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September 25, 2016 / 22 Elul, 5776
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Journalists, The Right to Live and Other Human Rights

Human Rights Watch attacked Israel for bombing a media installation. Perhaps they have forgotten the story of Palestinian journalist Ahlam Tamimi.
TV Press

Here’s the AP report of a widely publicized assault (the Jerusalem Post called it “a scathing attack”) on Israel’s moral standing made three days ago by the New York-based Human Rights Watch organization.

Group: Israel broke law by targeting media in Gaza
JERUSALEM (AP) — Human Rights Watch says Israeli army attacks on journalists and media facilities in the Gaza Strip during last month’s military operation violated the laws of war. Two Palestinian cameramen were killed and at least 10 media personnel were wounded in the offensive, which was launched after weeks of rocket attacks on Israel. The Israeli government says each of the targets was a legitimate military objective. A statement released Thursday by the New York-based rights group says it found no indications that these targets were valid military objectives. Sarah Leah Whitson, the Mideast director at HRW, says that “just because Israel says a journalist was a fighter or a TV station was a command center does not make it so.” The Israeli military had no immediate comment on the report. [Source]

As director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division and the person leveling these charges [full text here], Sarah Leah Whitson lays serious claim to the description about her on the HRW site: she’s a general expert on “Middle East and North Africa issues,” though – like the organization itself – she has not been free of controversy. (We will not dwell here on the serious allegations made against her; they are adequately detailed in her Wikipedia entry and in some trenchant, well-argued critiques published by NGO Monitor this week as well as in January 2012.)

For all the impressive human rights work it does, HRW has some exceedingly bitter critics. In a major and very critical op ed in the New York Times, Robert L. Bernstein, the man who created HRW, wrote this about the organization he brought into existence:

As the founder of Human Rights Watch, its active chairman for 20 years and now founding chairman emeritus, I must do something that I never anticipated: I must publicly join the group’s critics. Human Rights Watch had as its original mission to pry open closed societies, advocate basic freedoms and support dissenters. But recently it has been issuing reports on the Israeli-Arab conflict that are helping those who wish to turn Israel into a pariah state…  Human Rights Watch has lost critical perspective on a conflict in which Israel has been repeatedly attacked by Hamas and Hezbollah, organizations that go after Israeli citizens and use their own people as human shields. [more]

Sarah Leah Whitson was HRW’s key Middle East person when Bernstein wrote those words.

Bernstein then proceeded in that 2009 essay to make some prophetic references to HRW allegations about Israel engaging in allegedly illegal forms of warfare:

Israel, the repeated victim of aggression, faces the brunt of Human Rights Watch’s criticism… [Yet] Human Rights Watch has written far more condemnations of Israel for violations of international law than of any other country in the region… How does Human Rights Watch know that these laws have been violated? In Gaza and elsewhere where there is no access to the battlefield or to the military and political leaders who make strategic decisions, it is extremely difficult to make definitive judgments about war crimes… Significantly, Col. Richard Kemp, the former commander of British forces in Afghanistan and an expert on warfare, has said that the Israel Defense Forces in Gaza “did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.”

He ended his 2009 words with a warning to HRW that unless it returned to “its founding mission and the spirit of humility that animated it,” HRW’s “credibility will be seriously undermined and its important role in the world significantly diminished.

Which brings us to December 2012 when news sources throughout the world seized on Ms Whitson’s well-formed words:

Just because Israel says a journalist was a fighter or a TV station was a command center does not make it so.

And also to the apt rejoinder offered by Anne Herzberg, legal adviser to the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor:

Just because HRW claims something is a war crime does not make it so.

We don’t claim to have the depth of experience of Ms. Whitson or HRW. But we do say our experience in losing a greatly-loved daughter to a bestial act of Islamist terror in 2001 has made us more sensitive than many people to nuances. We tend to pay attention to little-reported aspects of news events that somehow don’t get that much coverage or attention by the likes of HRW.

For instance, here’s a photo of a particular Arab journalist with a little-known back-story:

Portrait 1: Female reporter presents the Palestinian Authority evening news

The image in Portrait 1 is a screenshot taken from a video recording of a PA Television evening news report originating in PA TV’s Ramallah studios that went to air some years ago. The young woman, a reporter/presenter, was relatively new to the job at the time the picture was taken. Even so, she evidently showed journalistic promise because management in the Fatah/PLO television authority at the time assigned her to the role of presenting the evening news.

Now some speculation: what if this woman had been (let’s just imagine) intercepted by IDF soldiers or by an Israeli Border Guard patrol while she was peaceably en route to the nearby city of Jerusalem? We’re betting that Sarah Leah Whitson  and her HRW Irregulars would have screamed bloody murder at the temerity of the Israelis. The young woman is, after all, clearly a working journalist with all the privileges and protections that come with the job.

Portrait 2: A female journalist conducts a live interview
for a Hamas television program (2012)
Portrait 3: Same female journalist fronts a weekly TV show
on the Al-Quds satellite channel (2012)

The woman in Portraits 2 and 3 above is a regular on the Al-Quds television channel owned and operated by Hamas. Its shows are beamed throughout the world to wherever there are Arabic-speaking audiences interested in the distinctive programming they offer. It has a truly global footprint and a large influence among a very specific international audience.

The woman is the central figure in a weekly television program devoted to surveying issues of interest to one of the deprived underclasses in Palestinian society. On it, she interviews guests, demonstrates cooking recipes, and summarizes and interprets recent events. The fact that an entire program aired during peak evening hours (and on Friday nights, no less) is given over to a woman suggests the prominent role she has in the tele-journalism field.

Now some more speculation: imagine for a moment that this household-name TV personality decided to carry out some research in, say, East Jerusalem. And say that the Israeli authorities, for reasons best known to them, detained her on the way for questioning; that they refused to let her go because of some dusty old and forgotten breaches of the law allegedly committed a decade or so earlier. How long do we think it would take for the righteous indignation of Human Rights Watch to boil over and traverse the oceans? Or for their furious demands to be laid at the feet of the government of Israel insisting that the inherent rights of journalists and reporters – and international legal norms – be respected, forthwith?

So now we’re back in the real world. The name of the woman in all the photos above is Ahlam Tamimi.

Tamimi read the PA TV evening news on Thursday evening, August 9, 2001. That is when Portrait 1 was taken. She started the program with the lead news item of the day: a horrific news report about a human bomb who had exploded inside a central Jerusalem restaurant that afternoon, killing many people, most of them children, all of them Jews. Portrait 1 shows her reading the actual report on camera.

The slight smile of pleasure that can just be made out on her lips is probably no accident. She herselfpersonally, planned the bombing. She ensured with the other planners that the explosive material was adequate to the task. She accompanied the bomb (who was a newly-pious young man with a fully-loaded guitar case on his back) through the IDF military checkpoints and into Jerusalem by bus and taxi. She then walked with him through the streets of Israel’s bustling capital city until they reached the Sbarro restaurant where, fifteen minutes after she left him there (giving her time to safely escape to freedom), he exploded the deadly materials packed into that guitar case. He killed our teenage daughter Malki and fourteen other innocents. A sixteenth victim remains unconscious to this day.

Tamimi’s journalistic career resumed a year ago. Then, as part of a deal transacted between Israel and the Hamas regime in Gaza, she was released from prison far earlier than should have been the case (she had been sentenced to sixteen life terms with a strong recommendation by the judges that no reduction should ever be considered) and flew to the land of her birth, Jordan, and to complete and unfettered freedom. There she was hired by Hamas to become the presenter of a new weekly program called Breezes of the Free, focusing on the convicted terrorists, many of them murderers of Jewish children, still in Israeli prisons and their goals, hopes and plans.

Especially their plans.

Tamimi, now living free as a bird, newly-married and with a global platform for spreading her hateful, murderous views, is famously proud of the killings for which she was convicted in an Israeli court. She has no regrets; quite the opposite, and has said so as clearly as a person ever can. [Please read one of our numerous posts about this evil person: “17-Nov-11: A monster walks the streets and she has many accomplices“].

For these and other reasons, we wonder – when we read the words of HRW, and especially of Sarah Leah Whitson – whether such critics comprehend the nature of terrorism. Do they see how the people who fire the rockets at homes, schools and buses will use everything at their disposal – every possible thing, no limits – to carry out their satanic plans?

The notion that journalists ought to be treated in some privileged way by reason of the work they do – leaving them exempt from suspicion unless there is a compelling reason to think otherwise – is an interesting one. But we’re left to wonder whether at HRW they know or care how this works in a war carried out by terrorists and in accordance with the principles of Islamism.

Victims like our daughter suffered the permanent, irreparable violation by the terrorists of the most fundamental of their human rights – the right to live. Had the perpetrators (and that includes Tamimi) been stopped in time, or if they (and this includes Tamimi) were prevented from inciting others daily to do the same awful thing again in the future, lives would surely be saved.

If HRW’s recent condemnation fails to take that reality into account, then – in the words of their distinguished founder, Robert L. Bernstein –  they have lost their critical perspective and the role they claim is simply illegitimate and should be ignored.

Visit This Ongoing War.

Frimet and Arnold Roth

About the Author: Frimet and Arnold Roth began writing and speaking publicly soon after the murder of their fifteen year-old daughter Malki Z"L in the Jerusalem Sbarro massacre, August 9, 2001 (Chaf Av, 5761). They have both been, and are, frequently interviewed for radio, television and the print media, including CNN, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Al-Jazeera, and others. Their blog This Ongoing War deals with the under-appreciated price of living in a society afflicted by terrorism which, they contend, means the entire world. Frimet is a native of Queens, NY while her husband was born and raised in Melbourne, Australia. They brought their family to settle in Jerusalem in 1988. They co-founded the Malki Foundation in 2001 and are deeply involved in its work as volunteers. They can be reached at thisoingoingwar@gmail.com .

The author's opinion does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Jewish Press.

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