Avi Bell, Director of the Global Law Forum, was asked to comment on a recent statement by Amnesty International on the Gaza fighting by Jurist, the legal news and research website at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.

These are his comments as they appeared on the Jurist web site (http://jurist.law.pitt.edu/hotline/2009/01/amnesty-internationals-anti-israel.php):

It is tragic when distinguished human rights organizations soil their reputations by resorting to falsehoods and legal misstatements in the service of political propaganda. Unfortunately, this is the only way to characterize Amnesty International’s January 2 broadside against Israel in an open letter [PDF file] to the US Secretary of State.

Amnesty purports to be "deeply concerned about the escalation of human rights abuses following the series of Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip that began on December 27th," but it fails to mention nearly all of them. Newspaper reports indicate that the Hamas terrorist organization has dispatched death squads to summarily execute Palestinians accused of "collaborating" with Israel. Hamas has seized children and other civilians and illegally used them to shield combatants from attack. It has hidden weapons and combatants in mosques and hospitals, and dressed its combatants in civilian dress in illegal acts of perfidy. Hamas has targeted and murdered Israeli Jews in the service of an explicitly genocidal ideology [PDF file]. Hamas has denied wounded Palestinian civilians permission to cross the border to waiting Egyptian ambulances in Sinai. Hamas has sought to preempt challenges to its post-coup d’etat rule in Gaza by preemptively detaining, maiming and murdering rivals in the Fatah terror group/militia. And, of course, Hamas itself is a terrorist organization to which states must deny material support and safe haven under Security Council Resolution 1373 and various international conventions. Other than a pro forma reference to Hamas’ indiscriminate rocket attacks, Amnesty’s letter mentions none of these facts, nor any of the other human rights abuses Hamas has inflicted upon the Palestinian population under its control in Gaza, such as restrictions on religious practice, speech and due process.

Instead, Amnesty bristles at imaginary Israeli wrongdoing. Amnesty writes that "aid agencies and residents of Gaza have long ago run out of provision reserves due to the Israeli blockade" just two days after the UN’s World Food Program informed the Israel Defense Forces that it would not be resuming shipment of food commodities to Gaza through Israeli crossings because WFP warehouses were already at full capacity. In service of its indefensible claim that Israel is not acting in "legitimate self-defense," Amnesty carefully omits the material fact that the current round of fighting began when Hamas, on December 19, announced an end to the cease-fire and attacked Israeli cities with the declared aim of bringing thousands of Israeli civilians "under fire." In contrast, Israel’s air strikes on Gaza were only commenced 8 days later, in response to the more than 100 Hamas attacks in the preceding week. Amnesty falsely insinuates that Hamas has done no wrong in hiding its combatants within the civilian population, and falsely insinuates that Israel has no legal right to strike at Hamas combat targets in urban areas due to the expected collateral damage. Amnesty falsely insinuates that Israel is not allowing Palestinians passage for medical treatment even as Israel treats Palestinian wounded in Israeli hospitals at Israeli expense. Amnesty accuses Israel of failing to meet the legal requirements of necessity, proportionality and distinction in its combat operations, despite all the evidence to date that Israel is complying fully by solely targeting Hamas positions. And Amnesty implies that because Hamas has thus far failed in its mission of slaughtering mass numbers of Israeli Jews, the rule of proportionality grants Hamas forces near-total immunity from defensive Israeli measures. This perverse interpretation of the rule of proportionality has never been accepted or even proffered in any other conflict in the world, and legal scholars commenting on the fighting thus far, from traditional opponents of Israel to supporters (Kevin Jon Heller, Eric Posner, Alan Dershowitz, Marko Milanovic and Dapo Akande, so far), have universally rejected it.

Amnesty’s attack is not simply Israel’s problem. It is a tragedy for human rights supporters everywhere. By abusing the language of human rights and international law to promote a political agenda based on factual and legal falsehoods, Amnesty International undermines the cause of human rights and international law. Amnesty’s letter seems designed to convince rank-and-file Israelis to ignore international law, because their country will be attacked as guilty no matter what it does. Simulataneously, Amnesty’s letter signals to Hamas and other anti-Israel terrorist groups that they can violate human rights and commit war crimes, yet still enjoy human rights organizations’ de facto support. Unfortunately, Amnesty is not alone in its campaign against the values it purports to uphold; Human Rights Watch too issued an anti-Israel statement on December 30 containing many of the same falsehoods and material omissions as Amnesty’s letter. But Amnesty International’s company in wrongdoing is no excuse; indeed, it makes the need for accuracy all the more pressing.

Shame on Amnesty International. The many Palestinian and Israeli victims of Hamas’s war crimes and crimes against humanity deserve better.