B’Tselem cuts ties with IDF over ‘whitewashing’

‘There is no longer any point in pursuing justice,’ group says

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May 25, 2016 07:22
3 minute read.
A SCREENSHOT of the video showing Col. Yisrael Shomer shooting Muhammad Ali Kasba in A-Ram in July 2

A SCREENSHOT of the video showing Col. Yisrael Shomer shooting Muhammad Ali Kasba in A-Ram in July 2015.. (photo credit: screenshot)

 
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 B’Tselem – The Israel Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories – announced on Wednesday that it is cutting ties with the IDF over its alleged whitewashing of complaints it receives from the NGO.

In 2014, B’Tselem cut ties with the army regarding alleged war crimes in Gaza, ceasing to send it Palestinians’ complaints. Nevertheless, until now it has continued sending the army complaints about alleged crimes in the West Bank.

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The new break will mean that the only connection the group will have with the IDF will be if it asks for information, but it will not forward cases or cooperate with the army more than required by law.

The IDF in the past has alternated between criticizing B’Tselem as unduly partisan and expressing appreciation for receiving information from the group about soldiers’ alleged violations. With regard to the latests cutting of ties, the IDF issued a statement saying, “The picture presented in the B’Tselem report is tendentious and does not reflect reality. The IDF is committed to the rule of law, and the law-enforcement system in the IDF operates professionally and thoroughly.

“In recent years a number of official commissions have throughly examined the law enforcement apparatus of the IDF and have determined that its checking and investigating apparatuses and their means of operation are consistent with the rules of international justice. The decisions of the military echelon are subject to external criticism, including that of the attorney-general and the Supreme Court, and have had their support and endorsement for many years. The IDF takes care to examine and investigate any information it receives, including from B’Tselem and many other groups, and will continue to operate transparently with the goal of investigating the truth.”

In a report entitled The Occupation’s Fig Leaf, B’Tselem explains that its decision came after a “protracted period of reflection in the organization, based on its experience in hundreds of complaints it submitted to the military law enforcement system and dozens of Military Police Investigations Unit (MPIU) files it has examined.”

This experience has led B’Tselem to the “recognition that there is no longer any point in pursuing justice and defending human rights by working with a system whose real function is measured by its ability to continue to successfully cover up unlawful acts and protect perpetrators.”

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B’Tselem will continue to document and report on human rights violations by Israel in the West Bank, but it will “stop submitting complaints, coordinating meetings between the MPIU investigators and Palestinian victims and eyewitnesses, and securing various documents for the investigation authorities.”

While much of the report relates to older cases that B’Tselem argues the IDF mishandled, it also strikes on some new ground.

The NGO slams the September 2015 Ciechanover and February 2013 Turkel Commissions (named for former Foreign Ministry director-general Joseph Ciechanover and former Supreme Court justice Jacob Turkel) as being a smokescreen of promises for superficial changes, while making sure that soldiers are mostly not indicted for abuses or crimes.

For example, B’Tselem condemned the IDF’s recent decision to close the probe into Col. Yisrael Shomer’s shooting of a Palestinian and the state’s decision to indict two former soldiers for mere negligence in the killing of a young Palestinian minor.

In contrast, the state has argued that the changes that were introduced following the conclusions of the two commissions have made investigations of complaints against soldiers deeper and much more prompt.

However, according to the organization’s statistics, that stretch over around 15 years, indictments, let alone severe ones such as against Hebron shooter Elor Azaria, are very rare.

According to the statistics, there were only 25 indictments out of 739 complaints the organization has submitted to the army.

While B’Tselem cooperated with the IDF for years, hoping this would lead to improvements, it now says that “In reality... B’Tselem’s cooperation with the military investigation and enforcement system has not achieved justice, but instead lent legitimacy to the occupation regime and aided in whitewashing it.”

Critics of B’Tselem say that much of its criticism of IDF investigations downplays Israeli security concerns.

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