Human Rights Watch Shifts Focus to Syria

Shifting From Israel, Groups Become Key Information Source

Broken City: The streets of the northern city of Aleppo have been decimated by battles between government troops and rebel fighters.
Getty Images
Broken City: The streets of the northern city of Aleppo have been decimated by battles between government troops and rebel fighters.

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published November 06, 2012, issue of November 09, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

On October 27, someone posted a shaky YouTube video of a group of camouflaged men dropping a makeshift bomb out of a helicopter in the general direction of a Syrian town.

It looked like an indiscriminate attack on a civilian target — a likely violation of the laws of war. But the video didn’t identify the village, making the incident impossible to verify.

That’s where the U.S.-based international human rights organization Human Rights Watch came in. Within days the group’s experts believed they had figured out exactly where the bomb hit and dispatched sources to search for survivors of the attack.

For HRW, the yearlong rebellion and brutal repression in Syria have meant a marked shift in its allocation of resources. Long accused of focusing disproportionately on Israel in its Middle East work, the group has been reporting intensively on Syria amid notoriously difficult conditions. In doing so, HRW has emerged as a key source of information about the bloody realities of the civil war there.

Sarah Leah Whitson, director of HRW’s Middle East and North Africa division, says that the focus on Syria has meant an accompanying relative shift away from Israel and Palestinian territories.

“Since Israel was involved in a war in Lebanon and a war in Gaza, of course it got a lot of attention,” Whitson said. As the group’s area manager, Whitson says, she now struggles to keep the work that the organization continues to do outside Syria from getting buried. Before the uprising, Syria “was such a moribund place, we couldn’t generate news…. The reality is, for us to report we needed to be documenting active measures of repression or active measures of abuse.”

If the group is expecting acknowledgement of its even-handedness from pro-Israel critics now, it could be left waiting.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.