October 02, 2009

Mixed messages from B'Tselem

I dunno. Should I apologise for going off half-cocked in my post on B'Tselem? Should I have been more like Omar Barghouti perhaps? You see, I sent the Jerusalem Post link to the Just Peace UK list where Roland Rance responded by cutting out the middleman and posted a link to the B'Tselem site itself. The official position of B'Tselem appears to be that Israel should accept the Goldstone report and it doesn't say anything about one-sidedness or fixations with Israel etc. Here it is:
With the publication of the Goldstone Committee report today, human rights organizations in Israel are studying the report and its conclusions, and they call upon the Israeli Government to take the report seriously and to refrain from automatically rejecting its findings or denying its legitimacy.

Already it is clear that the findings of the report - written after gathering extensive information and testimonies from Israeli and Palestinian victims - will join a long series of reports indicating that Israel's actions during the fighting in Gaza, as well as the actions of Hamas, violated the laws of combat and human rights law.

Human rights organizations in Israel believe that the State of Israel must conduct an independent and impartial investigation into these suspicions and to cooperate with an international monitoring mechanism that would guarantee both the independence of that investigation and the implementation of its conclusions. The organizations have written to Israel's Attorney General to demand that he establish such an independent body to investigate the military's activities during “Cast Lead”, but he rejected their request.

The groups expect the Government of Israel to respond to the substance of the report's findings and to desist from its current policy of casting doubt upon the credibility of anyone who does not adhere to the establishment's narrative.

Organizations on this statement: Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Adalah, Bimkom, B’Tselem, Gisha, HaMoked, Physicians for Human Rights – Israel, The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel and Yesh Din.

Now here's Omar Barghouti's email on the Jerusalem Post report:
If accurate, this Jerusalem Post report may be revealing B'Tselem's lowest point ever, I think, where the organization shows where its true loyalty lies: in protecting Israel from real, effective accountability measures before international law, rather than defending and upholding human rights even if that leads to punitive measures against Israel, a consistent perpetrator of grave violations of them.

Attacking the UN and the investigative report by Goldstone -- a judge with deep connections to Israel and Zionism who has been partially criticized by ranking international law experts (<http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article10788.shtml>http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article10788.shtml) for letting Israel off the hook on important aspects of its war crimes in Gaza -- is a sign of unprecedented failure by B'Tselem to distinguish itself from the Israeli herd-like near consensus in defending the state's crimes against humanity committed in Gaza, albeit indirectly and partially.

I've argued for years, based on my in-depth reading of B'Tselem's reports over the years, but particularly since the second initfada erupted in 2000, that the organization adopts a very selective, sanitizing approach to reporting Israel's human rights violations, focusing on the least grave crimes and omitting the gravest of all. To my mind, this was indicative of a commitment to protect Israel's image against the worst accusations -- that may call for war crimes investigations -- and to focus attention instead on less egregious crimes that may only evoke condemnations and demands for Israel to do better next time!

As I've written before, I believe that B'Tselem has fallen well behind international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (despite the obvious problems and political limitations of both) in reporting, examining and otherwise exposing Israel's war crimes and crimes against humanity in its war of aggression on the Palestinian people in Gaza at the end of 2008 and beginning of 2009. In the following news report, B'Tselem's director reportedly provides the key factor that may explain this utter failure to defend human rights when it is inconvenient: Israel should not be blamed for indiscriminately targeting civilians!

Shifting the blame from Israel to Hamas is a shameful tactic of blaming the victim that one hoped even B'Tselem will not join the herd in adopting.

Joining the Israeli choir, from academic institutions, to public figures, to leading intellectuals, to the most right-wing MPs, B'Tselem here is indirectly defending Israel against THE most well documented fact about its atrocious war on Gaza: that it intentionally and in a pre-meditated manner used massive firepower to devastate civilian infrastructure and "collectively punish" the entire civilian population as a form of pressure against the resistance, applying the Israeli military doctrine partially developed at Tel Aviv University: the Dahiyah Doctrine. (see attached the excellent study on TAU's complicity in Israeli violations of international law, prepared by researchers of the SOAS Palestine Society).

If the following report is accurate, this disgraceful failure by B'Tselem to uphold international law in circumstances where it may invite tough sanctions against their state makes it lose whatever little credibility it may have still had among Palestinians and indeed among consistent supporters of human rights worldwide. Many of us, including myself in all likelihood, will still quote some of the excellent reports issued by B'Tselem on the least troubling crimes committed by Israel. But if we want facts about Israel's worst crimes, we must look elsewhere. B'Tselem can no longer be a reliable source of information or legal analysis on those. It must choose where its main loyalty lies: protecting the state despite its colonial and apartheid policies and war crimes, or consistently, thoroughly and accurately defending human rights, indiscriminately and without the damning omission of the most serious violations of them.

It all comes down to two words in Omar Barghouti's email: "if accurate". Often a big "if" with Jerusalem Post reports.

So is an apology in order or should B'Tselem put its house in order? I'll think about it while I'm at work.


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