HRW indirectly promotes Israel’s colonial narrative and aggression

Human Rights Watch logo (John MacDougall - AFP)

Ramona Wadi

Middle East Monitor  /  August 25, 2021

There is a stark difference in the language used by Human Rights Watch (HRW) in its April 2017 report which describes Israel as having committed crimes of apartheid, and its more recent July and August reports on Gaza, which cast doubt on whether Israel committed war crimes in its offensives against the enclave. The latter two reports emphasize that Israel “apparently” committed war crimes in Gaza in May this year, thus turning actual crimes into possibilities.

Among its aggressive actions against the Palestinians in Gaza, Israel destroyed four high-rise structures which housed offices and families, thus breaking international humanitarian law which only allows the targeting of military objectives. The Israeli government has alleged that Hamas used the structures for its weapons, yet no evidence has been produced. HRW also stated that it found “no evidence that members of Palestinian groups involved in military operations had a current or long-term presence in any of the towers at the time they were attacked.”

Israel’s attacks on the high-rises have perpetuated yet another cycle of forcibly displaced Palestinians in the enclave, thus also calling into question the proportionality of its attack. The blast and destruction also damaged neighbouring homes; in some cases, this meant their complete destruction.

If visible evidence — and what can be more visible than a residential tower block completely destroyed? — indicates that a war crime has been committed, why does HRW indirectly promote the Israeli “self-defence” narrative by adding “apparently” to its detailed reports?

In stark contrast, Hamas rockets fired towards Israel were not given the benefit of the doubt, even though resistance against military occupation is legitimate in international law. “Launching such rockets to attack civilian areas is a war crime,” a report stated earlier this month. Israel’s precision strikes are much more likely to destroy civilian buildings and thus amount to war crimes, given the flattened buildings and impact on neighbouring blocks, and yet HRW still insists on contributing towards Israeli impunity.

The move is reminiscent of how the UN has normalized Israel’s war crimes at an international level, thus giving the apartheid state the opportunity to test how far it can go in violating international law to suit its colonial agenda. One major shortcoming of the UN is its refusal to consider Israel’s violations from a colonial perspective, followed by the erroneous notion of equivalence between the colonizer and the colonized.

So far only the International Criminal Court (ICC) has clearly called out Israel’s war crimes. The UN failed to follow suit and back the preliminary investigations of the ICC, thus creating dissonance in the international community, which Israel is able to exploit through its lobbying of global leaders and its politicization of the investigations.

It is already a travesty of justice that human rights organizations have to rely on corrupt organizations such as the UN to publicize their findings. Yet, if reports such as HRW’s recent output apply the same discourse which the UN uses routinely to promote Israel’s impunity, what role are human rights organizations fulfilling? Promoting the UN’s narrative when it comes to human rights encroaches upon any possibility of justice for the Palestinian people whose lives have been destroyed in Gaza upon unfounded claims made by Israel.

Ramona Wadi is an independent researcher, freelance journalist, book reviewer and blogger; her writing covers a range of themes in relation to Palestine, Chile and Latin America