NEW YORK, July 16 (JTA) — It’s an odd sight: Israel welcoming a report from Amnesty International. But after Amnesty issued a report late last week criticizing Palestinian terror attacks on Israeli civilians as “crimes against humanity,” Israeli leaders spoke up for the human rights group. “I’m really happy that Amnesty officials have seen the light,” Israeli Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit told The Associated Press. “They finally understand that we have no interest in harming Palestinians but just protecting our citizens.” Israeli officials and Jewish leaders have long criticized Amnesty and other human rights groups as being one-sided in their reporting on the Middle East conflict. Palestinian Authority Cabinet Secretary Ahmed Abdul Rahman said that although the Palestinian Authority condemns the bombings of Israeli civilians, they are “a normal consequence of their occupation and rejection of Palestinian rights.” The report, “Without Distinction: Attacks on Civilians by Palestinian Armed Groups” addresses what it identifies as 130 attacks since the outbreak of the intifada in September 2000 that have resulted in the deaths of 350 Israeli citizens — including over 60 children. “The attacks by Palestinian armed groups are widespread, systematic and in pursuit of an explicit policy to attack civilians. They therefore constitute crimes against humanity under international law,” Amnesty says in the report. While the new report notes Israeli violations of human rights, it sides strongly with advocates of the Jewish state by declaring that “no violations by the Israeli government, no matter their scale or gravity, justify” the killing of civilians. The report was delivered in the Gaza Strip, instead of New York, to send a clear message to those parties it was directed at, said Joshua Rubenstein, northeast regional director of Amnesty International U.S.A. This statement, some Jewish observers say, is exactly what Amnesty’s policy has lacked. Dina Siegel Vann, U.N. and Latin American affairs director for B’nai B’rith International, called the report “very welcome” and said that Amnesty had been portraying “moral equivalency” in the Middle East conflict. She said this policy was “not taking into consideration the whole context, the teaching of hatred.” However, Rubenstein said, “We studiously never used the term ‘moral equivalency,'”and called the term “a dodge” by Jewish leaders to avoid criticism of Israeli human rights violations. Amnesty’s “job is to report on what one side is doing and what the other side is doing, not to compare or elevate,” he said. Siegel Vann called previous Amnesty reports “simplistic” and “not complete.” In the past year, Amnesty has issued a number of reports criticizing both Palestinian terrorist actions and Israeli operations in the West Bank. It also participated in “International Days of Mourning” in protest of human rights violations against both Israelis and Palestinians. The new report also criticized some of the U.N.’s actions during the past 20 months regarding the Middle East conflict. “The U.N. General Assembly has recognized the legitimacy of the struggle of peoples against foreign occupation in the exercise of their right to self-determination and independence,” the report says. “However international law requires all parties involved in a conflict to always distinguish between civilians and people actively taking part in the hostilities. They must make every effort to protect civilians from harm.” Rubenstein said the report was prompted by the ongoing suicide attacks during the past year. “The time came, with hundreds of casualties, for us to make clear these are crimes against humanity” instead of just condemning the attacks one by one, he said. But Siegel Vann believes that Amnesty’s policy has changed since anti-Semitism plagued last summer’s U.N. anti-racism conference in Durban, South Africa. Indeed, Rubenstein called the conference a “major failure,” and that he felt Amnesty “should have been more explicit” in objecting to the anti-Semitic departures from the agenda.
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