Amnesty International, a major international human rights advocate, recently released a report called Troubled Waters — Palestinians Denied Fair Access to Water. The report has been a fixture on Amnesty’s website’s front page since it was published Tuesday.
In it, Amnesty accuses Israel of pumping disproportionate amounts of water from an aquifer in the West Bank and blocking infrastructure projects to improve the Palestinian water supply.
The report was met with strong resistance from the Israeli government — and for a good reason: It’s wrong. According to the Israeli Water Authority, researchers never contacted them for information, leading me to wonder where they got their numbers.
The Amnesty report claims that the average daily water consumption per person for Palestinians is 70 liters, compared with 300 liters for Israelis. But the Water Authority claims the real figures are 287 liters per person for Palestinians compared to 408 for Israelis.
The report states that Israel is preventing the development and improvement of Palestinian water infrastructure; Water Authority spokesman Uri Shore counters in the Israel National News that the amount of water available to Arabs living in the West Bank and Gaza has increased by 22 percent per person since the Six Day War of 1967. In the same time period water available to Israelis has gone down by 70 percent.
These figures are also deceivingly low since the Palestinian population has grown at a much faster rate than Israel’s.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry also notes that the water arrangements between Israel and the Palestinians are all rooted in agreements between the two parties, and that Israel has supplied double the 6.2 billion gallons of water per year to the Palestinians that was required by the 1995 Oslo Accords.
The Foreign Ministry also points out that the Palestinians “have significantly violated their commitments under the water agreement” by neglecting to construct sewage treatment plants, despite the availability of foreign funding for them, and that the Palestinian Authority has rejected multiple offers to supply Palestinian areas with desalinated water “due to political concerns.”
The report was authored by Donatella Rovera, Amnesty’s researcher on Israel. A bigger and more balanced team might have been more accurate by consulting the Israeli government for figures on its own water usage.
More importantly, this report is part of a broader pattern. Human rights organizations are increasingly losing their focus in the Middle East by disproportionately focusing on violations by Israel — the region’s only democracy.
Human Rights Watch founder Robert L. Bernstein recently published an op-ed in The New York Times criticizing the organization he chaired for 20 years for “helping those who wish to turn Israel into a pariah state.”
“At Human Rights Watch, we always recognized that open, democratic societies have faults and commit abuses,” Bernstein wrote. “But we saw that they have the ability to correct them — through vigorous public debate, an adversarial press and many other mechanisms that encourage reform.
That is why we sought to draw a sharp line between the democratic and nondemocratic worlds, in an effort to create clarity in human rights.”
He also points out that in recent years Human Rights Watch has published more condemnations of Israel than of any other country in the Middle East, even though the region is full of authoritarian regimes that routinely violate human rights.
Amnesty International and the UN Commission on Human Rights have also been prolific in their condemnations.
Israel is home to more than 80 human rights organizations; a free press that criticizes the government often and loudly; a democratic government and a judiciary that frequently rules against popular opinion. In Israel, dissent is not only allowed but encouraged, and basic human freedoms prevail over depravity and authoritarianism.
The same cannot be said for the Arab countries surrounding it. They are mostly ruled by brutal, closed and autocratic regimes that treat their populations without respect.
The countries on Israel’s borders — Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt — are home to far more people than live in Israel, and they could benefit greatly from the attention of large, respected international human rights organizations.
Instead they are ignored as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty continually focus on Israel’s violations. They are often wrong.
International human rights organizations can and should be forces for justice and morality around the world, and they are perhaps needed most in the Middle East.
They should continue to hold Israel to a high standard and report it for violations of human rights.
But by showing such obvious bias against Israel by focusing on it instead of the authoritarian regimes surrounding it and misreporting facts, these organizations are undermining their own credibility and reducing their capability to truly effect change.
Daniel Charnoff is a junior majoring in international relations (global business).