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Betselem (alternately “B'Tselem”), which dubs itself “The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories,” was established in February 1989 by a group of academics, attorneys, journalists, and Knesset members, mostly from the Meretz and Labor Parties. The word “Betselem,” which in Hebrew literally means “in the image of,” is taken from Genesis 1:27, which reads, “And God created humans in His image. In the image of God did He create him.” In Betselem's view, the state of Israel egregiously violates the biblical injunction to treat people—in this case, the Palestinians—as though they were fashioned in the image of God. Therefore, Betselem's mission is to “change Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories and ensure that its government, which rules the Occupied Territories, protects the human rights of residents there and complies with its obligations under international law.”
Betselem's major charges against Israel include the following:
* “Israel has not fulfilled its responsibilities” to “investigate alleged violations of human rights committed in its jurisdiction by persons acting on its authority,” and to “prosecute the offenders and compensate the injured parties.”
* In a large portion of the West Bank, “Israel practically bans Palestinian construction and development” while it “encourages the development of Israeli settlements through a parallel planning mechanism.”
* “Since 1967 Israel has established over a hundred settlements in the West Bank,” mostly on “vast tracts of land taken from the Palestinians, in breach of international humanitarian law.”
* After Israel completed its unilateral disengagement plan and withdrew from the Gaza Strip in September 2005, it “retained control of Gaza’s sea and air space, the crossings between Gaza and Israel, and Gaza’s registry of population.” For three years it “imposed a siege ... prohibiting both Palestinian travel to or from Gaza as well as the import and export of goods,” thereby causing “a severe economic crisis” in the region.
* “Violence by Israeli security forces toward Palestinians … has gradually become a part of everyday reality for Palestinians of the occupied territories.” Additional affronts include “pointless” delays at checkpoints and “humiliating conduct” which Israeli authorities “condemn but often do not take real measures against.”
* When the Separation Barrier in the West Bank is completed, it will “cut off” and “isolate” about 9% of Palestinian lands on the Israeli side, thereby “gravely violat[ing] the rights of Palestinians in the areas affected”; “restricting their access to their lands, crucial services and relatives on the other side of the barrier”; and “prevent[ing] any possibility of economic development.”
* “Since the annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967, Israeli authorities have promoted the twofold goal of expanding the city’s Jewish population and reducing its Palestinian population.”
* Though “freedom of protest and assembly” in “nonviolent demonstrations” is “a fundamental human right,” the Israeli military “does not recognize this right in the occupied territories.”
While the vast majority of its criticisms are aimed at Israel, Betselem does occasionally speak out against Palestinian terrorist attacks on Israeli Civilians as “war crimes” that cannot be morally justified.
Over the years, Betselem has produced scores of reports, published in both Hebrew and English, condemning Israel's purported human-rights abuses in the “Occupied Territories.” These reports accuse Israel of such transgressions as “apartheid,” “war crimes,” the unwarranted demolition of Palestinian homes, and forced “deportations” without cause. In virtually every case, Betselem's allegations entirely ignore the context established by Palestinian terrorism. And where Betselem reports on Palestinian casualties incurred as a result of Israeli military actions, they make no reference to the terrorist affiliations of many of those victims, thereby giving the false impression that they were innocent civilian bystanders.
In January 2009—in the midst of Operation Cast Lead, an Israeli anti-terror initiative—Betselem issued a press release accusing Israel of “grave violations of international humanitarian law,” “wanton use of lethal force,” and “disproportionate harm to civilians,” completely disregarding Hamas’s indiscriminate terror attacks against Israeli civilians, Israel's efforts to avoid inflicting civilian casualties, and Hamas's deliberate use of Palestinian civilians as human shields.
Betselem's reports are regularly cited by international NGOs such as Amnesty International, Christian Aid, Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network, Human Rights Watch, and MIFTAH, as well as numerous Palestinian NGOs. NGO Monitor avers that almost all U.S. government agency studies on human rights in Israel are “heavily influenced” by one or more BeTselem reports. The so-called Goldstone Report of September 2009, which declared that virtually everything Israel had done during Operation Cast Lead had been a crime, cited BeTselem research more often (in 56 footnotes) than any other source.
To further disseminate its message, Betselem works extensively with the media, issuing press releases, accompanying journalists into the field, and giving interviews on the aforementioned topics -- efforts that have landed the organization's spokespeople hundreds of citations and appearances in the local and foreign press. Betselem also provides periodic updates to local policymakers and diplomats “on human rights developments in the Occupied Territories,” and gives presentations to visiting foreign policymakers and delegations from around the world.
In early 2010 Betselem hired Lizi Sagie—an activist/volunteer with Machsom Watch, New Profile, and the Coalition of Women for Peace—as its new information director. That April, Betselem became engulfed in controversy when news outlets reported that Sagie, shortly before joining the NGO, had administered an Internet blog wherein she posted numerous entries expressing her profound hatred of Israel. For example, Sagie had:
* characterized the IDF Memorial Day as “a pornographic circus of glorifying grief and silencing voices”;
* accused Israel of “committing Humanity’s worst atrocities,” demonstrating “adherence to the values of Nazism,” and “exploit[ing] the Holocaust to reap international benefits”;
* stated that “Israel has invented antisemitism in order to escape responsibility for its crimes”; and
* accused Israelis of having “stolen lands,” “murdered,” “starved others and made them thirsty,” “lied to ourselves and the whole world,” and “created ghettos to all kinds of ‘others’ [and] allowed fascists to raise their heads.”
With similar disdain, former Betselem CEO Jessica Montell once stated: “I think the word apartheid is useful for mobilizing people [against Israel] because of its emotional power. In some cases, the situation in the West Bank is worse than apartheid in South Africa.”
Betselem has received funding from a host of sources, including Christian Aid, the Commission of the European Communities, DanChurchAid, the European Union, the Ford Foundation, the International Commission of Jurists, the Mertz Gilmore Foundation, the New Israel Fund, Novib, the Shefa Fund, Troicaire, and the United Nations Development Programme. Additional funders include entities from various European nations: Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom.
In 2010 Betselem received a donation from a group known as Bubbes and Zaydes for Peace, which endorses the anti-Semitic Boycotts, Divestment, & Sanctions movement.
ADD: Betselem has hundreds of supporters and volunteers who assist the organization by setting up information stands, distributing printed material, addressing problems and requests to decision-makers, and participating in anti-Israel protests in Palestinian territories.
OLD: In 2004, Betselem released a music video titled Eyes Wide Open, featuring performances by popular Israeli entertainers as a backdrop to film footage of alleged Israeli abuses that had occurred at West Bank roadblocks and checkpoints. Moreover, to coincide with the release of “a report on Israel's policy of punitive house demolitions,” Betselem produced a video chronicling how Israel's demolition policy had harmed innocent children. More than 30,000 people viewed each of these videos on the Betselem website, and thousands more saw them in movie theaters across Israel. The videos ignored the fact that the demolitions were aimed explicitly at the homes and operation bases of Palestinian terrorists.
ADD: In 2005 Betselem released four publications denouncing alleged Israeli injustices. They were titled: (a) Under the Guise of Security: Routing the Separation Barrier to Enable the Expansion of Israeli Settlements in the West Bank; (b) Means of Expulsion: Violence, Harassment and Lawlessness Toward Palestinians in the Southern Hebron Hills; (c) Take No Prisoners: The Fatal Shooting of Palestinians by Israeli Security Forces during "Arrest Operations"; and (d) One Big Prison: Freedom of Movement to and from the Gaza Strip on the Eve of the Disengagement Plan.
ADD: In 2007 Betselem published a booklet titled The Gaza Strip - One Big Prison, which stated that “Israel has turned the Gaza Strip into the largest prison on earth, while at the same time renouncing responsibility for the lives and welfare of its residents.”
OLD: Affiliated with blatantly anti-Israel political organizations such as the Palestine Center for Human Rights and Miftah, Betselem initiated a campaign in 2003 to deploy Israelis to IDF checkpoints to "document, intervene, and prevent human rights violations." These deployments frequently drew immense media attention.
This profile is adapted, with permission, from the NGO Monitor.