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Israeli forces are accused of wide ranging human rights violations in Gaza last summer

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h593 (Published 02 February 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h593

Re: Israeli forces are accused of wide ranging human rights violations in Gaza last summer

Owen Dyer’s article “Israeli Forces are Accused of Wide Ranging Human Rights Violations in Gaza Last Summer” (February 2, 2015) repeated extensively from a publication by the Israeli NGO Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-I).

While a short, but strong, response from the Israeli government is provided at the very end, it is a shame that the article took an otherwise uncritical approach to PHR-I’s allegations.

As with a number of other politicized NGOs claiming expertise on human rights issues, PHR-I lacks credibility. A careful reading shows the report to be an incomplete account providing no proof or evidence. To draw such conclusions accurately requires factual knowledge, considerable military expertise, and access to comprehensive data from both the Israeli army and from within Gaza. PHR-I does not possess this crucial information.

NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based research institution, produced an analysis of PHR-I’s research (February 1, 2015) and identified fundamental methodological flaws; the denial of Hamas violations and other evidence that does not comport with a one sided, political agenda; and reliance on a panel of eight “medical experts,” of which at least five have backgrounds in anti-Israel advocacy.

Strikingly, Hamas provided some, if not all, the “evidence” in PHR-I’s report. PHR-I was “granted access to relevant evidence by officials of the [Hamas] Ministry of Health” they encountered difficulties and lack of transparency “regarding the necessary procedures for access to forensic pathology materials, specifically tissue samples and X-rays, which fall under the responsibility of the Ministry of Justice ” (pg. 26). Additionally, all files and photographs pertaining to fatalities were provided by Hamas government officials. The overall dependency on information from Hamas undermines the independence of the investigation and any forensic claims made.

Reviewing PHR-I’s press release and summary, one would not know that Hamas leadership hid in hospitals, stored weapons in medical buildings, schools, mosques, and private homes; conducted military operations from within civilian areas, including medical facilities, placing them in extreme danger. Dyer cites an incident in which the report claims that an “ambulance staff were repeatedly endangered and injured by an Israeli practice” ignoring that throughout the conflict Hamas used ambulances to transport combatants and weapons.

PHR-I also creates a false impression of scientific and investigative rigor, presenting over 200 pages of emotive testimonies and forensic details. However, the testimonies are largely unverifiable and are irrelevant to the allegations concerning Israel. The forensics relate to the nature of patients’ wounds, not to the main accusations of Israeli wrongdoing featured in the report.

These blatant biases and inherent limitations cast significant doubts on PHR-I’s ability to draw accurate and independent conclusions. Therefore, we believe that there is no basis for the British Medical Journal, or other medical platforms, to quote uncritically from PHR-I publications.

Professor Gerald Steinberg is president of NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based research institute, and professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University.

Gerald Steinberg
President, NGO Monitor

Competing interests: No competing interests

04 February 2015
Gerald Steinberg
Professor
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