Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Playing Russian Roulette with Human Rights

If human rights groups genuinely uphold universal principles, why do they ignore the most basic right of Israeli civilians – the right to life?

A group of six Israeli and Palestinian “human rights” NGOs did just that last week when they petitioned Israel’s High Court to reverse the IDF’s decision to reduce the “safety zone” for Palestinians who fire Kassam rockets at Israel.

Previously, when Palestinian terrorists fired Kassam rockets, the IDF refrained from firing back if Palestinian civilians were spotted within a 300-meter radius of their targets. But since this policy made no dent in the number of Palestinian fired at Israel, the army reduced the zone to 100 meters – the length of a football field in every direction.

Palestinian terrorists often fire rockets from residential areas in the Gaza Strip, hoping the Israeli army will refrain from retaliation in order to avoid civilian casualties. Although the tactic is a clear violation of international law, which forbids armed groups from using civilian areas to launch attacks, it has proven successful – thanks to the IDF’s concern for human life.

But the smaller safety zone means terrorists can expect less protection from the Palestinian civilians they exploit - and endanger - for their safety. It also means they have less time to escape after they fire at Israel, preventing them from digging into their positions and taking accurate aim at their targets. Ultimately, it means fewer Israeli casualties.

But the safety of Israeli civilians is not on the agenda of the highly politicized NGOs that filed the petition, including B’tselem and Physicians for Human Rights – Israel (PHRI). These NGOs, along with other human rights groups active in the Middle East, routinely eliminate the context of terror in their reports on the region. In some cases they may also condemn suicide bombings, but their human rights analyses of Israeli responses to terror are usually conducted in a vacuum. Their intention is to create a distorted picture of the security situation, presenting Israel as the constant aggressor, even when it responds to Palestinian attacks like Kassam fire aimed at Israeli schools, houses, and similar targets.

Indeed, the NGOs’ attorney Michael Sfard illustrates this point clearly in his petition, which essentially demands that Israel provide Palestinian terrorists the widest safety zone possible. By reducing the zone, the petition states, “the army is playing Russian roulette with the lives of Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip by deliberately including them within firing range.”

Actually, it’s the terrorists who are deliberately including Israeli (and Palestinian) civilians within firing range. And the terrorists leave no “safety zone” for Israelis. The only safety zone Israeli civilians have is created by the IDF’s efforts to stop the Kassam fire.

Human rights NGOs distinguish themselves from political advocacy groups by projecting an image of impartiality. On its website, B’tselem asserts that "all human beings are born equal in dignity and rights." PHRI claims its mission “is to secure the right of all individuals to equal access to health care services regardless of political, national, religious, gender or socio-economic considerations.”

But the sad reality is that these groups abandoned Israeli civilians long ago. And if human rights groups that fly the banner of impartiality no longer care about Israelis, the principle of universalism is damaged. In essence, these NGOs are the ones playing Russian roulette with human rights - but win or lose Israelis will usually pay the price.


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