Human Rights Watch and its Tunnel Deceptions — Updated with UNRWA Confirmation

In its recent report alleging Israeli war crimes in the May fighting with Hamas in Gaza, Human Rights Watch (see analysis here) repeatedly questioned Israel’s claims that the IDF was targeting Hamas tunnels and underground command centers, saying that HRW’s investigators could find no trace of these supposed tunnels.

But now comes a report from Gal Berger, the Palestinian affairs reporter for Israel’s KAN public television network, about a United Nations school in Gaza City that is known to have a Hamas tunnel underneath it. When UN staffers in Gaza brought in their own experts to check on the school’s safety, Hamas police arrived on the scene, forced the UN experts to leave and sealed off the site. (This has now been confirmed by UNRWA — see update below.)

Did Hamas have something to hide? And does Human Rights Watch now have something to hide? You be the judge.

Here are Berger’s tweets about the incident:


Or in plain text:

Hamas prevented a UN team of experts from working in the vicinity of a tunnel shaft that was revealed more than two months ago under an UNRWA school in the Zeitun neighborhood of Gaza, and expelled the team from the place. Palestinian sources reported to Kan News that the team had arrived at the school from UNMAS — the United Nations Mine Action Services— some days earlier, at the request of UNRWA, in order to ensure that the area was clear of unexploded ordnance and that the school could begin its academic year safely despite the tunnel underneath.

Arriving on the scene as soon as they learned that the team was at the school, Hamas police asked the UN team to leave immediately and closed the site off. As a result, the team cancelled its plans for an additional examination — at Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, where suspicions of tunneling near an UNRWA school were also under examination.

Following the incident, UNRWA sources informed the Hamas administration that the school year cannot begin next week at those two schools, which together serve some 4,000 students in Zeitun and Rafah unless the two sites are dealt with by the UN’s teams of experts.

Contrast this with claims by Human Rights Watch that they were apparently able to investigate and found no evidence for Israel’s tunnel claims:

The Israeli military has presented no information that would demonstrate the existence of tunnels or an underground command center in this vicinity … Human Rights Watch did not find any evidence of a military target at or near the site of the airstrikes, including tunnels or an underground command center under al-Wahda street or buildings nearby.

So we are to believe that Hamas prevents the UN from searching for tunnels under UN schools in Gaza, but they allowed Human Rights Watch to search wherever they wanted? Or when HRW says they found no evidence is that because they never actually looked for evidence? Or is it just that Hamas trusts HRW more than they trust the UN?

The bottom line is that when it comes to Israel, Human Rights Watch is less credible even than the United Nations, and that is a truly low bar.

UPDATE: UNRWA on August 11 put out a statement confirming Berger’s reporting that there are tunnels under UN schools and that Hamas (termed the “defacto authorities”) has taken over at least one of the schools and is preventing the UN from accessing it. Here is a link to the full statement: UNRWA Reiterates the Inviolability of its Installations Must be Respected at all Times.

And here is the key quote from UNRWA’s statement:

Initial risk assessments have indicated the existence of underground structures that could have led to further damage. The Agency condemns the existence and potential use of such underground structures, including tunnels, in the strongest possible terms, and letters of protest have been sent to the de facto authorities in Gaza. The Agency has also protested the takeover by the de facto authorities of one of these schools, which undermines the inviolability and neutrality of UNRWA premises. These actions also stand to compromise the safe return of children to their schools and scuttles the Agency efforts to open the schools on time.

So, to repeat, the crucial questions that Human Rights Watch must now answer:

1. If UNRWA knows about such tunnels, why doesn’t Human Rights watch?

2. And if Hamas doesn’t allow UNRWA to investigate buildings that have tunnels underneath, why would they allow HRW to do so?

3. And if HRW was not allowed to investigate, why did they deceive their readers by omitting this key fact?

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