On August 13, 2009, Human Rights Watch released a report, "White Flag Deaths: Killings of Palestinian Civilians during Operation Cast Lead," documenting serious violations of the laws of war by Israeli forces during Operation Cast Lead. Instead of responding to the findings of the report, Israeli officials are trying to discredit the report and Human Rights Watch by making false allegations.
"Instead of seriously addressing the findings of human rights groups in Gaza, the Israeli government is waging a propaganda war against them," said Iain Levine, program director at Human Rights Watch. "If the Israeli government wants to silence critics, it should fully investigate allegations of wrongdoing and take action to end the abuses."
- "Human Rights Watch is relying on the testimony from people who are not free to speak out against the Hamas regime." Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli prime minister, in an interview with the BBC, August 13, 2009.
- "The Human Rights Watch report which claims that IDF soldiers killed 11 Palestinian civilians holding ‘white flags' is based on unreliable witness reports." Israel Defense Forces (IDF) statement, August 13, 2009.
Both claims are false. Human Rights Watch methodology does not rely only on the accounts of victims and eyewitnesses. We examine medical records such as hospital and autopsy reports; forensic evidence left over from attacks, such as bullet casings, tank tracks or ammunition boxes; the attack sites themselves; and we conduct interviews with multiple witnesses, including medical staff and law enforcement, military and other officials and, where possible, the alleged perpetrators. Our interviews are conducted in private (unless otherwise stated) and confidentially. We carefully cross-check individual interviews with the interviews of other witnesses to assess reliability and consistency, and assess information we receive against accounts of the fighting made available by the IDF, Hamas combatant lists, and in the media.
Hamas is responsible for numerous and widespread human rights abuses in Gaza, but many Palestinians criticize Hamas practices during interviews with Human Rights Watch, most recently in our August 6 report on Qassam rocket attacks on Israel and our April 20 report on Hamas political violence. As Regev noted in an interview with Al-Jazeera, "It was Human Rights Watch that reported that Hamas members go around shooting in the kneecaps people who speak out of turn." This information, as the report noted, came from Palestinian witnesses in Gaza.
Human Rights Watch has had a permanent consultant based in Gaza since 2006. Israel continues to deny Human Rights Watch's other researchers access to Gaza.
- "Human Rights Watch's fundraising activities in Saudi Arabia in tandem with the kingdom's authoritarian government raises important questions as to that organization's objectivity, professionalism, integrity, and credibility." Regev, quoted by Agence France-Presse, August 13, 2009.
Human Rights Watch does not take money from the Saudi government - or any government. Human Rights Watch staff attended two private receptions, in Riyadh and Jeddah, hosted by Saudi supporters of Human Rights Watch, in order to present our work in the Middle East and try to build support for human rights in Saudi Arabia. We discussed our work throughout the region, including our reporting on the Gaza conflict. Three people affiliated with the government attended the reception, but were not solicited for money. We held similar receptions in Tel Aviv, Amman and Beirut, among the 150 outreach events we conduct worldwide, including in Moscow, Sao Paulo, Sydney, and Tokyo, as well as in North America and Western Europe. Expanding the networks of citizens supporting human rights ought to benefit all the people of the Middle East.
These events have no bearing on our extensive track record of investigations into Saudi Arabia's appalling human rights record, most recently on August 10, documenting abuses against Saudi detainees. Predictably, we have been charged with bias against Saudi Arabia, just as we have been charged with bias against Israel. On August 11, Dr. Muhammad al-Nujaimi, professor at the Higher Institute of the Judiciary in Riyadh, dismissed this report, insisting that it reflected our pro-Israel bias: "this organization is Zionist in its outlook and goals and behind it are suspect agencies."
- Human Rights Watch "didn't bother to give the report to the IDF before releasing it to the public via the media, in order to allow for in-depth investigation." IDF statement quoted by the Jerusalem Post, August 13, 2009.
This is untrue. Human Rights Watch sent a letter with a detailed summary of its findings and questions about all the cases in the report to the IDF on February 10, six months before publication of this report, and a final copy of the report a few days before its release, as soon as it was ready. The letter is included in the report as an appendix. Human Rights Watch also repeatedly sought meetings with the Israeli government and the IDF to discuss our findings, but our requests were rejected, most recently this week by the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Defense, Military Advocate General and IDF Spokesperson's Office.
Human Rights Watch has consistently tried to engage the IDF in a dialogue about our investigations into IDF abuses, and has met with its leading staff on countless occasions over the past decade to discuss our findings. In the past year, however, the IDF has refused to meet with us.