|Focus||Changing Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories to protect human rights|
B'Tselem (Hebrew: ?, IPA: [be'tselem], "in the image of [God]") is a Jerusalem-based non-profit organization whose stated goals are to document human rights violations in the Israeli-occupied territories, combat denial of the existence of such violations, and help to create a human rights culture in Israel. Its executive director is Hagai El-Ad. B'Tselem also maintains a presence in Washington, D.C., known as B'Tselem USA. B'Tselem has provoked sharp reactions within Israel, ranging from harsh criticism to strong praise.
B'Tselem was founded in 1989, during the First Intifada, by Israeli academics and activists of left-wing political parties. B'Tselem's funding comes from private individuals (both Israeli and foreign), governments,[non-primary source needed] and European and North American foundations focusing on human rights.[non-primary source needed]
B'Tselem has been harshly criticized. In 2011, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman charged the group with abetting terrorism and weakening Israel's defense forces. It has also faced criticism from politicians on the left, specifically Zionist Union's Itzik Shmuli who said that B'tselem helps in the demonization of Israel.
In 2016, B'Tselem announced that it was cutting ties with the IDF over the alleged whitewashing of complaints raised by the NGO.
Several years before B'Tselem was founded, David Zucker, Knesset member for the Ratz party, began publishing information pages about several topics, including Israeli involvement in the territories. In late 1988, Zucker flew to the United States and there he met the head of the Human Rights First organization, Michael Posner, who offered him to form an "arranged organization" and Zucker began forming one using the $25 thousand he was given in the U.S.
B'Tselem was founded on 3 February 1989. The name comes from Genesis 1:27, which states that all mankind was created "b'tselem elohim" (in the image of God), which the organization says is in line with the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights that all humans are equal in dignity and so deserve the same fundamental rights.
Some of the key founders were:
In 2015 Washington Post reporter Glenn Kessler described the link between human rights groups and "political entities" in Israel as "at times... very blurry." He noted that after serving as director of B'Tselem, Zehava Gal-on directed the Meretz Party.
B'Tselem states that it is devoted to "documenting human rights violations that come under Israel's purview as the occupying power".
In 2013, B'Tselem released a report called Acting the Landlord: Israeli Policy in Area C, the West Bank. It stated that Area C, comprising about 60% of the West Bank, is under full Israeli control, and stated:
Israel strictly limits Palestinian settlement, construction and development in Area C, while ignoring the needs of the Palestinian population. Palestinian residents are ... denied any legal avenue to build homes or develop their communities, so they face the constant fear that their homes might be demolished, and that they be expelled and lose their livelihood.
B'Tselem also stated that some parts of Area A and B only have available land in Area C for construction, which Israel forbids almost completely. Therefore, "Israel's policy in Area C has ramifications for residents throughout the West Bank. The boundaries outlined for Areas A and B impose an artificial scarcity of land for some of the communities in these areas." B'Tselem accused Israel of violating international humanitarian law and international human rights law by its actions.
Notable B'Tselem board members include:
B'Tselem's executive director is Hagai El-Ad. In 2011 the group staff has 38 employees in a Research Department, a Data Coordination department, a communications department, and an administration department. Field data research in the West Bank and Gaza Strip for B'Tselem was, until the Second Intifada, performed by Israeli Arabs. Data analysis and dissemination was conducted at the Jerusalem office. Because of restriction on entry to these areas for Israeli citizens, the Israeli Arab field workers were replaced with similarly qualified Palestinian Arabs who transmit research data to the office via fax or phone, sometimes negotiating checkpoints to reach the Jerusalem office for debriefings.
B'Tselem describes itself as an independent NGO, "funded by contributions from foundations in Europe and North America... and by private individuals in Israel and abroad", and by the governments of some EU countries and the European Commission.
According to B'Tselem's 2016 financial report, they had received NIS 9,549,286 in donations, of which NIS 4,665,144 was received from foreign governmental bodies.
Historian Mordechai Bar-On writes that B'Tselem's reports "frequently included ugly accounts of the behavior of Israeli security officials" and that Israelis "were often disturbed by these reports." At the same time, the Israeli media viewed the organization as "a reliable source of information" and their reports were in most cases proven to be accurate. Israeli military authorities also frequently turned to B'tselem to confirm the IDF's own information. Critics of B'tselem, including the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, and Caroline B. Glick, have challenged the accuracy of its reports, arguing that B'tselem has at times classified Arab combatants and terrorists as civilian casualties. B'tselem has issued rebuttals to its critics.
Following the Oslo I Accord, Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin assured television views that Yasser Arafat would be able to combat Islamic militant terrorists without being hampered by B'Tselem and or the Supreme Court of Israel.
In 2011, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman called for a parliamentary investigation of B'Tselem and other human rights organizations. These groups, he said, "are clearly not concerned with human rights. They spread lies, they slander and incite against the state of Israel and against Israeli soldiers... Clearly these organizations are abetting terrorism and their only objective is to undermine Israel," he said in a speech to fellow members of his right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu ("Israel our home") party.
A response from the IDF from 1992 to a particular B'Tselem report on the activities of military undercover units remarked that "a large portion of the incidents cited are attributed to vague, anonymous sources - often rumors or stories gleaned from the press." The IDF letter added that B'Tselem's report "ignores the prevailing situation in the area, in which armed, hard-core terrorists, who do not adhere to any code of law, have engaged in terror attacks." At the same time, the IDF letter also acknowledged wrongdoing by military forces. In an incident that B'Tselem reported on at Idna, the IDF commented that a police investigation "found that an officer and several soldiers were apparently negligent in performing their duties and acted in an illegal manner." The IDF said it could not comment on some of the other cases from the B'Tselem report due to ongoing legal proceedings.
In 2010, Gerald Steinberg of NGO Monitor, a critic of the organization, expressed admiration for B'Tselem's research capability, saying that "B'Tselem really does have a credible research capability, and even among serious critics like me who disagree with B'Tselem's political agenda, their research ability is acknowledged." Steinberg cautioned that the reliability of B'Tselem's testimony had not been tested in court, and that he would withhold judgement until it was. In 2014, NGO Monitor criticized B'Tselem's presentation of casualties in 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict saing "B'Tselem presents what it terms 'initial' and 'preliminary' data, but these are inherently unverifiable and based solely on information from Palestinian sources in Hamas-controlled Gaza." In 2015, NGO Monitor said a B'Tselem report that accused Israel of violating international humanitarian law in the 2014 war against Hamas, contained "major omissions and distortions" and failed to "present definitive evidence that would justify the allegations". Later in 2015, Steinberg said that B'Tselem was waging "a very dangerous form of warfare" against Israel.[remove or clarification needed (did B'Tselem take up arms against Israel?)]
In an interview with Haaretz in 2009, Military Advocate General Brigadier General Avichai Mendelblit praised B'Tselem, saying that they help his office talk to witnesses and clarify complaints. He also said the organization "strives, like us, to investigate the truth".
In response to a speech given by El-Ad to the United Nations Security Council urging the international community to take action against Israeli settlements, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he will work to ban national service volunteers from working in B'Tselem. The United States government said it was "troubled" by attacks by government officials on B'Tselem with State Department spokesman John Kirby saying that the U.S. "believe(s) that a free and unfettered civil society is a critical component of democracy... it is important that governments protect the freedoms of expression, and create an atmosphere where all voices can be heard."
In January 2016, Channel 2 (Israel) broadcast footage of Ta'ayush activist Ezra Nawi boasting that he has worked together with B'Tselem activist Nasser Nawaj'ah, posing as a prospective Jewish purchaser of land owned by Palestinians, then provided the Palestinian National Security Forces with the names and telephone numbers of Palestinian land brokers willing to sell land to him. Nawi is both Jewish and Israeli, and the Palestinian legal code regards sale of land to Israelis as a capital offense. Nawi said such people are beaten and executed. In the recording, Nawi says "The Authority catches them and kills them. But before they kill them they beat them up."
The group's employees have always identified with the Israeli left
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