[Note: As mentioned in my original post, there are more than two-sides to the story and in the “Arab/Israeli conflict, the original story sub-divides into ever-so-many fragments, even within individuals. We begin, now, to hear from some of those stories – in this instance, we hear from an Israeli, pro-Palestinian research/advocacy group. My apologies in advance – these summaries will be far too brief, so much more that could be written. For these entries, I’ll need to be brief, just covering the basics, will write more reflectively later.]
Chances are you have never heard of B’Tselem; equally likely, though, is that you probably have heard from those who know of this pro-Palestinian, Israel advocacy group. B’Tselem is:
The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories was established in February 1989 by a group of prominent academics, attorneys, journalists, and Knesset members. It endeavors to document and educate the Israeli public and policymakers about human rights violations in the Occupied Territories, combat the phenomenon of denial prevalent among the Israeli public, and help create a human rights culture in Israel (from their website).
On Thursday, we met with two researchers (Adam and Amit) from B’Tselem, who are among 40 individuals who, as their website announces, purpose to raise awareness of Israeli human right violations in the occupied territories. They work with many in various political (e.g. the BDS movement), academic, and artistic circles, providing them with documentation of these violations. Their work, however, is not without criticism, as noted below.
We had a difficult time locating the meeting room, as there was no obvious sign of the organization’s headquarters from the street, and, given the controversial nature of their work, we later understood why!
For many in the West, being pro-Israeli is the political default position among most – but most assuredly not all – political and religious groups. I have known many individuals knowledge and experience of the conditions in the “occupied territories” (not a phrase many Israelis would use), and would often be harshly critical of Israeli’s treatment of the Palestinians. B’Tselem mission is to bring the Israeli abuses of Palestinian rights to light
The session was be too long to relate in its entirely, but here is the highlights of our time together – and the basics of the issues in the West Bank/Occupied Territories:
- A description of the various communities in the West Bank (“occupied territories” for Palestinians; “Judea/Samaria” for many Israelis). In accordance with the Oslo Peace Agreement, the region was carved into three distinct regions:
- Area A (full civil and security control by the Palestinian Authority.
- Area B (Palestinian civil control and joint Israeli-Palestinian security control):
- Area C (full Israeli civil and security control): initially
- Under the Oslo II Peace Accord:
- The Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip commonly known as Oslo II or Oslo 2, was a key and complex agreement in the Israeli–Palestinian peace process. . . . The Oslo Accords envisioned the establishment of a Palestinian interim self-government in the Palestinian territories but fell short of the promise of an independent Palestinian state. Oslo II created the Areas A, B and C in the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority was given some limited powers and responsibilities in the Areas A and B and a prospect of negotiations on a final settlement based on Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. The Accord was officially signed on 28 September 1995 (from wikipedia).
- According to B’Tselem, the Israeli government has never lived up to either the intent or the expressed demands of Oslo II, but rather, began and continues a campaign of abuse that has as its goal, the subjugation and ultimate removal (or at least diminishing) of the Palestinian population and ultimate Israeli domination/control.
- Abuses include:
- Unlawful killings
- Manipulation of natural resources (mostly water) to the disadvantage of the Palestinians
- Restrictions on movement, especially the erection of the so called “barrier wall”
- False imprisonment
- Demolishing of homes
- And so on . . .
- The work of B’Tselem is to investigate and provide documentation these events, collect and distribute videos, issue reports, and work with advocacy groups to advance social and political change.
- Part of their strategy is to distribute video cameras throughout the West Bank so that human right abuses could be documents – a picture being worth ever-so-much more than a thousand words!!
- The abuses listed above are a part of a concerted effort by the government, military, and legal communities to both subjugate and, ultimately encourage
In summary: As mentioned in at the onset, our trip is focus on hearing from multitude and perspectives, and B’Tselem is one of them. With only a brief time to describe our interaction it would be difficult to relate the effect of the presentation on our group. The videos presented (especially the video of the recent shooting of an already-wounded Palestinian was quite disturbing. See account here) were shocking, to say the least. Our hosts were knowledgeable, apparently fair-minded, and were committed to their work despite criticism (both from public figures and even, in some instances their own families and friends).
I left quite sobered and disturbed by what I saw. Perhaps I should have known more about what i was about to see than I did – but I didn’t. The images I saw will be difficult, if not impossible, to expunge from my mind. Perhaps that’s the point – they shouldn’t be.
Why do members of B’Tselem do work, we wondered as we debriefed later? Why run the risk of being labeled traitors, “betrayers” their country? What seemed obvious from our time with Adam and Amit is that they believed deeply in Justice and believed that their work is necessary if the country would ever find Peace!!!
As we talked about the day’s event over at dinner, Bret told us that there was “another side to this story,” which will will hear today – hard to imagine what anyone could say after what we just saw!