive would, it acts like one. It corrupts the two following investigations in a way where virtually every fault that exists in this investigation is found in either or both of the other two investigations:  A.) All three investigations are incomplete. In the Rafah account they claimed the operators of the Israeli Spike missile could see the children that were heart by the explosion because the Spike missile has an optical guidance system. But failed to show that there was no interference to its field of view from the surrounding urban environment. They also did not explain how come one of the occupants of the targeted motorcycle survived the attack while 12 people, including 8 children, were killed farther away from it. And of course they did not investigated why contrary to common sense the front gate of that shelter was kept open. In the Beit Hanoun account they did not provide any technical information to support their claim that the firing of the mortar shells showed precision. They did not eliminate all the possibilities that point to a Palestinian culpability. Most notably ignoring the possibility of bad maintenance practices. In the Jabalya account they relied mostly on someone else's investigation, the UN. Both investigations accused Israel and the IDF of irresponsible use of force but failed to demonstrate it. Instead the detailed they do provide show that the IDF did went to a great length to save Palestinian lives. And was successful in doing so. The 20 deaths that did occur, tragic though they are, are less than 1% of the 3,200 people sheltering there at the time. Since anything below 1% is most definitely the lowest possible minimum, international law had been implemented here to the letter. International law requires armed forces to minimize the death and harm inflicted on civilians by their weapons. On the other hand, both investigation teams, those of the UN and HRW, did not look for Palestinian mortar positions, even though this was Israel's main argument. That the IDF had fired at mortar position less than 180 meters from this UN run school.  But most importantly neither offered any analysis of the IDF's actions during that attack. Analysis needed to establish the accusation that Israel behaved irresponsibly that day and not as someone attacking mortar positions adjoining the UN run school. When an analysis is done the findings are the exact opposite. Because the smoke and laminations shells Israel is reported to have used are exactly what an attack like this requires when done responsibly. B.) Unprofessional investigation practices. In the Rafah account they investigated the Spike missile and its guidance system, but not the warhead and not the trajectory. Both of which are relevant technical information, relevant to the accusations been made. This had repeated itself in the Bet Hanoun were they failed to provide technical information necessary to support their precision argument.  C.) The specter of bias. This review suggests that HRW is covering up a Palestinian war crime against their people. At bare minimum this suggests an anti-Israel bias on behalf of HRW. We first came in contact with this suspicion when we read Sarah Leah Whitson letter to the US secretary of state. There she predetermined Israel's guilt before the investigations were complete. With every corky investigation always pointing the finger at Israel, the specter of that bias follows their entire account. But it is especially noticeable in the Beit Hanoun account. In this investigation they did not do a lot of the things required in order to substantiate their accusations. Yet, they spent three days investigating there. What were they doing there when they were not doing their job?  D.) Abusing the human rights of Israelis.  This entire account and the conduct it represents is an abuse of the ideals of human rights but it also contain specific threats to the human rights of Israelis. This threat first appears in Sarah Leah Whitson letter to the US secretary of state. There she calls for restriction to be imposed on Israel, while removing restrictions from Hamas. Needless to be repeated, should this be implemented it will be more difficult for the Israeli defense forces to defend the lives of Israelis, and easier for Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other armed Palestinian groups to harm, kill, and murder Israeli civilians. We also see such a threat in the Jabalya account. There HRW introduces an interpretation of international law that gives legal protection to Palestinian fighters. It is a legal protection given to areas and places adjoining UN shelters. With that protection they can launch every military action they want; against the Israeli military, as well as against Israeli civilians, with impunity.    E.) Abusing the human rights of Palestinians. As bad as the abuse of the human rights of Israelis is, the abuse of the human rights of Palestinians is far worse. As said above, the interpretation of international law they presented in the Jabalya account allows ordinary Palestinians to be used as human shields. That is far worse than just putting them at risk. It is placing them in immediate danger. Much like Islamic Jihad did in Rafah, the crime HRW is accused of covering up. Even the Beit Hanoun investigation constitutes an abuse of human rights. People had died there, needlessly so. And their death deserves more than this botched job. Here we see the demonstration of a known universal truth regarding human rights. That when we allow one party to violate the human rights of one group, we open the door for the violations of the human rights of members of other groups. The hard bitter lesson is that what is true about the various brunches of the government and military is true just the same when it comes to human rights organizations.      

11.   Establishing bias. It is the bias that points away from incompetence and towards culpability more than any other suspicious characteristic of this account. The first thing that can be said about this bias is that it cannot be denied. Here, even incompetence cannot make excuses. In her letter Sarah Leah Whitson recognizes that in order to protect civilians, access to weapons and technologies should be limited.  But this recognition is an extremely selective recognition. As said above, even though Sarah Leah Whitson and HRW recognize that Hamas activities also harm civilians, they do not call for any restrictions over Hamas' access to weapons and technologies.  On the contrary, they want all existing restrictions to be removed. An act that will give Hamas access to more weapons and technologies that will harm more Israeli civilians. Are we to understand that when it comes to Israel they are intelligence enough to understand the impact of these restrictions, but when it comes to Hamas they are inept enough not to understand the impact of removing similar restrictions? This selectiveness goes deeper than that. It also ignores the fact that Israel is using its weapons and technologies to defend its citizens. Importantly but separately, this shortcoming is a part of a chronic problem that HRW has; the one that ignores the existence of hard heart wrenching dilemmas in times of war, where life vs life decisions have to be made. (See the background part, at the beginning of this review). As for Sarah Leah Whitson's type of selectiveness, this one is literally a characteristic of the entire account. In the Jabalya account the HRW investigators fully acknowledge the dense urban nature of most of the Gaza Strip. It is their main argument against Israel's using 155mm artillery shells in the urban environment of the Gaza Strip. But when the same reality of the war provides a defense to the Israeli side, this reality evaporates into a condition of not been mentioned or investigated. We saw that in the Beit Hanoun account, where the witnesses at the UN run school could not have seen whoever fired the mortar rockets at them because of the urban nature of the area, (unless unique and unusual conditions of visibility existed, none of which are provided.)  And we saw that in the Rafah account.  Here they argued that the Israeli drone operators could see the children near the targeted motorcycle, since the Israeli Spike missiles have an optical guidance system. But they did not address the possibility that the presence of trees and buildings near that school could have blocked that view. In the Jabalya account they are intelligent enough to notice what is there for everyone to see. But in accounts of Beit Hanoun and Rafah, where the same features provide a defense for Israel, they are too inept to see the very streets they walked through, when headed to investigate those UN run schools. This is an absurd that repeats itself with the technical data, (information regarding the weapons and munitions used, and their capabilities). When we examine the role of this information in these accounts we see the same contradiction. We are given a detailed description of capabilities, impact, and risks of the 155mm shells involved in the Jabalya tragedy. (This is very useful in order to understand what had happened. But it does not contradict the Israeli version; since the main debate there is over the interpretation of international law). On the other hand we have a complete lack of such information regarding the mortars used in the Beit Hanoun tragedy. In this case they claimed the rockets showed precision without giving the information from which they reached that conclusion. They also did not explain how they could make such a deduction based on just four rockets, and without identifying the intended target. With mortars the level of precision is determined based on the distances of the shells' hit points from the intended target.  The greater the number of hits that are closer to the intended targets the more precise the mortar is. But a large number of hits are needed in order to make that determination. Not doing that and not being able to identify the type of rockets, 120mm or 81mm, suggests a lack of professionality. Yet they are professional enough to identify the 155mm artillery shells of Jabalya and the Spike missile of Rafah. Again, whenever a piece of information may leads to an exoneration of Israel, incompetence reigns supreme. Selective incompetence is a proof of bias, and bias is a calculated act. But even bias can be blind to what is in front of it, and all around it. It is the very nature of the most extreme forms of bias. 
12. The final incriminating bias. The selectiveness demonstrated by HRW does not end here. When we look deeper into their treatment of technical information we find a greater absurd. They offer us the technical details regarding the Spike missile, and its guidance system, but not its warhead, and not its trajectory. The selectivity is practiced within a single investigation of the only weapon been studied.  This leads to the forth area of selectivity, the area of the 'could have beens'. We came across one case of a 'could have', earlier in this review. In the Beit Hanoun account HRW argued that the presence of Israeli tanks in the vicinity of the UN run school suggests that this is a place from which mortar rocket could have been fired. And that is enough for them to make it an incriminating argument against Israel. The problem is that there are more cases of 'could have' in this account, where a missing piece of information could support the Israeli side. And at the same time it couldn't, because the reason could is the poorest argument there is, is because for every 'could' there is a 'couldn't'. For example, there is no reason to state, with any degree of confidence, that information regarding the Spike's warhead would exonerate Israel. Perhaps there is a way a warhead can explode in a way that spares one person that is nearby while killing many others that are farther away. It is up to the experts to answer that. The same goes for the information regarding the Spike's optical guidance system. It is possible its field of view was blocked, but there is no way of knowing that for certain without examining its trajectory and the field of view along that path. Based on the currently available information, it is equally possible its field of view wasn't blocked. We do not know that it was; we only know that it could have. Any could have is a T junction. In the Beit Hanoun account HRW claimed Israeli mortar shells were responsible. All their arguments were flawed, and the investigation incomplete. This leaves the actual identity of those who did fire the mortar round, undetermined. It could have been an Israeli source. It could have been a Palestinian one. In Beit Hanoun HRW avoids other field of inquiry that could or couldn't exonerate Israel. The missing technical information could exonerate and show that no precision firing was involved. But there is always a chance no matter how slim that it could do the opposite. The same goes for Palestinian maintenance practices. In the Beit Hanoun account HRW argued that there is no way four Palestinian rockets could veer of target, within the same round. That is another faulty argument. If maintenance conditions are poor this will happen. Since HRW did not investigate this matter, we only that it could exonerate, not that it would. What we have here is a very strange selectivity. One that is completely unnecessary if the intention is just bias. On one hand we have the "could have been" argument that they do use. This is the presence of Israeli tanks in the vicinity of the UN run school in Beit Hanoun. Which HRW declare could have been the source of the mortars that were fired at that school.  This could have been possibility is enough for them to make an argument in support of war crimes allegations against Israel. On the other hand, there is a list of 'coulds' that HRW has completely avoided. Most of them mentioned above. They are integral parts of any investigation of this nature and are fundamental to understanding what has happened. Yet, they are not investigated, not addressed, and are not even mentioned. These raises two questions: first, why ignore these 'coulds'? Since all they suggest is that Israel could be innocent, they also suggest Israel could be guilty.  All a biased HRW author has to do is to phrase the matter in a way that fits his/hers convictions, just like they did with the tanks. Second question, how did they know to avoid these 'coulds' in the first place? There is only one answer to both of these questions. They knew in advance what really had happened. In Beit Hanoun, as well as in Rafah. They knew the Palestinians were responsible for both of these tragedies, and avoided any line of inquiry that led into that conclusion. This is why they avoided all these 'could have beens', and this is how they knew to avoid them in the first place. In Beit Hanoun, the UN run school was hit by Palestinian mortar shells. These shells either fell short of their intended target due to poor maintenance. Or due to mistaken identity, a case of Palestinian friendly fire situation. In Rafah however the picture is clearer. An Islamic Jihad faction, working as volunteers inside the UN run school, lured children outside using ice cream vendors. They willingly and knowingly sacrificed these kids in a failed attempt to rescue three of their comrades that were on that motorcycle. In sacrificing those kids, and causing their deaths, they committed a war crime against their own people. And HRW knowingly covers that up in the abysmal report reviewed here. A cover up that helps the main perpetrators of this war crime escape justice, thus turning HRW personal into accessories to this war crime. 

As Elise Keppler, the acting director of HRW's justice program, had said, "For World's worst crimes, Justice really matters." And for justice to matter it also must have credibility, and implemented on all those who violate human rights, even if they are human rights activists themselves.


Let us not forget the contribution of Hamas


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