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False Allegations about Human Rights Watch’s Latest Gaza Report

NEW YORK - 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

  • "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

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.


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Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.

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