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). “Betselem” is a Hebrew word meaning “in the image of,” and is taken from Genesis 1:27, which reads: “And God created humans in His image.” In Betselem’s view, the modern 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, the organization’s mission is to “change Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories and ensure that its government … protects the human rights of residents there and complies with its obligations under international law.”
Betselem’s major charges against the Jewish state include the following:
While Betselem directs the vast majority of its criticisms squarely at Israel, the organization 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, accusing Israel of engaging in all manner of human-rights abuses, “apartheid,” “war crimes,” the unwarranted demolition of Palestinian homes, and forced “deportations” without cause. In virtually every case, Betselem’s allegations ignore the context established by intransigent Palestinian terrorism. Moreover, when Betselem issues reports about Palestinian casualties incurred as a result of Israeli military actions, it generally makes no mention of the terrorist affiliations or activities of many of those victims, thereby conveying the false impression that they were innocent civilian bystanders.
In January 2009—in the midst of Operation Cast Lead, an Israeli anti-terror initiative against Hamas—Betselem issued a press release accusing the Jewish state of “grave violations of international humanitarian law,” “wanton use of lethal force,” and “disproportionate harm to civilians.” But the organization said nothing about 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, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network, Human Rights Watch, and MIFTAH, as well as by numerous Palestinian NGOs. The website NGO Monitor infers 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 famously declared that almost 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 israel-related topics. The organization also provides periodic updates to local policymakers and diplomats “on human rights developments in the Occupied Territories,” and gives presentations to visiting foreign delegations from around the world.
In early 2010, Betselem hired Lizi Sagie—an activist/volunteer with the Coalition of Women for Peace, Machsom Watch, New Profile—as its new information director. Before long, Betselem became engulfed in controversy when news outlets reported that Sagie, shortly prior to joining the NGO, had administered an Internet blog wherein she:
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 such countries as Denmark, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.
In mid-2016, Betselem published a document providing data on Palestinian “casualties” that had occurred in the West Bank and Gaza Strip since 2009. Though the vast majority of those casualties were terrorists killed by either Israeli security forces or armed civilians, either during or after attacks against Israeli soldiers or citizens, Betselem chose not to provide this vital context. Instead it presented the dead uniformly as unfortunate victims of homicide.
For additional information on Betselem, click here.