Human Rights Overlooked

Respected NGO Blames the Victims

I have never been able to bring myself to trust anyone who claims to have saved a Jew from the SS. The fact is that the Jews were not saved … no one took the steps necessary to save them, even themselves. – Simon Wiesenthal, 1967.


In a questionable interpretation of international humanitarian law, Human Rights Watch released a self-contradictory press release on Nov. 22, criticizing the nonviolent resistance of Palestinian civilians gathered to protect homes from Israeli military strikes.

The statement appears to be ignoring the all-encompassing realities of the so-called “Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” which could be described as a euphemism in a situation that seems to have more in common with an oppressive, apartheid regime of suffering that Palestinians have been enduring for decades.

The HRW press release does not condemn nonviolent resistance per se. Yet, by labeling nonviolent civilian resistance “human shields,” it confusingly implies the manipulation of civilians by Palestinian armed groups.

This undermines the political significance of the action, and denies the moral power of non-violence over military aggression.

By ignoring reports that the gatherings around civilian buildings – clearly excluded as military targets by the Geneva Convention – were to a large extent in response to “calls by civilian leaders and a groundswell of popular anger against Israeli home demolitions,” as reported by the International Solidarity Movement, the press release appears to equate collective and peaceful Palestinian resistance with Israeli strikes on civilian targets.

Jonathan Cook, the author of Blood and Religion: The Unmasking of the Jewish and Democratic State, in an op-ed for says HRW is mocking its mandate by “[losing] sight of the three principles that must guide the vision of a human rights organization: a sense of priorities, proper context, and common sense.”

It is rational to expect that lethally oppressive policies will be confronted through both violent and nonviolent resistance, just as in apartheid South Africa, and in any other context when one’s existence is threatened.

Ironically HRW – one of the flagships of human rights organizations in the West – seems to be looking at the resistance to what is effectively an apartheid regime similar to that of South Africa, with a “business as usual” attitude.

Cook nailed it down in one sentence: “On HRW’s interpretation, Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela would be war criminals.”

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