Human Rights Watch maligns Israel with lies on top of lies

Human Rights Watch has published a new report that recycles old, debunked charges to portray Israel as engaging in, among other things, apartheid, a crime against humanity. The report, A Threshold Crossed – Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution, is far from the first attack against Israel by Human Rights Watch.

Unfortunately, the organization has a long history of anti-Israel agitation and propaganda, perhaps best illustrated by the facts about Joe Stork, who served for many years as HRW’s Deputy Director of Middle East issues. Before being hired by HRW, Stork openly supported Palestinian terror attacks against Jewish civilians, and opposed any and all peace treaties between Israel and Arab states.

Stork even traveled to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq for a conference on “Zionism and Racism.” His very appearance at a conference sponsored by the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein should have disqualified him from working for any human rights group, but apparently that’s not how HRW saw it.

At the conference Saddam Hussein himself could not have outdone Stork, whose presentation referred to the “Zionist colonization of Palestine,” the “Zionist settler-colonial enterprise,” the “infamous Balfour declaration,” and the “Zionist theft of the property and productive resources.”

Analyzing Israel’s victory in the 1967 War, Stork suggested what would be needed for the Arab states to reverse the outcome and destroy Israel:

There were, to be sure, many contributing factors to this devastating defeat, and it would be a mistake to overlook, for example, the degree of imperialist collusion that lay behind the Israeli blitzkrieg. But the single most important cause lay with the failure of the regimes in question to mobilize their societies for the kind of protracted struggle that is critical for the liberation of Palestine. … the surplus extracted from the masses was used to construct a military machine that was completely inadequate to the task of liberating Palestine …

Since he is speaking here of the 1967 war, which triggered Israel’s presence in the West Bank and Gaza, it is clear that Stork means by the “liberation of Palestine” the destruction of Israel.

Not surprisingly then, Stork even opposes peace talks and negotiations with Israel:

One thing that is clear from this survey, but which has been conveniently shelved by the Arab regimes today, is that the struggle against Zionism can only be won by struggling against imperialism, not by striking deals with future Kissingers.

There’s much more to Joe Stork’s anti-Israel fanaticism – for details see Joe Stork, Senior Human Rights Watch Staffer, Supported Violence against Jews and Israel’s Destruction. But apparently anti-Israel fanaticism was exactly what Human Rights Watch wanted because the organization kept Stork on even after his appalling record was publicly exposed.

This is the context for the new report from Human Rights Watch, so it can be no surprise that it is filled with outright falsehoods and anti-Israel propaganda, much of it recycled.

Before going into the details of the report, the cover itself is notable: a full, color picture of Israel’s security barrier, with a Palestinian child running in the foreground. The portion pictured – of course – is an imposing wall, despite that fact that most of the barrier is fencing. But more importantly, the reason for the barrier’s existence is given short shrift by Human Rights Watch, with just one sentence devoted to questioning whether security concerns were the real reason for its construction (p72).

That’s why searching the report for the words “terror” or “bombing” or “suicide” is so instructive. Such a search reveals that in the entire 216-page report there is not a single mention of any Palestinian terrorist attack against Israelis. For example, Human Rights Watch neglected to mention the horrific Passover bombing on May 27, 2002, in which 30 people were killed and 140 were wounded by a Palestinian suicide bomber. Also omitted was the suicide bombing of the Sbarro Pizzeria in Jerusalem on August 9, 2001, in which 15 people were killed including 7 children. Also omitted was the attack on December 1, 2001 at the Ben Yehuda Street pedestrian mall in Jerusalem, killing 11 people and wounding 180. Also omitted was the attack on a passenger bus the next day in Haifa, killing 15 and wounding 40. (For a partial list of such bombings see Suicide and Other Bombing Attacks in Israel Since the Declaration of Principles.)

These attacks, and many more just like them, were the reason for the construction of the security barrier, but for some reason Human Rights Watch does not see fit to even allude to them. It is simply amazing that an organization calling itself “Human Rights Watch” would work so hard to dehumanize these victims of Palestinian terrorism, in effect to bury them a second time.

Passing now to the specifics of HRW’s numerous charges, it should be clear that only the main points can be covered, and that if a specific charge is not refuted here, that doesn’t mean it is true and can’t be refuted.

Water

The Human Rights Watch report goes into great detail on alleged water theft and discrimination by Israel. The distortions and omissions are bad enough, but the outright lies are simply  breathtaking.

Let’s start with HRW’s lies about Palestinian water consumption:

While the Oslo Accords of 1995 included provisions that promised to increase Palestinian access to water, Palestinian extraction levels have largely remained at pre-Oslo levels while the population has increased. (p95-96)

Pre-Oslo levels? The total Palestinian water consumption for 1995 in the West Bank was about 40 MCM. In 1999, according to Table 2.22 in the Statistical Abstract of Palestine, the total was around 42 MCM.

But according to the Palestinian Authority Central Bureau of Statistics the amount of water pumped from wells in the West Bank increased from 71.6 MCM in 2010 to 96.6 MCM in 2018, an increase of 35%.

And the quantity of water for the domestic sector in the West Bank increased even more in that period, to 118.9 MCM from 85 MCM, an increase of 40%.

Why would HRW lie like this, why would they misrepresent figures that are easily found on the PA government site? Did they think no one would look?

HRW also misrepresented the facts about shared water resources:

Israeli authorities also maintain primary control over water resources in the West Bank and allocate water in a discriminatory fashion to Palestinians. Two of Israel’s three major water resources run largely through the West Bank: the Jordan River and the Mountain Aquifer, which consists of three basins. The third, the Coastal Aquifer, runs along the coast of Israel and Gaza… (p95)

Israel has used its control over parts of the Mountain Aquifer in the West Bank to serve its own citizens and settlers, in contravention of international humanitarian law which prohibits occupiers from exploiting natural resources for its own economic benefit. While 80 percent of the Mountain Aquifer’s water recharge area lies beneath the West Bank, Israel directly extracts about 90 percent of the water that is withdrawn from the aquifer annually, leaving Palestinians only the remaining 10 percent or so to exploit directly. In monopolizing this shared resource, Israeli authorities sharply restrict the ability of Palestinians to directly exploit their own natural resources and render them dependent on Israel for their water supply. (p95-96)

If HRW were correct, Israel’s share of the Mountain Aquifer, and especially its largest component, the Western Aquifer, should have increased after 1967, when Israel got control over the West Bank.

But contrary to what HRW would have people believe, the opposite occurred.

These aquifers straddle the Green Line separating Israel from the West Bank, but most of the stored water is under pre-1967 Israel, making it easily accessible only in Israel (because Israel is much closer to sea level than the West Bank, so the water is much closer to the surface).

Thus, even in the 1950s Israel used 95 percent of the Western Aquifer’s water, and 82 percent of the Northeastern Aquifer’s water. Today, Israel’s share of these aquifers has declined to 83 percent and 80 percent, respectively. That is, under direct Israeli administration the Palestinian share of these aquifers has actually increased.

In addition, every year over 70 MCM (million cubic meters) of water from sources within Israel is piped over the Green Line for Palestinian use in the West Bank. Ramallah, for example, receives over 10 MCM. And despite the virtual declaration of war against Israel by the Hamas rulers of Gaza, Israel still sends to Gaza another 4 MCM of Israeli water annually.

Thus, it is the Palestinians who are using Israeli water!

And not just the Palestinians. Despite its own meager supply, Israel annually provided 600,000 CM of water to ten otherwise dry villages in South Lebanon, and provides more than 55 MCM annually to Jordan. Perhaps no other country in the world, facing the severe shortages that Israel does, has shared so much water with its neighbors.

HRW also levels false charges regarding access to the Jordan River:

In addition, Israeli authorities have almost entirely deprived Palestinians access to water from the Jordan River, the only major surface water resource in the West Bank, by diverting its flow upstream of the West Bank. (p97)

HRW is once again wrong. Under the Johnston Plan the West Bank’s allocation of water from the Jordan River was supposed to come from the Kingdom of Jordan, amounting to 70-150 MCM annually, but after 1967 Jordan took that water for itself, leaving Israel to try to make up the difference.

While the HRW report condemns Israel for having Mekorot, its state water company, supply water to the Palestinians, it also condemns Israel for not having Mekorot supply water to the Palestinians:

[Israeli] restrictions have made Palestinians dependent on purchasing water, in large part extracted from under their land, from Mekorot… (p97)

In addition, many Palestinian communities in Area C are not connected to the water network, despite Mekorot pipes in some cases running nearby, and depend on water transported by tanker trucks, significantly increasing its price and leading some families to spend up to 40 percent of their income on water. (p97-98)

Human Rights Watch really  needs to make up its mind – is it good or bad for Mekorot to supply water to the Palestinians?

HRW’s charge that Israeli water is “extracted from under” Palestinian land has already been debunked above. But why are some Palestinian communities hooked up to the water network that Israel built for Palestinians, while others are not? Because Palestinian towns and villages made their own choice whether to join the network or not, Israel didn’t force them. Some communities chose to attach to the network and therefore have a reliable water supply, while others – for nationalistic reasons – didn’t, and therefore often suffer from shortages.

HRW also repeated the debunked charge that Israelis use far more water per capita than Palestinians do:

The World Bank in 2009 found that Israelis as a whole consume four times more water than Palestinians in the West Bank. Estimates indicate that settlers in the West Bank on average use at least four times per capita the amount used by Palestinians living in the same territory. (p98)

Before making any comparisons between Israeli and Palestinian use of fresh water resources, one must take into account that total Israeli water usage includes significant amounts of treated sewage and desalinated sea water. For example, Israel recycles more than 80% of its municipal sewage for reuse in agriculture. So for a fair comparison, this additional produced water should be subtracted from the total amount used by Israel, so that Israeli use of fresh water can be compared to Palestinian use of fresh water.

If this is done the per capita consumption of fresh water for all uses by Israelis is 150 CM/year versus 140 CM/year for Palestinians, that is, essentially no difference.

If one looks not at all uses but only at domestic or household use, the Palestinian number suffers because Palestinians waste large amounts of water through inefficient agricultural practices, and they also have extremely large losses of water due to leaky pipes in major cities like Hebron. For domestic use of fresh water per capita consumption by Israelis (as of 2006) was 84 CM/year versus 58 CM/year by Palestinians. (For details on the above numbers see the article by Prof. Haim Gvirtzman.)

And one must stress again, Palestinians would have as much domestic water as Israelis if they didn’t waste so much fresh water in extremely inefficient and archaic agricultural use.

Now for HRW’s charges about Israel’s allegedly discriminatory citizenship laws.

Law of Return

Israel’s Law of Return allows for people with some Jewish heritage to emigrate to Israel and receive expedited citizenship. Human Rights Watch charges that this is somehow a violation of human rights law and an example of Israel’s alleged anti-Palestinian discrimination:

Inside Israel, Israel’s Proclamation of Independence affirms the “complete equality” of all residents, but a two-track citizenship structure contradicts that vow and effectively regards Jews and Palestinians separately and unequally. Israel’s 1952 Citizenship Law contains a separate track exclusively for Jews to obtain automatic citizenship. That law grows out of the 1950 Law of Return which guarantees Jewish citizens of other countries the right to settle in Israel. (p17)

While states are sometimes associated with a religious or ethnic identity, a states’ prerogative to define its own identity and promote it is not unlimited; it is not a license to violate the fundamental rights of others. Laws and policies adopted by the Israeli government to preserve a Jewish majority have afforded benefits to Jews at the expense of the fundamental rights of Palestinians. Most significantly in demonstrating Israel’s demographic goals is the 1950 Law of Return. It guarantees Jewish citizens of other countries the right to settle in Israel, and its 1952 Citizenship Law entitles them to citizenship. (p48)

In fact, contrary to Human Rights Watch, the Law of Return is neither racist nor peculiarly Israeli. Similar laws have been in effect in many democracies, especially those with large diasporas, such as Mexico, Ireland, Finland, Greece, Poland, Germany, Italy, Denmark, etc. Furthermore, such laws are expressly permitted by, for example, the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (1965). According to Article 1(3) of this convention, nations are permitted to favor certain groups for citizenship provided there is no discrimination targeting any particular group.

Furthermore, Article 1(4) provides for “affirmative action.” That is, a state may employ a preference in granting citizenship to undo the effects of prior discrimination. In the case of Israel such prior episodes of discrimination are clear: the British decision in 1939, for example, to bar Jewish immigration to Mandatory Palestine, thereby consigning millions of Jews to deaths in the crematoria of Europe. To an exceedingly small degree, the Law of Return helps to mitigate this wrong.

As stated above, other democracies have similar laws. For example, in Ireland the appropriate minister can waive the usual requirements for citizenship under various conditions including:

Where the person is of Irish descent or of Irish associations, or is a parent or guardian applying on behalf of a minor child of Irish descent or Irish associations.

The text of the full Irish law makes clear just how widely the concept of descent or associations is defined:

    Section 16 of the Principal Act is amended by the insertion of the following subsection:

‘‘(2) For the purposes of this section a person is of Irish associations if—

(a) he or she is related by blood, affinity or adoption to a person who is an Irish citizen or entitled to be an Irish citizen, or

(b) he or she was related by blood, affinity or adoption to a person who is deceased and who, at the time of his or her death, was an Irish citizen or entitled to be an Irish citizen.’’

The Irish “law of return” is therefore even more expansive than Israel’s, as it does not cut off at the level of the grandparent.

Has Human Rights Watch ever charged that Mexico, Ireland, Finland, Greece, Poland, Germany, Italy, and Denmark are also apartheid states? Why is only Israel singled out?

Finally, negating Israel’s Law of Return is also an assault on the ability of Jews around the world to find haven in Israel when faced with growing anti-Semitism. Many French Jews have emigrated to Israel in recent years for just this reason. Why does HRW condemn anything Israel can do to prevent terror attacks against Israeli Jews, and why does it also condemn the only route to safety for  threatened Jews outside of Israel?

Land in Israel

According to Human Rights Watch:

The Israeli government has also carried out discriminatory seizures of land inside Israel. Authorities have seized through different mechanisms at least 4.5 million dunams of land from Palestinians, according to historians, constituting 65 to 75 percent of all land owned by Palestinians before 1948 and 40 to 60 percent of the land that belonged to Palestinians who remained after 1948 and became citizens of Israel. Authorities in the early years of the state declared land belonging to displaced Palestinians as “absentee property” or “closed military zones,” then took it over, converted it to state land, and built Jewish communities there. Authorities continue to block Palestinian citizen landowners from accessing land that was confiscated from them. (p12)

First of all, HRW has its facts wrong – Israel could not have seized 4.5 million dunams of land from Palestinians for the simple reason that Palestinians never owned anywhere near that much land.

HRW’s mistake (if that is what it is) is assuming that whatever land Jews did not own in 1948 was owned by Arabs. But about half of the land that became Israel in 1948 was the Negev desert, and in Mandate Palestine, and before that under Ottoman Turkish rule, and in most countries today including the US, the desert belongs to the government. For example, in Nevada the US government alone owns 84.9 percent of the land, not counting the additional land owned by the state and local governments. Even in California, Federal lands total 45.8 percent.

As in Nevada, under the Ottoman Land Code desert land was classified as Mewat (or dead land) and was the property of the Sultan. The Ottoman Land code was maintained by the British when in 1922 they established the British Mandate of Palestine, with the role of the Sultan passing to the British government in the person of the High Commissioner.

What about land outside the desert? Did the Arabs own whatever the Jews didn’t own there? Again no – most of that land was agricultural land, and under the Ottoman Land Code was almost entirely Miri land, or the land of the Emir (the ruler). The farmers who worked this land did not own it, they merely got the right to use it (usufruct) from the state in return for paying taxes on what they produced from the land. As long as they were using that land productively and paying taxes, no one else could use it.

So that takes care of the desert and most agricultural land, what about the rest? The land use records from the British Mandate authorities reveal that Arabs owned at most 14 percent of the land (and probably quite a bit less since this still includes some Miri land used by Arab farmers), while Jews privately owned 8.6 percent (not counting Miri land).

So most of the land that HRW charges Israel took from Palestinians was never Palestinian in the first place, and could not have been taken from anyone because it was state land. (For more details see herehere and here.)

As for HRW’s charges about absentee property, there is nothing unusual about abandoned property passing into state ownership. Israel inherited the relevant laws, and the office of the Custodian of Absentee Property, from the British Mandate, as did Jordan, which called its version the Custodian of Enemy Property.

Since the absent Palestinian owners were residing in enemy states, they couldn’t pay, for example, property taxes (certainly the Arab states would not have permitted them to send any money to Israel). So they would have lost the property for non-payment of taxes. Instead of simply taking the property in this way, Israel turned the property over to the Custodian, who held the value of the property in trust for the registered owner (with adjustments for inflation and interest).

Arabs who lost property in Israel are eligible to file for compensation from Israel’s Custodian. Palestinians were pressured not to make claims, lest that legitimize Israel’s existence and sovereignty. Still, over the years at least 14,692 claims have been filed, claims have been settled with respect to more than 200,000 dunums of land, more than 10,000,000 NIS (New Israeli Shekels) has been paid in compensation, and more than 54,000 dunums of replacement land in Israel has been given in compensation. Israel has followed this generous policy despite the fact that not a single penny of compensation has ever been paid to any of the more than 500,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries, who were forced by the Arab governments to abandon their homes, businesses and savings.

Finally, it is interesting to note that after 1948 the Jordanian Custodian of Enemy Property allocated Jewish-owned land for construction of Palestinian refugee camps near Dheisheh, and in Anata and Qalandia (Arab Building in Jerusalem: 1967—1997, Israel Kimhi, p48-49, and also, from the leaked Palestine papers, NSU Draft Memo Re: Rights of Jews Within the OPT Acquired pre-1967).

Conclusion

It should be clear just from the sections analyzed above that Human Rights Watch’s new report is a disgrace, especially for an organization that claims – on the inside cover of the report – to “scrupulously investigate abuses” and “expose the facts widely.”

For the abuses here were committed by Human Rights Watch, not by its habitual target Israel. Human Rights Watch should “scrupulously investigate” itself, fire all those responsible for this abomination of a report, forthrightly expose and admit its own shortcomings, and explain what it will to do to make sure such abuses are not repeated.

It is time, at long last, for Human Rights watch to come clean and eliminate the hatred of Jews and Israel that are a cancer in the organization.

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