By Steven A. Cook
Last week, Israel took criticism for sending a contingent of doctors and search-and-rescue specialists to Nepal to participate in the earthquake relief efforts.
Read that again. There is no “not” in between “for” and “sending.”
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) sent 260 doctors, nurses and personnel trained in finding disaster victims to Kathmandu after the major quake (7.8 on the Richter scale), and this was quickly dismissed as propaganda to deflect attention from Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and the humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip.
The criticism of the IDF’s Nepal mission from some well-known anti-Israel activists is to be expected, even if it is bizarre. But for those genuinely interested in human rights it seemed rather odd to call out the Israelis for sending relief.
Here I am thinking of a Tweet from Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) Ken Roth: “Easier to address a far-away humanitarian disaster than the nearby one of Israel’s making in Gaza. End the blockade!”
Never mind the fact that Roth seems to be implying that the Israelis are disqualified from sending relief to Nepal because of Gaza; he seems so blithely unaware of just how difficult it actually is to address the humanitarian situation in Gaza.
Had I seen the Tweet in real time, I would have responded with all seriousness, “Yes, it is much easier.” Let’s review why it is easier for the Israelis to provide relief in Nepal than in Gaza:
Since 2005, about 15,000 rockets have been fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip, though not all of them landed in Israel.
The Nepalese have not fired a single rocket at Israel.
There is no solution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
There is no conflict between Israelis and Nepalese.
It is true that even though the Israelis withdrew in 2005, they have maintained control over Gaza’s border, airspace and waters in a way that at best makes life extraordinarily difficult for the 1.8 million people who live there and at worst has turned the area into an open-air prison.
Yet that is clearly not the way Israelis see it. For them, Gaza is rockets and tunnels and terrorists, whereas Nepal is temples, mountains and nice people. So of course it is easier to address the humanitarian crisis in Nepal.
Maybe Roth meant that the Israelis should not receive credit for their humanitarian work in Nepal because of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. If that is what he meant, I am not sure why.
I don’t mean to pick on Roth, yet he does a disservice to both himself and his organization with the kind of ill-considered tweet like the one cited above. When the executive director of Human Rights Watch criticizes the Israelis for providing humanitarian relief, it actually makes it easier to dismiss his criticism of Israel’s human rights record.
One is left to assume that any censure coming from Roth and his team is driven not by the principles laid out in HRW’s mission statement but rather by animus.
Steven A. Cook is the Hasib J. Sabbagh senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. This article first appeared on the Council for Foreign Relations website.