Two recent reports from Amnesty International on the ordeals of Palestinian communities in the Middle East could not be more different.
‘Trigger-happy‘ is supposed to demonstrate excessive forced used by the IDF in response to Palestinian demonstrations and rioting in the West Bank. Amnesty claims 22 civilians have been killed over a period of 12 months. The casualties are mostly young men, in or around areas of hostility at the time. The report is 87 pages long and contains 14 individual photographs and 18 in-depth biographies of the victims, some up to three pages long and with interviews of family members. There is also an accompanying video of four minutes length.
‘Squeezing the life out of Yarmouk‘, on the other hand, is Amnesty’s attempt at covering the siege of a settlement mostly populated by the descendants of Palestinian refugees in Syria. The death toll here has been close to 200 civilians in 8 months. They are a mixture of men and women, young and old, pointing to killings of an indiscriminate nature. The deaths have been primarily by starvation, sniper-fire, and bombings. Yet this report is a mere 39 pages long. It contains no photographs of the victims. Nor is there any real information on individual casualties. It is as dry as a Wikipedia summary, reading like something Amnesty only had to do because they were obliged. ‘Trigger-happy’, on the other hand, is an emotive call to action, somebody at Amnesty’s personal crusade. ‘Trigger-happy’ was displayed prominently on the front page of their website for two weeks. The other was there for a day.
The information in the reports may or may not be true. I am more interested in the discrepancy of focus and language [H/T to Yisrael Medad for pointing this out to me]. One would have a very distorted picture of the global human rights situation from reading Amnesty reports. The reasons for the discrepancy are worth a discussion.
I identify three phenomena at the root.
Firstly, many of us sceptical about the actions of NGO’s are familiar with Moynihan’s Law, which says that the greater the number of complaints being aired against a country, the better protected are human rights in that country. As a more open society, journalists, academics and other unsavoury types are free to roam and report in Israel. They are not in Syria. The philosopher Roger Scruton strongly hinted in his book on Lebanon, A Land Held Hostage, that Robert Fisk’s disturbingly soft treatment of Hafez Al-Assad during the civil war there helped ensure his access to the region, even though Fisk, the old fraud, was often out of the country for many of the events he claimed to witness.
Secondly, it may be that the relative tranquillity of Israel and Palestine does more to attract aid workers and journalists. One of my favourite quotes of all time was given by a young lady called Emily Williams, an American manager of a medical NGO in the Palestinian territories:
“Palestine is the best-kept secret in the aid industry… People need field experience and Palestine sounds cool and dangerous because it can be described as a war zone, but in reality it’s quite safe and has all the comforts that internationals want. Quality of life here is so much higher than somewhere like Afghanistan, but we don’t tell anyone so that we are not replaced or reassigned.”
My understanding is that most correspondents would rather pen dramatic write-ups on clashes between the IDF and its enemies from the comfort of the American Colony Hotel in eastern Jerusalem than endure the miserable, macchiato -free conditions of Yemen.
Finally, some time ago in National Review, John O’ Sullivan identified another law: any organization that is not explicitly right-wing will over time become left-wing. What is true of the Episcopalian Church is equally true for Amnesty, or Oxfam, or Human Rights Watch. It’s just the type of people organisations that shun profit-making attract.
And on that point I want to talk about Joe Loughnane and the jackasses at NUI Galway.
Here is Joe, in all his eloquence:
Notice Joe says he’s been on the Galway campus for ten years. That’s the product of an extensive education in human rights law, apparently. According to this piece, he’s worked for several months at an unnamed human rights organisation in London. His antics, which include very direct threats against students and guests at his university, are well known and should preclude him from employment in any respectable establishment. Yet I am not so confident that he’ll be shunned by any organisation dedicated to human rights today. It was this blog two years ago that pointed out that Amnesty Ireland’s Communications Co-ordinator at Amnesty International in Ireland, Justin Moran, is a Sinn Fein activist. I’ve made similar allegations of extremist penetration into religious groups like Trocaire and EAPPI.
The hi-jacking of the language of “human rights” and many hitherto respectable organisations dedicated to that cause by people like Joe Loughnane and his Palestine Solidarity Campaign bullies is one of the most significant developments of our time. After all, how could a man proudly displaying the banner below actually believe in any honest notion of human rights? And how can a human rights organisation in good conscience hire him?