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State Department's Annual Reports Slur Israel

By David Bedein. From: March 22, 2004

Ever since the days when the Carter administration required that the U.S. oversee human rights policies and practices that remain an integral part of the policies of all nations abroad, the U.S. State Department has issued an annual country-by-country report to evaluate the human rights practices of nations throughout the world. By law, that annual report is submitted by the U.S. State Department to the U.S. Congress during the third week of the month of February.

Our news agency has commented on the State Department's annual reports concerning Israeli human rights policies and practices since February 1989. What has consistently characterized these reports has been the tendency of State to rely without question on the reports of left-wing Israeli political organizations. This year's report was no exception.

Why is the State Department unable to find the names of murdered Israeli children in their analysis titled "Country Report on Human Rights Practices, 2003-Israel," released on February 25, 2004? The report, put out to the U.S. and worldwide media, shows a significant bias against Israel and openly is in favor of Palestinians throughout its entire 50 pages.

Consider this, from the introduction, which sets the tone for the entire report:

"Since 1991, the Israelis and the Palestinians made repeated attempts at negotiating peace. Despite meetings between high-level Israeli and Palestinian officials, efforts to resolve the conflict yielded few results..."

Such a statement gives the distinct impression that both sides made equal effort. The reality, which is glossed over, is that during the course of the Oslo process, from 1993 to 2000, Israel met its obligations and turned over significant areas to the control of the Palestinian Authority, while the PA failed to meet its obligations. No less a participant than former President Clinton laid the blame for failure of the process squarely on PA President Arafat. Yet the State Department chooses not even to suggest that this might have been the case.

Repeatedly, the report fails to consider facts in context, thereby obscuring reasons for certain Israeli positions or actions. In times of war, some abrogation of human rights is necessary - and this necessity is universally recognized.

Yet for whatever reason, the report does not adequately reflect the position - a state of war - that Israel finds itself in.

The report states that in 2003 terrorist attacks resulted in the deaths of about 213 Israelis, and in the injury of about 900 Israelis. It alludes to the state of alert with which Israel functions.

But the enormity of what Israel contends with is downplayed by the lack of details enumerated.

Only five specific attacks are listed even though there were at least 17 suicide bombings alone and hundreds of other attacks - knifings, shootings, etc. - that were perpetrated against Israel in the course of 2003.

Nor is there is a single mention by name or circumstances of the victims of those attacks: There is no specific mention, for example, of the fact that children were bombed into non-existence when returning from prayers at the Western Wall, or of the fact that a recently released PLO prisoner had murdered Dr. David Applebaum - much loved and much mourned head of emergency services at Sha'arei Tzedek Hospital - and daughter, the evening before her wedding.

What is missing from the U.S. Human Rights Report about Israel is any mention of the need for Israel to pursue terrorists where they hide in the areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority, to dismantle weapons factories, to confiscate weapons caches and to secure information that will prevent attacks. There is no greater loss of human rights than when one's life is destroyed: in taking the actions it does, Israel is seeking to secure this essential right to life for its citizens. There are days on which Israeli Intelligence has received as many as 50 warnings of attacks, and the first priority is to prevent them from happening. Yet it is without this context that the report states:

"Members of the security forces committed serious human rights abuses in the occupied territories and against Palestinian detainees."

The report deals in considerable detail with these alleged human rights abuses, down to cataloguing such matters as the destruction of three hospital beds by Israeli soldiers in Nablus. (Can we call the "destruction of three hospital beds" a human rights abuse??)

In the course of this catalogue of abuses, names of specific Palestinians who were aggrieved are mentioned. The fact that Palestinian names are included, while no Israeli casualties are mentioned by name, indicates a tendency to give precedence to the significance of the Palestinian suffering . It is that suffering and that suffering only that is given a human face.

A call was placed to the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Dr. Daniel Kurtzer, asking why the policy of putting a human face on Palestinian Arabs who were killed in the line of fire was not applied to Jews, whose murders have been praised via the official media of the Palestinian Authority. No one called back with an explanation. Meanwhile, the Israel Ministry of Education has confirmed that it had provided the U.S. Embassy with a multicolored booklet with the names, pictures and short biographies of each Israeli child who had been murdered in cold blood. How instructive that such "details" did not make it into the report released by the Department of State.

Shouldn't Ambassador Kurtzer have known better? Is the omission with his sanction?

In addition to these omissions of details regarding Jewish victims, it would seem that no effort was made to secure the IDF perspective on what occurred.

This is particularly the case regarding the need for context where there are allegations that Israel has killed or wounded innocent civilians in the course of pursuing terrorists or gunmen.

What is lacking is the information - well documented - that PLO gunmen frequently opt to position themselves behind civilians when there is a gun battle so as to put the civilians at risk. It is not the PLO, which sanctions this conduct, that is abusing the human rights of the Palestinian Arab population?

A basic flaw in the report is its reliance on "human rights organizations" or NGOs for its information. The organizations cited - which include B'tselem, Adalah, and Physicians for Human Rights - are notoriously biased against Israel. B'tselem and Physicians for Human Rights are both chaired by active members of the Israeli Communist Party. At a recent gathering of human rights organizations which was held at a PLO venue, the head of B'tselem openly stated that they "use human rights groups for political purposes."

The watchdog organization NGO Monitor has documented this. As NGO Monitor has reported, "...B'tselem's agenda is ...blatantly political ...and, unlike many other non-governmental organizations, makes no attempt to hide this."

Yet we find statements such as these in the report:

"B'tselem estimated that at least 10,000 dunams of land has been taken over for construction of the separation barrier.

"...According to Israeli human rights organization B'tselem, Israeli forces demolished 219 homes..."

We don't know that 10,000 dunams of land have been taken over or that 219 homes have been destroyed, we only know that B'tselem says so. That the State Department uses the information and allegations of such an admittedly political organization, without doing independent confirmation, speaks volumes regarding the position of the State Department itself.

Finally, there is the issue of information factually in error. The report states:

"The Law of Return does not apply to those not officially recognized by the Orthodox establishment as Jews."

However, this is simply not the case. Anyone converted by any stream of Judaism may come to Israel under the "law of return." If such readily verifiable information is presented incorrectly, it gives serious pause as to which more sensitive and less readily verifiable information that is provided may be also in error.

When will the American public learn about what the State Department is really doing in Israel?

David Bedein is the bureau chief of the Israel Resource News Agency, located at the Beit Agron International Press Center in Jerusalem.