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NGO News in Brief

By NGO Monitor
September 3, 2008

Free Gaza

Focus: EU funded NGOs lead Hamas-supported Gaza boat stunt 

On August 23, 2008, 44 NGO officials that formed the Free Gaza Movement, finally reached Gaza on two boats, declaring their goal of “breaking the siege.”  Under the façade of “humanitarian aid,” these fringe activists, promoted the campaign by referring to Israel as “Palestine,” its creation as the “Nakba” (catastrophe), and and accuse Israel of “ethnic cleansing.” The organizers included the EU-funded Israel Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) and the International Solidarity Movement (ISM).   

While claiming to be a human rights mission, the primary goal was to generate publicity. The stunt was supported by Hamas leaders, who seek unconditional access to supplies without being forced to end terror attacks or its internal repression.   Israel allowed the two small boats to reach Gaza, and the reported budget of over $550,000 resulted in a token delivery of humanitarian aid. The major human rights violations by Hamas against the residents of Gaza and Israeli civilians were never mentioned. ICAHD founder, Jeff Halper, admitted, “This trip wasn’t humanitarian….it was political,” dismissing complaints from Gaza residents about a lack of substantial aid. Halper, who was given Palestinian citizenship during his stay, was arrested upon his return to Israel for illegally entering Gaza.  

Other political NGOs added their endorsements, including the EU-funded Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), Pax Christi UK and the Irish government-funded Alternative Information Center (AIC), as well as support and promotion from Amnesty International and FIDH (see statement).


In his article “Showboating over Gaza,” (The Guardian. August 28, 2008) Ambassador Ron Prosor, wrote:

    “The protesters came ashore with enough hot air to fill the 5,000 balloons they’d brought for the children of Gaza. They also delivered 200 hearing aids. Yet their silence regarding Hamas's abuse of its own people, let alone Israeli civilians, has been deafening.” 


See also: “Ship of Fools,” Dan Kosky, Jerusalem Post, August 27, 2008:

    Excerpt: “The Israeli government commendably recognized the agenda of the Free Gaza organizers and denied them the confrontation which they so desired. European governments must internalize this important lesson. NGOs are guilty of manipulating the rhetoric of human rights, betraying genuine humanitarian principles in the process. Yet the European governments, whose money legitimizes this practice, are also complicit. So long as they continue to support radical NGOs, charades such as Free Gaza will continue.” 


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Amnesty's Gaza campaign: Ideology vs. human rights

Amnesty International has renewed and amplified its biased political campaign of anti-Israel condemnations regarding Gaza. On August 12, 2008, AI released a statement headlined “Trapped – collective punishment in Gaza.” An expanded version was re-issued on August 27, 2008. As NGO Monitor analysis has demonstrated, the report lacks evidence and credibility, largely ignores the context of terrorism, exploits international legal terminology, and presents data in a highly selective and distorted manner. Amnesty’s stated reason for this political campaign is that “Gaza has fallen off the international news agenda a false and irrelevant explanation, which highlights the core biases in Amnesty's closed decision making process.

In addition, on August 15, 2008, Amnesty International’s highly prejudicial press release condemned the IDF for its “so-called investigation” into the death of a Reuters cameraman in Gaza. In justifying this statement, Donatella Rivera, Amnesty’s “researcher” for the entire region, made claims to have specific knowledge of “the sophisticated optical systems” in Israeli tanks that, in her opinion, invalidated the very detailed IDF report. In this response, it is clear that Amnesty did not have access to the 17-page report which has not been published, and Rivera has again relied entirely on press reports and other secondary sources whose credibility could not be established.


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Double Standards: NGO statements on war in the Caucuses compared to 2006 Lebanon War 

During the 2006 Lebanon War, NGO Monitor systematically documented unjustified condemnations of Israel made by NGO superpowers such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch's (HRW), through terms such as “deliberately targeting” of civilians and “disproportionate” attacks. Based on questionable "eyewitness" testimonies, Amnesty demanded an arms embargo against Israel, while HRW asked the US to stop supplying cluster munitions.

In contrast, during the Georgia-Russia War of August 2008, Amnesty International issued carefully phrased,statements with no direct accusations against either party in the conflict. In their documents, Amnesty limply repeated “concern[] that some of the bombardments during the conflict may have amounted to indiscriminate or direct attacks on civilians, which are war crimes.” Even evidence of war crimes was similarly qualified: “Given the scale of the destruction and the reported heavy civilian casualties in Tskhinvali and Gori, there are concerns that these attacks may have amounted either to indiscriminate, or deliberate targeting of civilians.” The term “collective punishment” was not employed, and even though Amnesty complained that humanitarian aid was delayed, neither Russia nor Georgia was identified as responsible. In addition, the Amnesty reports on this conflict, like those related to Israeli responses to terrorism, often relied on press reports, reflecting the absence of a credible and independent research capability.

Human Rights Watch, in contrast, stated outright that both Georgia and Russia “used indiscriminate force” in the war. HRW also condemned Russia for its use of cluster bombs and Ossentian militias for attacks against ethnic Georgians. However, HRW’s statements did not go to the extremes used in condemning Israeli policieis in the 2006 Lebanon war and in response to the violence in Gaza, including terms such as “collective punishment.”


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Adalah protests closure of charity allegedly linked to Hamas 

On August 24, 2008, Israeli police raided the Umm el-Fahm offices of the Al-Aksa Institute, due to “suspicions that the organization was collaborating with Jerusalem-based Hamas commanders.” Adalah, which is funded and supported by the New Israel Fund (NIF) and the European Union, demanded that Minister of Defense Ehud Barak reverse the closure, arguing that “these steps constitute a violation of the rights to freedom of expression, religion and association to the association’s members and to the Arab minority in Israel in general.” 

For more on NIF's funding for Adalah, see Be aware: not all Israeli charities are equal, Dan Kosky, Jewish Chronicle, August 1, 2008  


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Swiss Caritas -- double standards  

According to news reports, the Swiss branch of Caritas (a Catholic charity with a history of pro-Palestinian campaigning) will halt funding of Wadi e.V., a German NGO, after this group asserted that a military strike against Iran could be a possible solution to threats against Israel’s existence. Officials were quoted as saying that the “decision was prompted by political statements on the Wadi Web site ‘that from our perspective intensify’ the Mideast conflict and are ‘not in keeping with our own views.’” In response, Wadi noted that in contrast to this policy, Caritas supports Badil, the European-funded Palestinian NGO that lobbies for the “right of return” and supports boycotts against Israel. 

Wadi e.V. has been operating in Iraq since 1993, primarily campaigning against violence towards women. In Israel, Wadi partners with Women Against Violence, an Arab organization based in Nazareth “dedicated to helping Arab women in Israel who are victims of gender-based violence.” 


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Gisha’s tendentious radio advertisement rejected  

Gisha, a small Israel-based political NGO (funded by the New Israel Fund, European governments, and others) which is leading a campaign opposing Israeli policy in Gaza, sought to run advertisements promoting its ideology on the publicly owned Israel Radio. The advertisement was rejected by the Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA), citing regulations against “politically controversial” ads. According to an IBA official, an ad by a right-wing group was also rejected on the same grounds. In August 2008, the Israeli High Court of Justice upheld the IBA’s policy. 

Gisha has appealed the decision by the IBA, claiming the campaign “articulates uncontroversial norms” and that Israel has a “duty . . . to facilitate the realization of aspirations for those seeking to pursue education.” As with previous campaigns on the issue of Gaza, Gisha’s distortion of human rights issues erases the context of mass terror and Israel’s legitimate security concerns.  


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Durban Review Conference: African Prepcon highlights racist agenda 

On August 24-26, 2008, the African Regional Preparatory Meeting for the Durban Review Conference was held in Abuja, Nigeria. NGOs were offered grants of up to $2000 to attend. The “Preliminary document” of the final declaration of the regional conference ignores specific human rights abuses in Africa, including genocide in Darfur, yet singles out “the plight of the Palestinian people” for concern (paragraph 28). Additionally, in discussing “religious hatred,” the African countries list “anti-Semitism, Christianophobia and, more particularly, Islamophobia” (paragraph 20, emphasis added). According to UN Watch, after the meeting in Nigeria “Durban II is looking more and more like the original Durban debacle of 2001.”


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PCHR vs. “partisan media” in intra-Palestinian conflict; Promotes “apartheid” rhetoric 

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) expressed “dismay” over the “handling of its reports and materials by partisan media outlets” in the intra-Palestinian conflict between Hamas and Fatah. According to its press release, PCHR stands for “objectivity,” “truth,” and has always criticized “incitement, hatred, and fanaticism.” 

At the same time, PCHR also supports the radical Free Gaza Movement’s boat trip, uses the term “apartheid” in an attempt “to raise awareness of the illegal and brutal behavior of the Israeli occupying force,” and pursues an on-going campaign of pressing criminal and civil suits against Israeli military officials for anti-terror measures. 


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PHR-I extends attacks on Israel's Gaza policies 

On August 4, 2008, Physicians for Human Rights – Israel (PHR-I) published an 85-page report, “Holding Health to Ransom: GSS Interrogation and Extortion of Palestinian Patients at Erez Crossing” claiming that Israeli security agents denied life-saving health care to patients from Gaza unless they informed on family and friends. As NGO Monitor analyses have shown, the media’s uncritical coverage of PHR-I and its report demonstrates the power of the “halo effect.”  Previous false claims by PHR-I were ignored, unverifiable evidence was accepted at face-value, and the highly political nature of the NGO went unmentioned.

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