Human Rights NGOs Irrelevant in the Face of Crisis

As leading corporations and industries from fashion to automotive production look to retool and adapt their operations to meet the global threat of COVID-19, human rights NGOs (non-governmental organizations) remain committed to the only strategy they know, reflexive Israel-bashing.  In their recent observations on Gaza’s preparedness for a potential virus outbreak, many such groups promote ideas that are at best irrelevant and divorced from reality, and at worst reflect malicious intent.

The Israeli organization Gisha illustrates this phenomenon well.  Elevated to greater prominence when a March 29 tweet from Democratic presidential hopeful, Senator Bernie Sanders promoted one of its recent statements, the group has long lobbied for abandoning policies designed to protect Israeli civilians from Gaza-based terrorism.  In particular, Gisha has sought to drastically reduce Israeli oversight over the passage of materials into Gaza, including on dual-use items that can be utilized for military purposes.

The statement shared by Senator Sanders highlights how at a time of acute crisis, many well-funded NGOs have nothing meaningful to contribute.  At a time when millions of Israelis are confined to their homes, prevented from going to work in an attempt to stem the spread of the virus, Gisha continues to demand an end to Israeli restrictions on dual-use items, bemoaning the effects of Israeli security policy on Palestinian unemployment.  Surely, Palestinians facing the prospect of a Corona outbreak would not deem these as their most pressing immediate challenges.

Worse than irrelevant press releases is how Gisha and others have adopted a wildly irresponsible two-pronged approach to the issue of Gaza’s public health capacity in a flailing bid to capture the issue for their own political goals.  On the one hand, they blame Israel categorically for any harm that may come to the territory as a result of the global pandemic.  On the other, these actors accuse Israel of deliberately weakening Gaza’s health infrastructure.

In a March 12 tweet, Gisha’s executive-director, Tania Hary, warned that a Corona outbreak in Gaza could be “devastating,” adding “I’m outraged that my govt imposed measures to deliberately bring Gaza to this point.”  These sentiments were echoed by Human Rights Watch (HRW) Executive Director Ken Roth who tweeted, “The coronavirus will test the wisdom of Israel’s policies for crippling the economy and health systems of Gaza and the West Bank,” and by the Israeli group B’Tselem that asserted “Israel will not be able to deflect the blame if this nightmare scenario turns into a reality that it created and made no effort to prevent.”

These claims all ascribe nefarious intent to Israel, deliberately distorting the motivation for Israeli policy: exercising its responsibility to protect its citizens who have been subjected to years of bombardments and threats of infiltration from Gaza.

To compliment this obscene suggestion, they completely absolve Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA) for responsibility for the state of health in Gaza.  In well documented abuses spanning years, Hamas has diverted international aid that could have enhanced and secured the health sector.  It stands accused of stealing medicines and other humanitarian items, as well as pilfering building materials that could have constructed hospitals and instead repurposing them for building terror tunnels into Israel.

Moreover, Hamas has manipulated medical infrastructure and processes to facilitate terrorism.  The internationally designated terror group has located military headquarters in hospitals, launched rockets from medical facilities, used ambulances to ferry weapons and fighters, and recruited Palestinians to carry out attacks on Israeli hospitals, abusing Israeli medical permit arrangements.

For its part, in recent years, the PA has at times halted or severely curtailed the ability of Gazans to access Israeli medical care, and has been accused of halting shipments of medicine to the area.  NGOs cannot credibly blame Israel when Gaza health is used as a political football in the PA-Hamas rivalry.

In spite of Palestinian violence and self-destructive infighting, Israel has proven itself committed to assisting Gaza’s civilian population, even earning high marks from UN official Nickolay Mladenov . The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process described Israeli-Palestinian coordination on virus response as “excellent”, emphasizing “Israel’s cooperation in allowing health workers and other personnel involved in the COVID-19 response to move in and out of the West Bank and Gaza.”

If human rights NGOs were truly concerned for the wellbeing of Palestinians in the face of Corona, there are ample avenues for productive action.  They could work to procure medical supplies, and encourage their supporters to donate towards these efforts.  Instead, we are witnessing a human rights world with seemingly nothing meaningful to contribute to those on whose behalf they claim to advocate.

While others are rising to deploy their expertise to meet this global challenge, human rights NGOs are stuck on their only message: Whמen in doubt, blame Israel.  The facts, circumstances, nuances and reality are unimportant.  It’s always Israel’s fault.

About the Author
Yona holds an M.A. in International Relations from Hebrew University.
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