Richard Falk, the current Rapporteur for Palestine of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), is set to step down in the coming days. Falk’s primary legacy will be his consistent hounding of Israel, which he has accused, among other things, of engaging in genocide and apartheid against the Palestinians. Unfortunately, Falk never placed the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in its proper context, nor did he properly compare Israel’s actions to those of the more serious violators of human rights, including Syria, North Korea and Sudan. He has thus made a mockery of the UN and done a disservice to the Palestinian people.
Falk has consistently miscategorized and distorted Israel’s behavior. For example, this past December, he accused Israel of targeting Palestinians with “genocidal intent.” And for his final report in his present capacity, he accused Israel of “inhuman acts,” calling on the UN to wage a legitimacy war against the Jewish State. He has also demanded that the World Court examine whether Israel is guilty of ethnic cleansing.
As Rapporteur on this critical international issue, Falk had an ethical and professional obligation to compare this conflict to those taking place in other parts of the world. He rarely if ever compared Israel to the world’s far more serious violators of human rights, including Syria, North Korea and Sudan. By not doing so, he prevented light from being shed on wars, genocide and civil fratricides that have killed millions of people over the last half century.
The accusation that Israel is engaging in genocide is patently false. Genocide, plainlystated, is the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.” To judge whether Israel is guilty of such behavior, it should be compared with other countries facing comparable threats. No other nation facing similar internal and external pressure has gone to the same lengths as Israel in protecting enemy civilians, take risks for peace and upholding the rule of law. Since its founding, Israel has consistently extended its hand in peace, and it has engaged in a direct peace process with the Palestinians since 1993. There are Arab members of Israel’s parliament, and while the country’s judicial system is far from perfect, Israel’s Arab citizens have a legal status equal to that of Jewish Israelis.
Falk would also have audiences believe that Palestinians have suffered more than any other population. But actually, the scale of their losses is dwarfed by those of other groups in many other 20th-century events. Gennar Heinsohn, a German sociologist and economist, compiled a study ranking conflicts by the number of deaths. Between 1950 and roughly the present, over 85 million people have lost their lives in conflicts around the globe. The largest offenders include China (4 million), the Soviet Union (10 million), Ethiopia (4 million), Zaire (3.8 million), Korean war (2.8 million), and Sudan (1.9 million).
Many will be surprised to learn that according to Heinsohn’s study, the Arab-Israeli conflict actually ranks 49th, with 51,000 total lives lost for both Arabs and Israelis. In other words, just .06% of the total number of deaths in conflicts since 1950 has resulted from this conflict.
How many people realize that the vast majority of deaths due to wars in the Muslim world since 1950 were actually caused by fellow Muslims? The number of Muslim deaths in the Arab-Israeli conflict is hardly exceptional. Approximately 11 million Muslims have lost their lives in wars since 1950 — including in Afghanistan, Sudan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq and Yemen. Where is Falk’s outrage about the number of deaths — and refugee tragedies — in Sudan, Syria and Afghanistan?
Even if one examines the current refugee situation in the Muslim world, there are serious crimes against humanity taking place today that have nothing to do with Israel.
Since 2003, 2.5 million Sudanese have become refugees as a result of the Janjaweed militia and Sudanese army, and 1.9 million people have died in Sudan since 1950. Since 2011, over 2 million refugees have fled Syria, and over 70,000 have been killed there in the last three years (almost twice the number of Arabs killed in the Arab-Israeli conflict). In Afghanistan, from the Soviet invasion in 1979 until the Taliban’s ouster in 2002, 6 million refugees fled to Pakistan and Iran — and 1.8 million people have died there since 1950.
Ending Palestinian suffering should continue to be a priority for the international community. Both Israelis and Palestinians must confront the past with honesty and take the necessary but painful steps to achieve a just resolution to the conflict.
Labeling Israel a genocidal state, which is patently false, is not helpful in the pursuit of peace. The failure to place the Palestinian plight in the context of real genocides around the globe has given Palestinians a false sense of uniqueness and actually serves as a hurdle in pursuing a just and lasting settlement to this conflict.
Those who truly care about human rights should be outraged at Falk’s sentiments and delighted at the thought of his departure. His inability to place into context the plight of the Palestinians has had the unfortunate effect of empowering some of the worst violators of human rights and has not brought the parties themselves closer to a negotiated settlement. Sadly, the cause of peace and justice is never served through lies and deceit.