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The Newest Abuse Excuse for Violence Against Women

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There is never an excuse for rape and other violence against women, but Amnesty International recently concocted one. A report by Amnesty International (“AI”) on violence perpetrated against Palestinian women by Palestinian men in the West Bank and Gaza purported to be “part of the global AI campaign to stop violence against women.” Such violence is a serious problem, especially in the Arab and Muslim world, because so few leaders within these groups are prepared to condemn it and so many even justify it as a necessary means of maintaining family honor and male dominance. The AI report documents honor killings of women who had been raped. In one such case a 17 year old girl was murdered by her own mother after she was “repeatedly raped by two of her brothers.” In another case, a 21 year old “was forced to drink poison by her father” when she was found to be pregnant.

The AI report places substantial blame for these and other killings on – you guessed it – Israel! Here is AI’s conclusion, listing the causes of the violence directed against Palestinian women, presumably in the order of their importance: “Palestinian women in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are victims of multiple violations as a result of the escalation of the conflict, Israel’s policies, and a system of norms, traditions and laws which treat women as unequal members of society.” The “escalation of the conflict” (which AI blames primarily on Israel) and “Israel’s policies” rank higher than the “norms, traditions and laws which treat women as unequal.” The report asserts that violence against women has “increased” dramatically during the Israeli occupation and has reached “an unprecedented level” as a result of the “increased militarization of the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation.” It is as if the West Bank and Gaza Strip had been violence free for Palestinian women until the Israeli Occupation.

On August 23, 2005, I spoke with Donatella Rovera, who is AI’s researcher on Israel and the Occupied Territories and asked her to provide the data on which she had based her conclusion that violence against women had escalated to an “unprecedented level” during the occupation, and especially during its most militarized phase. I also asked her whether AI had compared violence against women in the occupied West Bank and Gaza with violence against women in unoccupied Arab-Muslim areas that have comparable populations, such as Jordan. Rovera acknowledged that AI could provide no such comparative data and confirmed that the report was based on anecdotal information, primarily from Palestinian NGOs. “We talk to anyone who would talk to us,” she said. When I asked her for a list of the NGO’s that were the sources of the information, she refused to provide them because “there are things we can simply not provide to outsiders.” I assured her that I was not interested in names or identifying features, but only in statistical data regarding the alleged trends cited in the report, but she still refused to provide anything more than a recommendation that we Google “pretty much all the NGOs” in the region. It is impossible under these circumstances for any outside researcher to replicate AI’s study and to confirm or disconfirm its conclusions.

The NGO Monitor, an organization based in Jerusalem which analyzes reports made by other NGOs, blasted the AI report on the ground that “Palestinian men are condescendingly excused from taking responsibility for their actions.” This is true, as a careful reading of the AI report shows. Listen to the excuses AI provides: "Restrictions on movement and curfews which confine people to their homes for prolonged periods, and increased unemployment, poverty and insecurity, which have forced men to spend more time at home, as well as the increase in crowded conditions in the home, have contributed to the increase in violence against women, including sexual abuse, within the family.". By providing these “abuse excuses,” AI places its own political biases ahead of the interests of the female victims. The NGO Monitor correctly characterized the amnesty report as based on “biased sources” and lacking in “credibility.”

The AI report was brought to my attention by one of the pioneers of the human rights movement, a founder of Human Rights Watch, who is now somewhat alienated from his own movement. As a result of “their obsessive focus on Israel,” he told me, “these human rights organizations are becoming part of the problem.”

Alan Dershowitz’s latest book is The Case For Peace (Wiley, September 2005).