Hagai Elad, executive director of Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, on a short visit to Washington DC, was hosted Friday June 17th for a roundtable briefing by the New Israel Fund. NIF is one of B’Tselem’s chief funders.
B’Tselem, one of the most prominent human rights organizations in Israel, works tirelessly to inform the Israeli public about human rights violations of Palestinian civilians under Israel’s occupation in the West Bank.
Elad elaborated on B’Tselem’s recent decision to stop referring complaints to the Israeli military law enforcement system, whose role is to handle cases of mistreatment of Palestinians by Israeli Defence Force soldiers. Elad explained that the whitewashing employed by the military law enforcement system has made it extremely difficult for B’Tselem to follow through with investigations: only 3% of cases filed by B’Tselem go to trial. This percentage is so small that even the number of files misplaced and lost in the system is higher.
In the face of the IDF’s resistance to effectively investigate itself and hold violator soldiers accountable, B’Tselem has decided that filing complaints is a futile exercise, and will no longer do that, Elad said.
He emphasized, however, that this development does not signify a halt in, nor slowing down of, B’Tselem’s efforts to raise awareness among Israelis regarding human rights violations of Palestinians under occupation. His organization will continue to investigate accountability and publically publish its findings, Elad said.
To exemplify his point about whitewashing within the Israeli military law enforcement system, Elad referred to the recent controversial case of Israeli soldier Elor Azaria who has been charged with manslaughter after video footage showed him shooting a disarmed Palestinian civilian suspected of stabbing Israeli soldiers. Elad explained that while the soldier is being charged, senior officers and political leaders enjoy complete lack of accountability. Azaria apparently shot and killed the Palestinian in violation of IDF regulations, but he did so in a public environment in which senior officers and national political leaders repeatedly said that no Palestinian attacker should survive an attack on Israelis. In such an environment, Elad said, blame is pushed down and placed upon the junior soldier, without senior officers taking responsibility.
When asked about Israel’s situation in relation to the worldwide rise of far-right ultra-nationalist politics, Elad’s position was very clear. Although there are similarities, Israel’s situation is particular in that it is the only ‘quasi-democratic’ country that has been occupying another people for over fifty years. With the exception of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem who have refused their right to vote in municipal elections whilst under Israeli rule, Palestinians do not have the same political rights as Israeli citizens.
Elad suggested that the only viable means of ensuring Israel’s democratic character is putting an end to the occupation, which remains B’Tselem’s ultimate goal.