|Israel Resource Review
||8th June, 2007
B'tselem Projects Tendentious and Unsubstantiated Image of Israel
Davd Z. Bernstein
On May 7th, 2007, B'tselem -- a leading Israeli-initiated but foreign-funded "human rights" organization -- published a report which claimed that 50% of Palestinian detained by the Israeli security officials were tortured. This internationally publicized report relied heavily on "eyewitness testimony".
The Israel Ministry of Justice rejected the report, saying that "the report was based upon a non representative sample that seems to have been deliberately chosen which distorts the reality prevailing in the course of arrest and interrogation of security prisoners", which presented a report "with no identifying details and without allowing the relevant authorities ? to review those specific cases raised within, which effectively denies these authorities the opportunity to examine the claims raised in the report."
Over the past decade, B'tselem has become a prime international media source for human rights violations and indiscretions allegedly committed by Israel and its security forces.
Over the the past several months, as a Jerusalem-based reported focusing on the sensitive issue of the Palestinian situation, I have gained an insider's perspective on how B'tselem works, with the full cooperation of the B'tselem spokesperson, Sarit Michaeli, to understand how they have achieved their unchallenged status as the leading source on Palestinian human rights abuse.
Speaking candidly for B'tselem, Michaeli did not deny that B'tselem has its own political agenda, which opposes Israel's presence in territories taken by Israel in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem after Israel was attacked by Jordan in the 1967 war.
At the same time, she claimed that B'tselem "has have never been proven wrong".
It was surprising to learn from their investigations on Palestinian versus Israel issues that B'tselem did not "question both sides".
Instead, their investigations have consistently concluded that Israel has been guilty of crimes based almost exclusively on what B'tselem describes as Palestinian "eyewitness testimony" of Palestinians and not based on solid evidence.
For reasons that B'tselem could not explain, the organization does not require Palestinian eyewitnesses to sign any affidavit, meaning that they are not subject to any liability if their testimony is simply not true.
It is standard operating procedure in Israel to sign affidavits on sensitive matters in front of a lawyer, in which the person giving testimony is advised that his testimony may be used in a court of law, and that the consequences of a dishonest statement could be a jail sentence of thirteen years.
In other words, while the testimony of Palestinian eyewitnesses may have an impact on the international press and may reach the highest realm of diplomatic consideration, these eyewitnesses to alleged human rights abuse face no legal recriminations should they be found to be lying.
B'tselem's major criticism of the Israeli army was that the army was not conducting thorough investigations and that the Israeli army was only concerned with its own military performance. Their own investigations, however, were not held to a high standard. Forensic experts and crime scene investigators were used rarely.
The B'tselem spokesperson made it clear that almost all Palestinian casualties are defined as civilians, even if that civilian was armed at the time of his death.
B'tselem defines all members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad as civilians. In the international realm, the term "civilian" connotes "innocent". Such a broad based definition of a "civilian" is problematic for the Israeli army, which copes with accusations that it kills or injures civilians when, in fact, terrorists don civilian clothes and take refuge among civilians as a matter of policy.
B'tselem does say that Palestinians commit a war crime when they fire missiles from civilian neighborhoods, which target civilians. However, the B'tselem spokesperson made it clear that this did not justify Israeli attacks on the civilian safe havens that the terrorists use for cover. B'tselem also claims that the Israeli army breaches rules on proportionality when it does defend itself.
To whom is B'tselem accountable? Above all, to its funders. B'tselem is funded by private contributors, who contribute through the New Israel Fund, along with the British government and by the European Union, using these funds to demonize Israel worldwide as an abuser of human rights, while relying on a tendentious and questionable investigation process.
B'tselem literally means "in the image of" -- based on the verse from the Biblical Genesis that humankind was created in the divine image. Unfortunately, it seems that too many B'tselem reports rely too heavily on a different image -- a demonic one conjured, with malice and without reliable methodology nor reliable testimony, to blacken Israel's name among the nations.
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