Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

On Israel, Amnesty shoots first, asks questions later

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As readers of AIJAC's blogs and publications are aware, the NGO Amnesty International (AI) has a track record of bias against Israel.

In December, I blogged about how AI misrepresented the reasons for a fuel shortage in Gaza, preferring to blame Israel instead of the actual reason - that Hamas was refusing to pay the price of fuel that the Palestinian Authority was asking.

(On the day my blog was published, blogger Elder of Ziyon (EoZ) conversed with AI researcher and media liaison Deborah Hyams about AI's reasons for taking the position it took. Her answer - that AI sees all of the Palestinians' problems through the prism of occupation - was especially revealing.)

In addition, it has been revealed that nearly all of AI's researchers and writers on Israel and the Palestinians have a history of anti-Israel activism.

On February 27, AI released a sensationalist report titled "Trigger Happy: Israel's use of excessive force in the West Bank".

This report, perhaps not surprisingly, is also arguably biased against Israel. This is not because of the subject matter - it is certainly legitimate to examine the way the IDF uses force - but both in the way that it singles Israel out for intense scrutiny compared to other countries and because of the double standard AI has used against the IDF in determining what constitutes excessive force.

The bias begins with the very name of the report. As EoZ noted, AI has never used the term "trigger happy" as the title of a report or to describe the acts of a military of a country besides Israel.

"In contrast, in Egypt earlier this year, in a single day, over 54 protesters were killed. since July there have been nearly 1500 killed by Egyptian security forces. They are not called 'trigger happy' by Amnesty.

In the Ukraine, more than 70 protesters were killed last week. Amnesty did not call Kiev's police 'trigger happy.'

Venezuela killed 11 protesters in the past couple of weeks. Nothing about them being called 'trigger happy' by Amnesty."

EoZ also illustrated AI's bias through the exhausting amount of detail the NGO gave to each Palestinian fatality it recorded in its report.

"This report on Israel killing (by Amnesty's count) 22 civilians in 2013 is 87 pages long. It goes into detail about every single one of those deaths, humanizing the victims and interviewing multiple friends of each, all in an attempt to paint Israel in the worst light possible.

Amnesty's report about Egyptian repression since July 2013, where 1400 people were killed, is only 49 pages long. It only provides details on a few specific cases, and most of those aren't even for people being killed but for other violations of human rights.

The watchdog group NGO Monitor has slammed AI over the report.

NGO Monitor noted that AI's Secretary General Salil Shetty recently acknowledged that "we are not an expert (sic) on military matters. So we don't want to, kind of, pontificate on issues we don't really understand."

If AI isn't an expert on military matters, it begs the question what standard the NGO is using to decide whether the IDF had reason to use lethal force. The answer can be found in its discussion of a clash between an IDF unit and Palestinian rioters on August 26, 2013 that resulted in three Palestinian deaths.

That incident stands out, because Palestinians recorded their intensely violent ambush on IDF vehicles on video and uploaded it to YouTube.

About this incident, AI wrote:

"Although the army stated that Palestinians were posing a danger to Israeli soldiers' lives when the latter opened fire, the fact that one soldier only was lightly injured in the incident inevitably raises the question whether the Israeli soldiers who used live ammunition gunfire against the Palestinians protesters acted proportionately or resorted to the use of lethal force when this was not justified."

Apparently, the only time that AI believes that lethal force against attacking Palestinians can be justified is in cases when an Israeli soldier has already been killed.

Here in Australia, AI's report has been covered so far by the Australian, the Herald Sun (print only), and two ABC journalists: Hayden Cooper for 'The World Today', and Matt Brown for ABC's 7pm news.

Both ABC reports focused on the case of Samir Awad, a 16-year-old Palestinian who, according to news reports, was shot in the back by an IDF soldier while trying to flee after partially penetrating part of Israel's security fence.

The IDF's open fire regulations clearly state that lethal force can be used only when there is an immediate threat to life. Since that did not appear to have been the case here, the IDF opened a criminal investigation into the shooting on the same day of the incident.

Cooper's report failed to mention that the IDF had opened a criminal investigation into the incident, while Brown said only that "a year on, there's no news of the military investigation that followed."

This isn't quite accurate, as the Israeli NGO B'Tselem, which has been following this story, reported that "on 5 January 2014 the MAG Corps informed B'Tselem that the additional investigation had been completed and that it had received the case for review", meaning the investigation had been completed and transferred to the military prosecutor to decide whether to hand down an indictment - a decision which must be expected soon.

Cooper's report also took a more hostile attitude towards the IDF's claims that its system of internal investigation is sound and credible. He asked Lerner "How many soldiers have been demoted as a result of these sorts of incidents?" implying IDF wrongdoing was widespread and its internal enforcement lax. He also allowed AI's Middle East and North Africa Director Philip Luther the comment, "Essentially the military who perpetrated the killing are investigating themselves and that's why we believe there is such a lack of accountability" without informing viewers that every major army in the world, including Australia's, also entrusts its own legal division with the task of investigating itself over shootings.

On a final note on this subject there is the matter of selective reporting. While, as stated before, AI has a history of bias against Israel, it did actually produce a report in September 2013 criticising the Palestinian Authority, also for the use of excessive force.  However, this was not reported on in Australia - not by the ABC, the Australian, the Herald Sun or anybody else.

Ahron Shapiro


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