Human Rights Watch is often accused of being overly critical of Israel. But its latest investigation into the massacre at the Palestinian hospital al-Ahli in Gaza came out in favor of the Israeli army – according to the human rights group, the Palestinians are probably behind the attack.
Otherwise, the director of the European headquarters of HRW, Andrew Stroehlein, also talks about Israel’s war crimes. He draws attention to the fact that the Palestinian population is cut off from sources of drinking water, electricity, and fuel, so people are not even provided with the basic necessities of life.
On the one hand, Stroehlein highlights Czech foreign policy focused on human rights, for example towards Ukraine, but in the issue of Israel, according to him, the Czech Republic has abandoned its principles. “In this case, they only see the crimes of one side. War crimes don’t become acceptable just because your friends commit them,” he says.
These days, your organization published the results of the investigation into the explosion at al-Ahli hospital in Gaza, which was much talked about during the war. You came to the conclusion that the Palestinians were behind it…
Yes. There were several investigations in this case, some journalistic, we published the results of ours yesterday. According to our conclusions, the type of rocket used by Palestinian armed groups was used in the attack… apparently it missed or something. But we make it clear in our report that this requires further investigation, it is not yet the final word.
Human Rights Watch
– international non-profit organization, headquartered in New York
– produces reports and research on human rights violations around the world
– established as Helsinki Watch in 1978 to chart human rights abuses in the Soviet Union and compliance with agreements it had adopted
– opposes the death penalty and discrimination, for example on the basis of sexual orientation
– HRW has a budget of about 26 million dollars, the main sponsor is George Soros
What was your research based on? Did you use the data of the authorities there?
In this case, we didn’t have people on the ground, but we have our own laboratory and a team that evaluates the evidence collected on the Internet, that is, videos, witness statements, etc. And we try to examine it from as many angles as possible. We also looked at other investigations carried out by the media. The same laboratory is engaged in investigations all over the world, for example in Ukraine. We trust her conclusions, but I repeat again, it still needs to be investigated.
How do you view Israel’s war against Hamas, comparing it to previous conflicts between these parties?
There are several factors that distinguish this war from previous acts of violence. The first is the terrible beginning of October 7, which was an absolutely heinous crime: shooting into the crowd, killing women and children, taking hostages. These are all war crimes. We at Human Rights Watch judge this according to international law, and we always examine conflicts for violations of the laws of war. On October 7th, all the rules were broken.
Who is Andrew Stroehlein
– European media and editorial director of the human rights organization Human Rights Watch. He is based in Brussels, where he oversees media awareness and strategy in Europe and Central Asia.
– He previously worked as the Director of Communications for the International Crisis Group, where he dealt with issues of peace and security around the world.
– He has previously written as a journalist on violent conflicts, post-conflict situations, authoritarian regimes and post-authoritarian transitions, as well as the role of the media in all these areas. He wrote reports from Central and Eastern Europe, the Balkans, the Caucasus, Central Asia, Afghanistan, Kenya, Nigeria, Colombia, Indonesia and other countries.
Most of the world was very quick to condemn these terrible crimes, but we have not seen condemnation of what happened later from many European countries. I mean the war crimes committed by Israel as well. I would especially draw attention to the collective punishment of the people of Gaza, such as being cut off from sources of drinking water, electricity, fuel, etc. 2.2 million people were punished in this way, even though the crimes of Hamas were committed by a few hundred or a thousand gunmen.
Of course, there is no will in Europe to condemn these crimes together, but some individual states have done it. We strive for a principled position – a war crime is a war crime and should be judged as such and its victims should receive justice. It must be said that the continued collective punishment of the people of the Gaza Strip is illegal.
You mentioned some war crimes, can you list them all?
That would be a long time… We are not only worried about the situation in Gaza, but we are also dealing with the events in the south of Lebanon. An Israeli missile there hit a family traveling in a car, there is no evidence that the car was anything other than a civilian vehicle. This was definitely an avoidable tragedy. This too should be investigated as a war crime. We were on site, our lab was assessing the video footage.
The suffering of civilians in the Gaza Strip
Another example is hospitals that have been hit repeatedly. In this case, it’s a bit more complicated than it’s presented. It doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want when Hamas is in the hospital. International law says nothing of the sort, the hospital enjoys protection. When one party wants to attack them, they must first issue a warning, and the warning must be credible. Israel did issue warnings, but they were not always credible because people had nowhere to run, roads were dangerous due to fire or blockades. It will therefore be necessary to look at some cases in detail and investigate whether they were war crimes.
Did you somehow use the ongoing ceasefire for your investigations (the interview took place on Monday, note ed.)?
No. From our point of view, while it is positive that some hostages have been released, no hostages should be held at all – holding them is a war crime, and it continues. All hostages should be released immediately under international law. Similarly, the blockade of Gaza, which also continues, is a war crime. From our point of view, these two issues are still relevant and the four-day cessation of hostilities has not changed them.
Some time ago, some seriously injured people were taken to Egypt from the Gaza Strip. Do you see any improvement in the current situation for civilians compared to the first weeks of the war?
I can’t see. About 80 percent of the population of the Gaza Strip is displaced, that’s a huge number. There are 2.2 million people living in Gaza, almost all of whom have children, you have about a million children. Where will they go now? And the help that comes is very little, only a fraction of what would be needed. Access to drinking water, a very basic need for human life, is also a problem. Getting her there is incredibly difficult now. It is absolutely illegal to block the access of humanitarian aid.
At the beginning you asked about the differences with past Israeli military operations – that is the fact that Israel used to open border crossings for humanitarian aid. Now it’s different, this blockade violates international law.
During your travels in Europe, you meet politicians as well as journalists. What attitudes do you see?
As I already mentioned, the European Union does not have a unified foreign policy, but some member states have more balanced positions than others. Belgium, for example, has a very balanced policy. She was able to condemn the terrible crimes of Palestinian groups on October 7, but at the same time she also condemned the later behavior of the Israeli army. Belgium is also a country that strongly supports the International Criminal Court, which has jurisdiction over the Palestinian territories.
Similarly, I would mention Spain, but then there are states that only condemn the crimes of one side and have a very unbalanced view… for example, the Czech Republic. I know he has various reasons for this, historical and others such as defense industry cooperation. But even the European Union was founded on certain principles, on respect for democracy and human rights, the entire European project is based on this. And that includes commitment to justice and respect for international law. The Czech Republic has very good results in this direction, for example in its attitude to the war in Ukraine, when it helped refugees, tried to enforce international law, etc., but in this case it sees only the crimes of one side. In the last seven weeks, the Czech Republic has not adhered to the aforementioned principles. War crimes don’t become acceptable just because your friends commit them.
There are also discussions about the number of Palestinian victims. Many point out that the figures from the Hamas-run Ministry of Health cannot be taken seriously… What do you think?
The Palestinian Ministry of Health, which registers the number of victims, has in the past provided quite reliable data, and in general they can be trusted. I know that data is highly contested, especially in the US. Of course, they probably won’t be completely accurate – sometimes communication channels are interrupted, sometimes it’s simply difficult to count how many people are buried under the rubble. But they are talking about 14 thousand, maybe 12 thousand, about four thousand dead children, many wounded… Honestly, do you see any big difference if there are four thousand or five thousand children killed? It’s still terrible. There’s something strange about those arguments questioning the numbers…isn’t five thousand dead horrible and 4.5 thousand already acceptable? I think it’s just a false argument sometimes.