Monday, February 1, 2010

Human Rights Watch Seems to Have Heeded Robert Bernstein

Last October, Robert Bernstein, the founder of Human Rights Watch, wrote an Op-Ed in the New York Times condemning its overwhelming focus on (and bias regarding) Israel out of all the countries in the Middle East, despite the fact that every other country has a terrible record on human rights, and lack the home-grown human rights organizations that Israel has to fight against the rights denial.

Israel, with a population of 7.4 million, is home to at least 80 human rights organizations ... probably more journalists per capita than any other country in the world — many of whom are there expressly to cover the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Meanwhile, the Arab and Iranian regimes rule over some 350 million people, and most remain brutal, closed and autocratic, permitting little or no internal dissent. The plight of their citizens who would most benefit from the kind of attention a large and well-financed international human rights organization can provide is being ignored as Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division prepares report after report on Israel.

Additionally, he pointed out their failure in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to address human rights abuses not committed by Israel. He especially pointed out that unlike those committed by Israel (and those not committed by Israel but reported anyway, like Jenin, organ harvesting, Mahmoud al-Mahbuh's death from terminal cancer etc.), these abuses have nobody else to cover them.

There may be one or two human rights organizations, but they are small in number and poorly funded to boot.

However, Israel's human rights organizations are generally quite well-funded (with this funding, especially for some of the orgs which are not as clearly dedicated to human rights, coming under criticism from the right and far-right).

The New Israel Fund (a generally fine organization which my parents donate to, though I personally have huge issues with a few of the groups they fund and with today's easy targeting funding enabled by the Internet, when I start having money to donate, it'll go directly to organizations), for instance, has given more than $200 million to over 800 organizations in the last 30 years. European governments and other big individual donors have also provided a ton of money.

And not just rights on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; in every area where human rights are an issue, there's an org in Israel (and with a decent amount of funding).

So Bernstein had a major point, and the fact that this was coming after Human Rights Watch controversially accepted a whole bunch of funding from the Saudi government, which is generally awful on human rights even in comparison to the rest of the Middle East just helped make his point.

And it seems like his point has gotten through.

On January 27, 2010, Hamas made the 110% bullshit claim that they were only targeting the military with their Qassam and Grad rockets. Still, despite the bullshit nature of the claim, newspapers were still going to report it (and some not so critically). However, HRW was ready, and the very next day HRW had a press release calling out their bullshit

"Hamas can spin the story and deny the evidence, but hundreds of rockets rained down on civilian areas in Israel where no military installations were located," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Hamas leaders at the time indicated they were intending to harm civilians."

That pretty much sums it up, although I'm not sure if Hamas has ever hit a military installation with rockets.

Then today, they released a 60 page report on Kingdom of Jordan has been stripping citizenship from Jordanians of Palestinian origin

Here's the summary:

More than half of the 6.3 million population of Jordan is of Palestinian origin—that is, from areas west of the River Jordan, including the West Bank, today’s Israel, and Gaza. With the exception of persons from Gaza, the vast majority of those persons of Palestinian origin have Jordanian citizenship. However, since 1988, and especially over the past few years, the Jordanian government has been arbitrarily and without notice withdrawing Jordanian nationality from its citizens of Palestinian origin, making them stateless. For many of them this means they are again stateless Palestinians as they were before 1950.
Some Jordanian officials have said they are doing so in order to forestall supposed Israeli designs to colonize the West Bank, by maintaining the birthright of Palestinians to live in the West Bank. Yet the real reason may be Jordan’s desire to be able to rid itself of hundreds of thousands of Jordanian citizens of Palestinian origin whom Jordan could then forcibly return to the West Bank or Israel as part of a settlement of the Palestinian refugee problem caused by the 1948 and 1967 Arab-Israeli wars. At least that appeared to be the interpretation of a high-ranking Ministry of Interior official who in July 2009 said that certain Jordanians of Palestinian origin would remain Jordanian nationals only until such time that a refugee settlement had been reached.
So far, Jordan has withdrawn its nationality from thousands of its citizens of Palestinian origin—over 2,700 between 2004 and 2008 alone. It has done so, in the individual cases Human Rights Watch identified, in an arbitrary manner and in violation of Jordan’s nationality law of 1954. Under that law Palestinian residents of the West Bank in 1949 or thereafter received full Jordanian nationality following Jordan’s incorporation of the West Bank in April 1950.

I do have one quibble with the report-it's not clear to me that every Jordanian who considers themselves to be of Palestinian origin does so from roots outside of today's Jordan; areas east of the Jordan River were after all considered to be part of Palestine for periods before 1948.

However, I do particularly like their acknowledgement that pretty much entirely before 1950, Palestinians were stateless; in 1940, 1930, 1920, etc. They made have had Palestinian citizenship (like my great-great-grandfather Beryl Rubin) but they were still stateless. This counters the bullshit claim made by anti-Israel types that "Palestinians have been suffering/oppressed for 62 years" At least that's how I read it.

So, anyway, if this continues, bravo, HRW.

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