HRW and Hamas

Since Human Rights Watch’s work in the Middle East and North Africa is driven by the organization’s anti-Israel agenda, clearly this letter urging Hamas leadership to take seriously the allegations made against their group in the Goldstone Report and to implement Goldstone’s recommendations can’t actually have happened. For that matter, since Goldstone himself was part of the very same vast anti-Israel agenda his own report can’t possibly have said that stuff.

That said, if we pretend that HRW really did issue the statement posted on their website, it highlights an interesting dynamic. Clearly, in the real world Hamas is not an organization that’s interested in human rights or the laws of war. But if you read the article you can see that Hamas is at least an organization that’s interested in pretending to be interested in these things and gets into a dialogue with human rights groups:

Prior to the vote, a Hamas Foreign Ministry adviser, Ahmad Yusuf, had said that Hamas “will try to do our best” to investigate rocket attacks against Israeli population centers. Yusuf also claimed that Hamas had only intended its rocket attacks to hit Israeli “military targets,” rather than Israeli civilians, and that “maybe some of these rockets missed their targets” because they were “primitive weapons.”

That’s pretty transparently nonsense:


In its letter to Haniya, Human Rights Watch recalled repeated statements by Hamas officials and fighters indicating an intent to direct the rockets toward civilian targets and asked Hamas to clarify its stance on the issue. A June 11, 2006 statement from the Izz el-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the Hamas armed wing, for example, said that in response to an Israeli attack that targeted Palestinian fighters, the group had carried out a rocket attack against the Israeli town of Sderot and would continue attacking Sderot “until its residents flee in horror. We will turn Sderot into a ghost town.”

The point here is that Hamas seems to believe that its own legitimacy and interests can, in fact, be damaged by the perception that it is violating the laws of war and attracting the disapproval of human rights monitors. What’s more, Hamas is clearly very interested in pressing human rights claims against Israel. But that, of course, opens them up to pressure to acknowledge the criticisms of their own conduct being made by those very same group. HRW grew out of the Helsinki Watch concept, which was aimed at holding the Communist Bloc to account for violations of agreements they had plainly signed in bad faith. At the time, that was regarded by many as a futile and pointless task, but in retrospect most people now acknowledge that their work was important and effective.