‘Come and see re­al­ity of oc­cu­pa­tion’

The Jewish Chronicle - - WORLD NEWS - BY LIANNE KOLIRIN

THE HEAD of a lead­ing Is­raeli hu­man rights or­gan­i­sa­tion has de­fended his de­ci­sion to ad­dress the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil over Is­rael’s oc­cu­pa­tion of the West Bank, say­ing peace can only be achieved within an “in­ter­na­tional frame­work”.

Hagai El-Ad, chief ex­ec­u­tive of B’Tse­lem, was crit­i­cised for speak­ing out against Is­rael’s set­tle­ment pol­icy at the in­ter­na­tional gather­ing in Oc­to­ber.

Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu slated Mr El-Ad for join­ing the “chorus of mud­sling­ing” against Is­rael. His crit­i­cism was fiercely backed by many oth­ers, in­clud­ing at least one left-wing mem­ber of Knes­set.

But on a visit to Lon­don last week, Mr El-Ad stood by his ac­tions, say­ing: “The pre­sen­ta­tion I gave was very fac­tual. I would have ex­pected a govern­ment re­but­tal, but the only thing we saw was smear cam­paigns and an at­tempt to shoot the mes­sen­ger.”

In Bri­tain to ad­dress sev­eral or­gan­i­sa­tions in­clud­ing the New Is­rael Fund (NIF), Mr El-Ad told the JC: “It was an at­tempt by govern­ment to present my speech as anti-Is­rael. It was ob­vi­ously anti-oc­cu­pa­tion but that doesn’t equate with anti-Is­rael. The govern­ment’s at­tempt to make the two the same is both fac­tu­ally wrong and dan­ger­ous.” Mr El-Ad and his col­leagues at B’Tse­lem, which de­scribes it­self as “the Is­raeli In­for­ma­tion Cen­tre for Hu­man Rights in the Oc­cu­pied Ter­ri­to­ries”, were crit­i­cised for air­ing dirty laun­dry on an in­ter­na­tional stage.

“It’s a pa­thetic ar­gu­ment in the 21st cen­tury. Does any­one se­ri­ously think that even if B’Tse­lem closed yes­ter­day that the world would stop notic­ing?

“We have been called traitors, ter­ror­ism col­lab­o­ra­tors, the fifth col­umn and David Bi­tan [se­nior Likud MK] promised to pass leg­is­la­tion to strip away my cit­i­zen­ship.

“But this isn’t a Jewish ques­tion or a Pales­tinian ques­tion. The oc­cu­pa­tion is an is­sue of ma­jor in­ter­na­tional con­cern, so it’s ab­so­lutely ap­pro­pri­ate for the world to dis­cuss it and hope­fully act in that con­text.”

B’Tse­lem means “in the im­age of” and is also used as a syn­onym for hu­man dig­nity. The or­gan­i­sa­tion has been op­er­at­ing for al­most 30 years and em­ploys 40 staff in Jerusalem, a quar­ter of whom are Pales­tinian field re­searchers.

Mr El-Ad said: “We pro­vide them with cam­eras and train them to pro­vide footage from their life un­der oc­cu­pa­tion. It’s the big­gest ci­ti­zen jour­nal­ism project in the re­gion.”

B’Tse­lem has pub­lished scores of re­ports on hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions in the ter­ri­to­ries, but in re­cent months adopted a more pro-ac­tive stance, such as the UN ad­dress.

In­ter­na­tional law de­fines an oc­cu­pa­tion as “tem­po­rary and bel­liger­ent”, ac­cord­ing to Mr El-Ad.

“That makes sense for six months or a year, but at what point be­tween zero and 50 years did ‘tem­po­rary’ lose its mean­ing? There is noth­ing tem­po­rary about Is­rael’s pol­icy and in­tent re­gard­ing the ter­ri­to­ries.”

Over the last two decades, B’Tse­lem has recorded around 700 Pales­tinian fa­tal­i­ties.

“We have given the au­thor­i­ties hun­dreds of op­por­tu­ni­ties to show they are se­ri­ous and that peo­ple will be held to ac­count. Af­ter a gen­er­a­tion of do­ing this work and hun­dreds of cases we came to the con­clu­sion that it’s an organised white­wash and these are not cred­i­ble in­ves­ti­ga­tions but an organised cha­rade. In­ves­ti­ga­tions are botched, cases are closed. Re­spon­si­bil­ity is al­ways pushed down to very low rank sol­diers.

“Of about 700 cases about only three ac­tu­ally went to trial. I’m not even talk­ing about con­vic­tions or mean­ing­ful sen­tences.”

Is­su­ing an in­vi­ta­tion to the pub­lic to visit the oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries and reach their own con­clu­sion, Mr El-Ad con­cluded: “There is so much pro­pa­ganda and lies, but the re­al­ity on the ground is self-ev­i­dent.”

Hagai El-Ad

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