Amnesty International: A Template for Futility

Amnesty International: A Template for Futility

Israel engages in these attacks every four or five years; it calls them “mowing the lawn operations”. Amnesty utters clucking sounds, issues press releases and reports…

It then blames “both sides”…. there is virtually no reference to relevant history, e.g., the prior attacks on Gaza, who initiated those attacks, the Goldstone report, etc. 

A blatant double standard covers up Israel’s crimes against humanity…

Perhaps it’s relevant that the organization was founded by an Israel partisan, and Amnesty International Israel was run for many years by Israeli Foreign Ministry officers…


By Paul De Rooij, reposted from Unz Review

Even in the worst period of the repression during the apartheid era in South Africa, the armed forces never bombed the townships
— South African Ronnie Kasrils, March 2009

One would hope that human rights NGOs would be influential, be tools to mobilise the public against oppression and barbarity, and maybe be of use in making the perpetrators of crimes accountable…. Or is it the case that human rights NGOs are instruments of propaganda, means to deflect action against state power, and even instrumental in justifying state violence and war? Maybe Amnesty International’s latest press releases and the inevitable “reports” will enable one to determine on which side of the ledger its actions fall.

Yet again the Palestinians face massive Israeli attacks against Gaza, and the retail bombing of the West Bank, Syria, Lebanon, and even Egypt. Israelis engage in these attacks every four or five years; they call them “mowing the lawn operations”. Inevitably, the human rights NGOs utter clucking sounds, and issue press releases and reports; some of their insufferable researchers will appear on TV mouthing predictable trite statements.

And if past experience is any guide, all that effort will be an exercise in futility. Who reads these materials, have they ever led to any action or change of state policy, or have they galvanised a public into action? The answer is self-evident.

Amnesty’s output also suggests that they are a lazy bunch incapable of improving their “product” to make it more effective. Invariably they utilise the same template; they just fill in the blanks whenever the level of violence has propelled a “conflict” onto the front pages or to the top of the hour news reporting. The template requires distressing clucking sounds about the violence, and provide a tally of those killed; it provides a few individual examples of violations.

It then blames “both sides,” and asserts that the Palestinian violence was “horrific” and “indiscriminate”; both sides have perpetrated war crimes. It then urges both sides to cease and desist; return to the status quo ante. And finally, it calls on the “international community” to impose an arms embargo on “both sides”. And “independent” investigators should be allowed in to compile evidence of war crimes. That is it.

Basic Background

Gaza has been under military occupation and control for decades, and extreme Israeli violence has punctuated its history. Massacres, bombings, assassinations have been regular features; each military attack is increasingly more destructive and violent than the preceding ones.

Furthermore, since 2006 Gaza was transformed into the largest open air prison with Israeli forces controlling who enters/exits the exclave; walls, razor wire fences, and watch towers armed with robotic machine guns surround the area; drones buzz overhead every day, especially at night.

Putting Gaza “on a diet”

Dov Weissglas, a close confidant of Ariel Sharon, quipped that they’d put Gaza “on a diet”. Israelis calculated the basic caloric intake required to maintain the population just above starvation, and proceeded to limit food imports to that level; airplanes sprayed herbicides on crops, and even small allotments. The water supplied into Gaza was polluted with high levels of salt and over-fluoridation. Unemployment rate in Gaza has been staggeringly high. Gazans have lived in a terrible situation for many years. Non-violent resistance was brutally crushed. With no prospects political or negotiated solution what were Palestinians supposed to do?

It is this history that must serve as the foundation to guide solidarity with the Palestinians, and for any organisation to channel efforts to ameliorate the situation. It behooves us to understand why human rights NGOs are a failure by design; to understand why the human rights babble is equally a cruel fraud. Here is an explanation of this failure in Eight Acts:

They are so ahistorical…

Given the above snapshot history, the nature of the crimes requires recognising them as crimes against humanity, arguably one of the most serious crimes under international law. Second, Israeli crimes put the violence of the Palestinian resistance into perspective. Palestinians have a right to defend themselves. Third, the long history of violence perpetrated against the Palestinians, and the resulting power imbalance, suggest that one should be in solidarity with the victim.

Amnesty however refuses to acknowledge the serious nature of Israeli crimes, by using an intellectually bankrupt subterfuge; it insists that as a rights-based organisation it cannot refer to historical context; doing so would be considered “political” in its warped jargon.

An examination of what AI considers “background” in its press releases/reports confirms that there is virtually no reference to relevant history, e.g., the prior attacks on Gaza, who initiated those attacks, the Goldstone report, etc. Presto! Now there is no need to mention serious crimes. Every time AI issues the same statements and even some reports; they are written from the same template.

They may change a few details, but each of their statements and reports studiously ignores the previous attacks as if history didn’t matter. It also doesn’t recognise the nature of the Palestinian resistance, and their right to self-defence. Nowhere does AI acknowledge that Palestinians are entitled to defend themselves. And finally, AI cannot express solidarity with the victim; hey, “both sides” are victims!

Criminalising Palestinian Resistance

When Palestinians were engaged in non-violent demonstrations in front of the walls / fences surrounding Gaza, AI didn’t have much to say about the demonstrators who were shot by snipers. A demonstrator in a wheelchair shot and killed; dozens of demonstrators shot in the knee, kids flying kites shot, a journalist operating a drone killed….

There are many Palestinian prisoners arbitrarily imprisoned, and when some of them engage in months-long hunger strikes, even resulting in death, AI barely utters a peep. So, non-violent resistance didn’t deliver much, and thus armed resistance seemed to be the only option.

When the Palestinians launch crude inaccurate missiles this is deemed “indiscriminate” in nature and ipso facto a war crime. AI also deems the taking of hostages to exchange for Palestinian prisoners to be a war crime. Attacking Israel and in the process killing civilians is also deemed beyond the pale. So Amnesty’s gang is not willing to state anything constructive about the Palestinian resistance other than to chastise them with accusations of serious crimes.

Double standard

A blatant double standard is at play. Palestinian weapons are rudimentary and are not precise, and AI labels these as “indiscriminate” thus unlawful. On the other hand, Israeli weapons that are very accurate used to deliberately target civilians, hospitals, mosques, bakeries, ambulances, etc. These weapons are fine and dandy; AI will merely state that an independent body might have to “investigate war crimes” — knowing full well the fraudulent nature of these so-called independent investigations.

What is worse: using inaccurate weapons that may result in civilian deaths, or use very accurate weapons to intentionally kill civilians? And what about the scale and proportionality of the weapons? Most Palestinian weapons are small, and not very lethal. Israelis use huge bombs to flatten buildings, hospitals, … with inevitable civilian deaths. For every Palestinian rocket, how many Israeli bombs have dropped? Amnesty usually reports the former, but not the latter.

When resistance fighters take hostages (both civilian and military) AI deems this to be a war crime. On the other hand, when Israeli forces routinely round up Palestinian civilians and arbitrarily imprisons them, this merits no comment. The use of an Israeli military kangaroo court to rubber stamp the imprisonment order is enough to keep Amnesty at bay. Recent video footage shows that Palestinian resistance fighters were captured alive, but a few minutes later they were executed. Does this merit any AI reproach? AI has a pompous sounding “Evidence Investigation Unit” — they may be taking a little nap now.

Addressing Apartheid

In its 26 October 2023 press release AI states: “The root causes of the conflict to be addressed, including through dismantling Israel’s system of apartheid against all Palestinians.” Maybe uttering this statement about 40 or 50 years ago would have been a bold statement.

But as Ronnie Kasrils, the great anti-apartheid fighter, stressed: the Palestinians face a system of oppression far more serious, pernicious and violent than what was experienced in South Africa during the 1960-70s. The current Israeli policy is meant to drive the Palestinians off their land (ethnic cleansing) and it doesn’t shy away from implementing a genocidal plan. Amnesty lags behind these developments.

Appeals to the international community

In the 26 October press release, AI also states: “The international community to impose a comprehensive arms embargo on all parties to the conflict given that serious violations amounting to crimes under international law are being committed.” The day after the 7 October attack, the US and UK started flying in military materiel — by now amounting to about 60 military cargo plane deliveries.

The US is itself militarily involved having assembled an armada in the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf; it has sent senior military officers to advice on the attack on Gaza; and a US Seal team is on location. Thus AI’s statement is yet another example of its futility and impotence; maybe it was meant to add a bit of comic relief.

But this time it is different…

While in the past, Amnesty could engage in its ritual press releases and reports, and eventually revert to its regular routine, the current attack on Gaza may force Amnesty to adopt a different stance or risk exposure of its true spineless and duplicitous nature.

Top Israeli politicians and military officers have ordered cutting off Gaza’s access to food, water, and fuel; outright state that all inhabitants “are not innocent,” are “human animals,” that “there is no safe place in Gaza,” “There is no symmetry; the children in the Gaza Strip brought this on themselves,”or recite Deuteronomy 25:19 to smite the Amalek. Other religious figures have chimed in with other vengeful and chilling religious utterances. The same chapter in Deuteronomy urges Israelis to prise open the jaws of the Amalek and pour molten lead into their throats. (NB: this gave rise to the 2008 operation name “Cast Lead”.)

Arnon Soffer, the infamous demographer, stated (2004): “we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day.” And finally, a bevy of foreign prime minsters/presidents has flown in to repeat that: “Israel has a right to defend itself”. None of these dignitaries uttered a word urging restraint or a return to negotiations, let alone observance of international humanitarian law. Israel was given a green light to do whatever it wants with no impediments, and as a matter of fact, with the aid of recently flown-in military materiel. The UN will be rendered impotent given the US veto; and the lame ICC has no jurisdiction over Israel, thus any meaningful war crimes tribunal will never materialise.

So will Amnesty pursue its business as usual or opt for a stronger stance — preferably a pronouncement by a coalition of NGOs and solidarity activists. There will be an answer within a month.

The feces smellers

Agnes Callamard, AI’s Secretary General, is possibly one of the better and most outspoken general secretaries; there is no doubt that she is a well intentioned person. Many of her statements are clear and strong statements, but they are clearly limited by AI’s overall posture. But her stance is very much like that of a person who finds a fresh piece of feces in her path. After studying the sample, tasting it, and sniffing it, declares “that an independent investigation is necessary to determine if Israel committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

So why does AI hesitate to make a strong statement about Israel? It has to do with its funding; a strong stand would upset the main donors.

The nature of human rights organisations

Many little NGOs have popped up that are merely meant to assuage the liberal conscience. Thus one may be worried that bananas were produced under harmful and exploitative conditions, and thus a little sticker on the banana may warm the liberal soul. The sticker they offer is merely meant to reduce consumer hesitancy when buying a product. The human rights NGOs perform very much the same function.

When sordid and violent acts occur somewhere in the world, well intentioned concerned individuals may want to do something about it. And what could be easier than sending a donation to a human rights NGO! You will even get an Amnesty sticker to paste on your forehead to boast your liberal righteousness. Furthermore, the NGO will enlist well intentioned people to perform next to useless tasks like writing overly polite letters to dubious politicians seeking to improve the prison conditions of their adopted “prisoner of conscience”. Resources and effort are deflected away from pressuring domestic politicians to stop aiding and abetting mass crimes. There seems to be no downside to the back slapping politicians visiting Netanyahu encouraging greater mass crimes. Where are the activists clamouring to stop weapons deliveries to Israel from the US, UK and Germany?

And of course, Israel views the human rights NGOs as a necessary nuisance — easily ignored. While volunteers write overly polite letters, the paper shredders in Israel are whirring away. There is no effective action sought by the human rights NGOs which would cause Israel to take notice.

In the very least, the human rights NGOs could heed Palestinian civil society’s call to implement a boycott of Israel. The boycott campaign was effective against apartheid South Africa, and given that the Palestinians face conditions that are orders of magnitude worse than apartheid, it would suggest a boycott campaign would be in order. Amnesty claims to have seven million followers, thus a call to implement a boycott would have more effect than the empty exhortations to governments to do nothing.

In the end, one cannot expect an organisation to change its spots after such a long and dubious history which includes trumpeting for war (AI was instrumental in pushing the throwing-babies-out-of-incubators hoax), pushing state propaganda (e.g., putting Croatian propagandists on tour in the US to push the “rape camp” slur), and many more.

Amnesty’s pro-Israel roots & current influence

Amnesty International was created by a zionist, it is difficult to countenance that a critique of Israel would be tolerated even today. Amnesty International Israel was run for many years by Israeli Foreign Ministry officers; this gang blocked critical reporting and played the gate keeper function. Amnesty never responded to the revelation of the penetration of its Israeli branch.

Even today, as Amnesty’s website shows, the Israeli branch of the organisation is based in Tel Aviv. Maybe a clarification about its contribution and about its personnel may be in order. AI must be aware that several prominent Palestinians refuse to meet with them.

And if the Israeli branch contributes to or edits its reportage, then AI must confront the ethics of producing Palestinian human rights coverage by Israeli personnel. During the war in Yugoslavia, Serbian researchers were not allowed to report on the condition of Croatians, Bosnians; the evident bias was not tolerated. But when it comes to Palestinian issues, a different standard applies.

During the 1970s Dr. Israel Shahak, the well known scientist and activist, headed a human rights organisation which translated Hebrew texts into English. He related how the state attempted to harass and interfere with his organisation. Break-ins, intimidation, destruction of archives, and planting their own operatives in the organisation leading to successful violent takeover of the organisation. So, does Amnesty-Israel have the same fraught relationship with the state? Or are they on chummy terms with Israeli officials? If the latter, there may be a reason for that.

And then there is snake oil

Pushing for the observance of human rights doesn’t necessarily imply that one will obtain justice. The human rights agenda merely softens the edges of the status quo. As Amnesty’s position on the Israeli attacks on Gaza illustrate, pushing human rights can actually be incompatible with obtaining justice. Human rights are a bastardised, neutered, and debased form of justice. The application and effectiveness of international law is bad enough, but a pick and choose legal framework with no enforcement is even worse. If one seeks justice, then it is best to avoid the human rights discourse; above all, it is best to avoid human rights organisations. If one wants justice it is best to avoid the discourse that only delivers bandages.

Palestinians should be wary of sanctimonious do-gooders peddling human rights snake oil. In exchange for giving up their resistance and complying with AI’s norms, it is not likely that Palestinians will obtain a pixel of justice. One should be wary of human rights groups that don’t push for justice, play the role of Israel’s lawyer, and are bereft of solidarity with the victims. During the Algerian war for independence, Frantz Fanon related that whenever a European would come to talk him about “human rights,” his urge was to fetch a gun. Palestinians could learn something from this. When the likes of Amnesty come wagging their finger, it is best to keep the old blunderbuss near at hand.

Paul de Rooij is a Dutch mathematician, economist and writer based in London, UK. A committed activist for the Palestinians since the First Intifada, he has written extensively for “alternative” media `including Z magazine, Agenda, Counterpunch, Arab Media Internet Network, Miftah and various media research journals


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