Amnesty International is among the premier human rights organizations in the world. Its pronouncements shape public opinion, while councils of state feel obliged if not to heed them at any rate to respond. A movement for justice aspiring to reach a broad public and inflect state policy can ill afford to ignore Amnesty if and when it goes astray. It is the contention of this monograph that Amnesty has indeed lost its way, and it is the intention of this monograph to document this proposition, in the hope that Amnesty will perform—or its grassroots membership will compel it to perform—a midcourse correction.
In recent years, Amnesty International has issued meticulously documented, legally unflinching human rights reports on the Israel-Palestine conflict, for example, Operation “Cast Lead”: 22 days of death and destruction, a searing indictment of Israel’s 2008-9 assault on Gaza. But this has not always been the case. For many decades, this venerable human rights organization effectively gave Israel a free pass on its pervasive torture practices in the occupied Palestinian territories. Judging by the reports it issued after Israel’s summer 2014 assault on Gaza, Operation Protective Edge, Amnesty is regressing to its earlier apologetics. For those who have come to rely on and cite Amnesty as a source of accurate human rights reportage, this development is troubling and deeply frustrating. The primary purpose of this monograph is not to account for Amnesty’s apparent backpedaling, although some speculations on this score will be ventured in the conclusion, but to thoroughly document it, focusing in particular on Amnesty’s comprehensive indictment of Hamas, Unlawful and Deadly: Rocket and mortar attacks by Palestinian armed groups during the 2014 Gaza/Israel conflict.
Table 1 presents the raw data from which a human rights assessment of Operation Protective Edge (hereafter: OPE) necessarily begins.
TABLE 1 Civilian Losses in Operation Protective Edge
“On both sides,” Amnesty observes in Unlawful and Deadly, “civilians once again bore the brunt of the third full-scale war in less than six years.” Although arguably true, this statement obscures the yawning gap separating the magnitude of suffering inflicted on Gazan as compared to Israeli civilians. It is hard to come up with a more palpable instance of a quantitative difference turning into a qualitative one than the single Israeli child versus the 550 Gazan children killed, and it doesn’t diminish the sanctity of every life to take note that, if the death of one Israeli child is terrible, then, on the same calculus, the child deaths in Gaza are 550 times as terrible. An international Medical Fact-Finding Mission, recruited by the Israeli branch of Physicians for Human Rights and comprised of eminent medical practitioners, concluded its report on OPE with this caveat: “While not wishing to devalue in any way the traumatic effects of the war on Israeli civilians, these pale in comparison with the consequences of the massive destruction wreaked on Gaza.” Even UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who in the past has disgraced his office with apologetics on Israel’s behalf, carefully distinguished between Israel’s lethal attacks on UN facilities during OPE, which “I deplore,” and Hamas’s misuse of UN facilities, about which “I am dismayed.” One searches in vain for a comparable acknowledgment or nuance by Amnesty.
In keeping with its pretense of evenhandedness, Amnesty conveys the impression that Israel and Hamas were equally guilty of breaching the laws of war. It issued a pair of postwar reports documenting Israel’s crimes and a pair of reports documenting Hamas’s crimes (four altogether), while, amazingly, it devoted, all told, many more pages to indicting Hamas (107) than Israel (78). In Operation “Cast Lead,” Israel bore the brunt of Amnesty’s indictment (60 versus 13 pages), making this earlier report’s relative space allocations more, if still far from fully, commensurate with the death and destruction inflicted by each side. The introduction to each of its postwar reports on OPE methodically balances the distribution of guilt. As if that weren’t problematic enough, Unlawful and Deadly details the death of the single Israeli child killed by a Hamas attack across more than two pages. Were it truly committed to effecting—as against affecting—balance, shouldn’t Amnesty have devoted 1,100 pages to the children in Gaza who were killed? Amnesty even suggests that Hamas was the more manifestly culpable party to the conflict. Thus, Unlawful and Deadly’s conclusion unequivocally deplores Hamas’s “flagrant disregard for international humanitarian law,” whereas one of Amnesty’s reciprocal reports, Families under the Rubble: Israeli attacks on inhabited homes, cautiously concludes that the destruction wrought—18,000 Gazan homes were destroyed or rendered uninhabitable, leaving 110,000 people homeless—“raise[s] difficult questions for the Israeli government which they have so far failed to answer.” It is, of course, conceivable that Hamas committed as many war crimes as Israel, if not more, during OPE, but, prima facie, that would be a most anomalous conclusion. In both absolute and relative terms, the scales of guilt appear to tilt heavily to the Israeli side: Hamas killed 73 Israelis of whom only 8 percent were civilians, whereas Israel killed 2,200 Gazans of whom fully 70 percent were civilians; the damage inflicted on Gaza’s civilian infrastructure ($4 billion) exceeded by a factor of 70 the damage inflicted on Israel’s infrastructure ($55 million), while the ratio of civilian dwellings destroyed by Israel versus Hamas stood at 18,000:1. The intriguing question is, how does Amnesty manage to turn this wildly imbalanced balance sheet into a “balanced” indictment of both parties to the conflict?
To justify its unchecked violence in Gaza, Israel invariably spotlights the arsenal of rockets Hamas allegedly amassed. Amnesty echoes this story line. Thus, the reader learns from Unlawful and Deadly that, as far back as 2001, Hamas had been stockpiling short-range rockets; that it then “developed longer-range Qassam rockets”; that “in more recent years, armed groups in Gaza have produced, upgraded or smuggled in thousands of BM-21 Grad rockets of different types, with ranges varying from 20km to 48km, and acquired or produced smaller numbers of medium and long-range rockets,” including “the Iranian Fajr 5 and locally produced M-75 (both with a range of 75km), and the locally produced J-80 rockets with a range of 80km”; and that “during Operation Protective Edge, the al-Qassam Brigades claimed to have fired R-160 rockets, a locally produced version of the M-302, also with a range of 160km.” “The majority of Israel’s 8.3 million people, and all 2.8 million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank,” Amnesty ominously concludes, “are now within range of at least some of the rockets held by Palestinian armed groups in the Gaza Strip…. [T]he circle of fear has widened.” But how real has been the threat posed to Israel by Hamas’s rocket arsenal? (For charity’s sake, Amnesty’s weird inclusion of West Bank Palestinians in the “circle of fear” will be set aside.)
Hamas reportedly fired 5,000 rockets and 2,000 mortar shells at Israel during OPE. The discrepancy between the many thousands of Hamas weapons unleashed on Israel and the minimal death and destruction they inflicted is generally credited to Iron Dome, Israel’s wondrous anti-missile defense system. Thus Amnesty reports that “Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system helped limit civilian casualties in many areas,” and was used “to protect civilian areas from projectiles launched from the Gaza Strip.” But this explanation scarcely convinces. Israel alleges that Iron Dome intercepted 740 rockets; the UN Department of Safety and Security (cited by Amnesty) puts the number at 240. Strangely, Amnesty omits the damning findings of one of the world’s leading authorities on anti-missile defense, Theodore Postol of MIT. (Postol previously debunked the claims hyping the Patriot anti-missile defense system during the First Gulf War in 1991.) He concluded that Iron Dome successfully intercepted five percent of incoming Hamas rockets or, based on Israel’s raw data, an underwhelming 40 of them. In general, Iron Dome has served as a multipurpose prop in Israel’s various hasbara (propaganda) campaigns. After Operation Pillar of Defense (2012), Israel touted the success of its anti-missile defense system to compensate for the assault’s meager results. But Israel downplayed Iron Dome’s efficacy in its official postmortem on OPE, The 2014 Gaza Conflict, 7 July-26 August 2014, as it inflated the homefront’s vulnerability in order to justify the death and destruction Israel wrought during the operation. This report, which was issued in 2015 to preempt the critical findings of a UN Human Rights Council inquiry and is nothing if not repetitious, devotes just two of 460 paragraphs to Iron Dome, while the emphasis is placed not on Iron Dome’s brilliant performance but its being “fallible” and unable to prevent “extensive harm to civilian life and property.”
Even on the official Israeli reckoning of 740 interceptions, it still remains a perplexity how the thousands of Hamas projectiles not intercepted by Iron Dome inflicted so little damage. Indeed, even before Israel first deployed Iron Dome during Operation Pillar of Defense, Hamas projectiles barely registered. Whereas Hamas fired 13,000 rockets and mortar shells at Israel between 2001 and 2012, a total of 23 Israeli civilians were killed, or one civilian killed for every 500 projectiles fired. In the course of Operation Cast Lead (2008-9), Israel’s most violent clash with Gaza prior to OPE and before Iron Dome, Hamas fired 900 projectiles yet a total of only three civilians were killed. Moreover, during OPE, 2,800 Hamas projectiles, or 40 percent of the total number, landed in Israel’s border regions where Iron Dome was not deployed, yet only one Israeli civilian was killed by a rocket. (Most Israelis in the border areas “remained in their home communities” during OPE.)
Postol ascribes the fewness of Israeli civilian casualties during OPE primarily (but not exclusively) to Israel’s early warning/shelter system, which has been significantly upgraded in recent years. But that still can’t fully account for the fewness of civilian casualties before civil defense improvements and, even more telling, it can’t explain the minimal property damage. During OPE, an Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs website chronicled on a daily basis the property damage inflicted by Hamas rockets. Table 2 summarizes its entries.
Table 2 Israeli Property Damage Resulting from Hamas Rocket Attacks
Unlawful and Deadly reports that “scores of rocket and mortar hits in built-up areas damaged civilian property, including residential homes, infrastructure, public buildings, and educational institutions,” while 2014 Gaza Conflict alleges that “several residential communities on the border with the Gaza Strip…were battered by rocket and mortar fire.” Yet, isn’t it also cause for wonder—and worthy of notice—that, even allowing that a certain percentage landed in open areas, the thousands upon thousands of Hamas rockets inflicted negligible damage? How could only one Israeli house have been destroyed and 11 others hit or damaged by a mega barrage of rockets? The obvious, and most plausible, answer is, most of these so-called rockets must have amounted to little more than enhanced fireworks. Amnesty conjures nightmare scenarios out of Hamas’s long-distance rockets. But Hamas’s long-distance rockets during Pillar of Defense lacked explosives; an Israeli official dismissed them as “pipes, basically.” It is unlikely that Hamas significantly enhanced its rocket technology in the space of just 20 months separating Pillar of Defense from OPE, and it probably could not have smuggled in a substantial number of more sophisticated rockets—eight months after Pillar of Defense, in July 2013, the coup in Egypt occurred, and one of the coup leader’s first acts was to seal nearly all the tunnels between northern Sinai and Gaza, which was the primary smuggling route. By adopting Israel’s story line of a lethal Hamas rocket arsenal, and even if the projectiles did induce some fear among the Israeli civilian population, Amnesty became, wittingly or not, a purveyor of state propaganda.
[Leading forensic scholar Norman G. Finkelstein has conducted a detailed examination of Amnesty International’s reporting on Israel’s 2014 Operation Protective Edge against the Gaza Strip. His lengthy essay is currently being serialized on Byline, the crowd-funded journalism website where he is a contributing author, and will be re-posted on Jadaliyya in three installments. Finkelstein hopes readers of his essay will help him raise USD 100,000 for Al-Awda Hospital in the Gaza Strip, and donations can be made by accessing his posts on the Byline website. His essay is being reproduced here without the extensive footnotes; these can be consulted at the original site of publication]
 Gaza figures are rounded out. Throughout this monograph, larger numbers are similarly rounded out to the nearest ten, hundred or thousand.
 One civilian was a Thai guest worker.
 11 others suffered some damage.
 38,000 others suffered some damage.