The B’Tselem controversy: Democracy is for Palestinians too

It is our right and obligation, as Israelis, to oppose the occupation.

A Palestinian woman takes a selfie during an anti-Israel rally in Gaza City (photo credit: REUTERS)
A Palestinian woman takes a selfie during an anti-Israel rally in Gaza City
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Since B’Tselem Director Hagai El-Ad laid out the undeniable reality of the occupation and the human rights violations it entails before the United Nations Security Council last week, we have been repeatedly asked: Why wash Israel’s dirty laundry abroad? Why not have this conversation at home? The answer is simple.
Human rights are always a global issue: They concern humanity as a whole. This is true of violations within state borders, such as violence targeting African-Americans in the US, and is certainly true of violations occurring outside state borders – such as the violation of Palestinian human rights under almost 50 years of Israeli military occupation. Although Israel is primarily responsible for ending the occupation, the international community allows it to thrive by taking no decisive action against it.
The Security Council is one of the most powerful international institutions capable of changing this state of affairs, and informing it of the facts is imperative.
El-Ad said nothing controversial in his address before the council. B’Tselem was joined by Israel’s most important allies, including the US, in its scathing criticism of the occupation and the settlements. That is why Israeli politicians including Prime Minister Netanyahu chose to scapegoat B’Tselem this week: to divert attention from this reality, namely, the policies for which they are responsible. These include massive land grabs, deportation of entire communities, extrajudicial killings, arrest and imprisonment without trial of children and adults, home demolitions on an unprecedented and growing scale, prevention of access to basic resources such as water, and relentless surveillance.
In short, an ongoing attack on the Palestinian population that is escalating as Israel tightens its grip over land and resources.
The Jerusalem Post’s editorial of October 18, “What is B’Tselem?” echoes the logic of Prime Minister Netanyahu, according to which B’Tselem is aiding “international efforts to pressure Israel to adopt policies rejected by Israelis repeatedly in democratic elections.” Yet millions of Palestinians living under Israel’s military control did not elect the Israeli government, which controls and oversees every significant aspect of their lives. It is a fallacy to believe that this government has been “democratically” authorized to determine the destiny of the occupied territories and their residents. Proponents of this view appear to be less concerned with real democracy, in which citizens have the right to criticize government policies, and more with silencing uncomfortable critical voices.
Nonetheless, El-Ad’s address at the UN did generate a short spate of lively public debate in Israel. B’Tselem’s choice to speak at this leading international forum disrupted the silence and denial of the occupation that is routine in Israel. This is yet another way in which we insist on expanding democratic discourse within Israel, or – washing dirty laundry at home.
No one, not even the prime minister, has a monopoly over what this place can and should be like. It is our right and obligation, as Israelis, to oppose the occupation. We believe achieving liberation from it for all people living on this land is a clear Israeli interest. A long road lies ahead. We invite you to join us on it.
The writer is spokesman for B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.