B'Tselem (Hebrew: בצלם, IPA: [beˈtselem], "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 Palestinian territories, combat any denial of the existence of such violations, and help to create a human rights culture in Israel. It is currently headed by Hagai El-Ad, who has served as its director-general since May 2014. B'Tselem also maintains a presence in Washington, D.C., where it is known as B'Tselem USA. The organization has provoked sharp reactions within Israel, ranging from harsh criticism to strong praise.
|Founded||3 February 1989|
|Focus||Changing Israeli policy in the occupied territories to protect and sustain Palestinian human rights|
|Hagai El-Ad (CEO)|
B'Tselem was established in February 1989 by a large group of Israeli lawyers, doctors and academics with the support of a lobby of ten members of Knesset. Its objective was to document human rights violations in the occupied territories (Gaza Strip and the West Bank), while being committed to the security and humanistic character of the State of Israel. In the previous year, Israeli forces killed 311 Palestinians, of which 53 were under the age of 17. The killings occurred during a wave of Palestinian protest and rebellion in which 12 Israelis were also killed. The rebellion is referred to as the First Intifada.
In 2016, B’Tselem executive director Hagai El-Ad asked the UN to take action against the Israel’s settlements, which he said were compromising a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
In 2014, B’Tselem stopped sending the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) complaints it received from Palestinians in Gaza about alleged IDF war crimes there. In 2016, B'Tselem also stopped sending the IDF complaints of alleged IDF war crimes in the West Bank because it alleged the IDF was whitewashing the complaints.
In a report published 12 January 2021, B'Tselem called Israel an "apartheid regime" devoted to Jewish supremacy and said the nation was no longer a democracy. This follows a similar report by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia released in 2017 that concluded that Israel is "guilty of the crime of apartheid".
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. In December 1989, B'Tselem shared the Carter-Menil Human Rights Prize with the Palestinian group Al-Haq.
Some of the key founders were:
- Daphna Golan-Agnon, academic and founding director of the feminist peace group Bat Shalom
- David Zucker, Knesset member for the Ratz party, one of the founders of the Peace Now movement
- Haim Oron, Knesset member for the Mapam party, one of the founders of the Peace Now movement
- Zehava Gal-On, Ratz party activist and future Knesset member for the Meretz party formed through the merger of Ratz and Mapam
- Avigdor Feldman, civil liberties lawyer
- Edy Kaufman, civil liberties activist.
In 2015 The 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". Between 1989 and 2020 B'Tselem has published 185 reports and position papers which can be accessed through their website. They currently produce 3-4 reports a year.
Israel's land policies in Area C
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.
In January 2021, B’Tselem released a report characterizing Israel as an "apartheid" regime, a term the organization had hitherto only used in specific contexts, and which the Israeli government vehemently rejects. B’Tselem director Hagai El-Ad said of the report: “One of the key points in our analysis is that this is a single geopolitical area ruled by one government. This is not democracy plus occupation. This is apartheid between the river and the sea.”
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. It has also been called the best neutral source for incidents in the Palestinian territories.
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.
In 2011, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman called for a parliamentary investigation of B'Tselem and other human rights organizations. In a speech to fellow members of his right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu ("Israel our home") party he said such groups "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".
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 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 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 saying "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 characterized B'Tselem as seeking to delegitimize the Israeli state and said that the organization was waging "a very dangerous form of warfare" against Israel.
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 would 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." No reports have confirmed that Nawi's actions brought about the execution of any Palestinians.
- "About B'Tselem". B'Tselem. Archived from the original on 29 January 2010. Retrieved 2 February 2010.
- "A regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is apartheid". B'Tselem. Retrieved 15 May 2021.
- Staff, B'Tselem.
- Talmor, Ronny (translated by Ralph Mandel) (1990) The Use of Firearms - By the Security Forces in the Occupied Territories. B'Tselem. ISSN 0792-4003. Back cover
- Afflerbach, Holger; Strachan, Hew (26 July 2012). How Fighting Ends: A History of Surrender. OUP Oxford. ISBN 978-0-19-969362-7.
- Kessler, Glenn (20 March 2015). "Netanyahu's claim that 'tens of millions' in foreign money was aimed against him". The Washington Post. Retrieved 3 June 2018.
- Fairbanks, Eve (12 March 2015). "The battle to be Israel's conscience". The Guardian UK. Retrieved 11 August 2015.
The group’s employees have always identified with the Israeli left
- "About B'Tselem".
- "Total reported funding 2018 | Financial Tracking Service". fts.unocha.org. Retrieved 23 January 2021.
- "Leftist MK: By going to UN, B'Tselem helps 'demonization of Israel'".
- Bob, Yonah Jeremy (25 May 2016). "B'Tselem cuts ties with IDF over 'whitewashing'". Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 1 June 2016.
- "A regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is apartheid". B'Tselem. Retrieved 23 January 2021.
- "Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid". ResearchGate. Retrieved 23 January 2021.
- Lori, Aviva (26 August 2002). "מחפשים את "בצלם"". Haaretz. Retrieved 21 October 2019.
- "B'Tselem Brochure" (PDF). B'Tselem. Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 August 2012. Retrieved 16 April 2013.
- "A Peace Organization Making Peace Around The World - Carter Center". Archived from the original on 12 December 2010.
- "Carter-Menil Rights Award For Israeli and Arab Groups". The New York Times. Reuters. 16 November 1989.
- "Acting the Landlord: Israeli Policy in Area C, the West Bank" (PDF). B'Tselem. June 2013.
- "ANNEX 4 of the Commission Implementing Decision on the Annual Action Plan 2014 for Palestine" (PDF). European Commission. 2014.
- Crookston, Martin (2017). "Echoes of Empire: British Mandate planning in Palestine and its influence in the West Bank today". Planning Perspectives. 32: 87–98. doi:10.1080/02665433.2016.1213183. S2CID 151586867.
- Krauss, Joseph. "Leading human rights group calls Israel an 'apartheid' state". AP News. The Associated Press. Retrieved 13 May 2021.
- Board members, B'Tselem.
- Hausman, Tamar (17 July 2001). "B'Tselem chooses its first Anglo director". Haaretz.
- "List of donors to B'Tselem". B'Tselem. Archived from the original on 29 January 2010. Retrieved 2 February 2010.
- "2016 B'Tselem Financial Report". Guidestar.
- "2016 New Israel Fund Financial Statement" (PDF). New Israel Fund.
- "B'Tselem Funding". NGO Monitor.
- Bar-On, Mordechai (1996). In Pursuit of Peace. USIP. pp. 243–245, 401. ISBN 978-1-878379-53-5.
- 'In one case the IDF chief of staff publicly challenged the numbers B'Tselem reported on Palestinian casualties, and subsequently apologized when he learned that his figures were wrong and B'tselem's report was correct. In later years the military authorities often asked B'tselem to confirm their own information.' Mordechai Bar-On, In Pursuit of Peace: A History of the Israeli Peace Movement, US Institute of Peace Press ISBN 978-1-878-37953-5 1996 p.401 n.119
- 'Information on Israeli human rights violations is highly politicized. B'tselem, the Israeli Information center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories is perhaps the best neutral source.' Jack Donnelly, 'International human rights: unintended consequences of the war on terrorism,' in Margaret Crahan, John Goering, Thomas G. Weiss (eds.), The Wars on Terrorism and Iraq: Human Rights, Unilateralism and US Foreign Policy, Routledge, 2004 ISBN 978-1-135-99507-2 pp.98-111, p.110 n.10
- Sternthal, Tamar (24 September 2008). "Bending the truth". Ynetnews. Archived from the original on 25 September 2008. Retrieved 26 September 2008.
- "Researcher Slams B'Tselem - Defense/Middle East - News - Arutz Sheva". Arutz Sheva.
- Amos Harel, מחקר: "בצלם" מפרסם מידע שגוי ומשמיט פרטים חיוניים, Haaretz, 26 October 2008.
- Caroline B. Glick (7 January 2011). "Column One: Agents of influence". The Jerusalem Post - JPost.com. Retrieved 24 May 2017.
- B'Tselem Official written response to the CAMERA Organisation, Fax & Press Release, 22 August 2007
- Jessica Montell, B’Tselem chief: "Caroline Glick a hack who parrots any drivel", +972 Magazine, 21 January 2011
- "Explanation of statistics on fatalities" from the B'Tselem website.
- Bender, Arik (10 January 2011). "הוועדה הפרלמנטרית תחקור את בצלם, עדאלה ופרופיל חדש" [Parliamentary committee to investigate B'tselem, Adallah and New Profile] (in Hebrew). NRG (Maariv). Retrieved 15 June 2011.
ברור שהארגונים האלו לא עוסקים בזכויות אדם. הארגונים האלו מפיצים שקרים, מכפישים ומסיתים נגד מדינת ישראל ונגד חיילי צה"ל. מעולם, אף אחד מהארגונים האלו לא אמרו שישראל צדקה. ברור שמדובר בארגונים סייעני טרור נטו, שכל מטרתם להחליש את צה"ל." "שר החוץ אביגדור ליברמן יוצא במתקפה חריפה נגד ארגוני זכויות אדם ישראלים שיעמדו במרכז עבודתה של ועדת החקירה הפרלמנטרית שתקים הכנסת, וטען כי שורה של אי-סדרים כלכליים שלדבריו מאפיינים אותם עשויה להצביע על סיוע לפעילות טרור.
- "IDF Activities Against Armed Terrorists in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza District". Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 1 May 1992. Archived from the original on 7 March 2016. Retrieved 11 January 2018.
- "הפרקליט הצבאי הראשי, תת אלוף אביחי מנדלבליט, מדבר על עופרת יצוקה, צ'יקו תמיר וגם על "בצלם (Military Advocate General, Brigadier General Avichai Mendelblit, Speaks on Cast Lead, Chico Tamir, and also on B'Tselem), Haaretz, 18 September 2009
- הפצ"ר לשעבר אביחי מנדלבליט מונה למזכיר הממשלה (Former Military Advocate General Avichai Mendelblit Appointed to Cabinet Secretary), Haaretz, 29 April 2013
- Jeffay, Nathan (14 July 2010). "IDF Recognizes Help From Israeli Human Rights Group". The Forward. Retrieved 17 January 2018.
- B’TSELEM’S GAZA WAR STATISTICS UNDER FIRE, JPost, 20 August 2014
- B’Tselem accuses IDF of violating laws of war in Gaza, 28 January 2015, Times of Israel, 28 January 2015]
- New legislation targets Israeli NGOs, YNET, 6 October 2015
- "B'Tselem head urges Security Council to act now on settlements". Times of Israel. Retrieved 27 October 2016.
- "Netanyahu supports end of national service volunteers working with B'Tselem". Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 27 October 2016.
- "US 'troubled' by attacks on Israeli rights group B'Tselem".
- "Israeli Leftist Taped Trying to Set Up Palestinians Who Seek to Sell Land to Jews". Haaretz. 8 January 2015. Retrieved 14 January 2016.
- "Left-wing Israeli says he helps kill Palestinians who sell land to Jews".
- Kubovich, Yaniv (11 January 2015). "Police Make Airport Arrest of Left-wing Activist Who Turned Palestinians in to PA". Haaretz. Retrieved 14 January 2016.
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