In the past I've wondered about the obsession with Israel by Human Rights Watch. Now I wonder again, due to the organization's new 74-page report entitled, "Ripe for Abuse: Palestinian Child Labor in Israeli Agricultural Settlements in the West Bank." Check out the HRW web site to see what subjects merit such lengthy coverage, and one finds that the answer again and again is Israel. In a world sadly filled with oppression, aggression, human rights abuses, and tyranny, HRW focuses on Israel to a degree that cannot be explained or defended. Like the United Nations, HRW seems dedicated to condemning Israel--and occasionally other countries. If you think Israel is not responsible for the bulk of worldwide human rights abuses, well, they seem not to agree.
The substance of the report consists of interviews with Palestinian laborers at Israel settlements in the Jordan Valley. That's problem number one: where are the interviews with the Israelis, who are accused of various crimes and abuses--and who might wish to comment on, deny, or cast a different light on some of the allegations? HRW did not consider that necessary. In fact there was an unofficial or semi-official Israeli response, published in The Times of Israel:
David Elchaiiani, head of the Jordan Valley regional council, angrily rejected the findings, claiming the testimony in the report was fraudulent. He said the council employs 6,000 Palestinians every day, but no minors. “It is a horrific lie,” Elchaiiani told Army Radio. “There is no justification for employing children, not just morally and legally but financially as well.”
So, there are accusations, and there are denials--but HRW does not bother hearing the denials. It relies on the accusations, for which there is no documentary evidence. That does not disprove the charges, but neither does HRW prove them. It simply presents one side, and the report does not present evidence that HRW worked to prove or disprove accusations made against Israel. It accepted them. As NGO Monitor (on whose international advisory board I am happy to serve) and others have noted,
the original cover photo for HRW’s report, consisting of a child working on a date palm tree, was of a young Palestinian child working on a Palestinian farm. (Following criticism, HRW “removed the misleading image and published a new photo.” )
Some might call this an accident; others might call it another example of bias and one that had to be abandoned when HRW was caught. The Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) in Melbourne has done a lengthy analysis of the HRW report, found here, pungently entitled "A labour of enmity: HRW's distorted Jordan Valley report." Here are some of the comments:
HRW's claims were based entirely on Palestinian allegations without any additional documentary or professional evidence provided and without giving the Israeli farms concerned a chance to defend themselves from the charges....HRW's politicised treatment of the subject matter minimised the central role of Palestinian contractors in this problem as well as their legal responsibilities when recruiting workers to carry out tasks on Israeli farms. The report also exaggerated the negative effects of Israeli settlements on the local Palestinian population....HRW left out of its report the context of the ingrained culture of child labour in Palestinian and greater Arab society, ignored the Palestinian Authority's glaring budgetary neglect of Palestinian agriculture in areas under their control over the past two decades and ignored the ways that Israel has tried to help Palestinian farmers in the Jordan Valley.