Yesh Din: Justice for All?
- Yesh Din, an Israeli NGO founded by members of Machsom Watch, claims to monitor legal procedures applied to Palestinian complaints against Israelis – both civilians and members of the security forces in the West Bank – in Israeli civilian courts. It also follows proceedings against Palestinian defendants in military courts.
- Yesh Din is funded by the European Union, the Irish, Dutch, German and British Foreign Offices, the New Israel Fund, the Open Society Institute, and private donors and foundations. As with other European-funded political NGOs based in Israel, Yesh Din’s agenda is one-sided, and ignores Palestinian violations of Israeli human rights, including terrorism.
- Their main activities consist of soliciting reports from Palestinians regarding alleged “criminal behavior by Israeli civilians”, and publishing reports on these topics. In these reports, many of the claims are subjective and cannot be verified.
- Reports generally omit the context of terror and use pseudo-legal human rights terminology and “apartheid” rhetoric to condemn Israeli policy.
- The appearance of academic methods notwithstanding, the methodological problems in the reports reduce Yesh Din’s credibility. In its report on military courts, conclusions are based on a small, unrepresentative sample of 800 cases, out of 42,000 indictment and arrest hearings conducted in the military courts in 2006 alone.
Activities and Publications
Exploiting Human Rights Terminology
Affiliation with other Politicized NGOs
Yesh Din – Volunteers for Human Rights (Hebrew for “there is law”) was established in March 2005 with the proclaimed goal of opposing “the continuing violation of Palestinian human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.” The group claims to “work for an immediate and meaningful change in the Israeli authorities’ practices by documenting and disseminating accurate and up-to-date information about the systematic violation of human rights in the OPT, by raising public awareness of such violations, and by applying public and legal pressures on government agencies to end them.” (OPT – Occupied Palestinian Territory – is a political and not a legal term that is used by many NGOs.)
Yesh Din was founded by several members of Machsom Watch, a highly politicized Israeli NGO also funded by European governments, and involved in monitoring checkpoints between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Yesh Din’s staff consists of a team of approximately 30 volunteers, a salaried field investigator (Azmi Bdeir), a legal advisor (Michael Sfard) and professional communications consultants. Among its Public Council members are prominent Israeli figures, such as Michael Ben Yair, former attorney general, Colonel (Ret.) Paul Kedar, former consul in New York and head of the Ministry of Defense delegation to Europe, General (Ret.) Shlomo Lahat, former mayor of Tel Aviv, and General (Ret.) Shlomo Gazit, former head of military Intelligence. Lior Yavne is the group’s research director and author of its reports. 
Leading members of Yesh Din’s staff have close ties to other NGOs operating in the Israeli-Arab conflict. Azmi Bdeir was a member of Ta’ayush, and Lior Yavne worked as B’Tselem’s Communications Director and advises Amnesty International and Bimkom. Michael Sfard is a signatory to a letter signed by a small number of reserve soldiers refusing to serve beyond the so-called "Green Line", and has provided legal representation to these soldiers.
Yesh Din is funded by the European Commission (446,000 NIS for the Accountability Project) and the Dutch (570,260 NIS for Military Courts Project), German (228,670 NIS for Land Project), Irish (393,315 NIS for the Accountability Project) and UK (800,023 NIS for the Law Enforcement Project) Foreign Offices. It receives grants from the Open Society Institute (USA) and the New Israel Fund (NIF). In addition, funds are received from private donors, from both Israel and abroad, and in 2006, Yesh Din received $57,182 from the NIF.
Yesh Din also benefits from the financial support of Oxfam Novib, the Hermod Lannungs Fond (Denmark), Jacobs Charitable Trust (UK), The Marc Rich Foundation (Switzerland), Naomi and Nehemiah Cohen Foundation (USA) and Yigal Arnon & Co. Law Office (Israel).
Activities and Publications
Yesh Din’s primary activity is related to soliciting reports from Palestinians regarding alleged “criminal behavior by Israeli civilians.” (As is the case for many other European funded political NGOs based in Israel, Yesh Din’s agenda is one-sided, and is silent on Palestinian violations of Israeli human rights, including terrorism.) The NGO says it dispatches “teams of specially-trained volunteers” and records the narratives told by “victims” and “eyewitnesses.” It also collects related documents, and accompanies the complainants to the police station or District Coordination Office. Yesh Din monitors any resulting investigations and legal proceedings. A situation room to monitor “olive harvest harassment” is also maintained. Yesh Din publishes its observations in periodic reports and press releases.
Report on Investigations of Israeli Police Procedures:
In June 2006, Yesh Din published its first major report, A Semblance of Law: Law Enforcement upon Israeli Civilians in the West Bank. This report is based on allegations of violence by Israeli civilians against Palestinians, and assesses the police response to complaints, claiming to quantify the cases closed without any or with partial investigations. Yesh Din claimed that less than 10% of complaints by Palestinians against Israelis were fully investigated and resulted in prosecution. A data sheet published in July 2008 repeats this allegation.
This report employs methodologies that limit the credibility of Yesh Din’s claims, and has the appearance of academic methods without the substance. The Samaria and Judea district police opened 299 files between January and November 2005, and 250 additional files between January and April 2006 regarding alleged offences by Israelis against Palestinians. In contrast, Yesh Din’s report is based on a non-representative sample of only 92 cases, spanning four years (2002 to 2006). The statistics for 2007  are misleading in a different sense, as they are based on a sample of cases from the past four years (2003 to 2007), and not from 2007 alone. This methodology lacks rigor and may result in inaccurate conclusions. The data also includes one case that had been included in its previous report published in 2006 – an example of “double counting”. 
Additionally, the report ignores the context of terror that hinders the Israeli police from conducting investigations in Palestinian villages. The fact that Israeli police must give greater priority to terror events and major crimes rather than more minor offenses, such as trespassing, is not considered.
Moreover, Yesh Din does not explain why its claim that less than 10% of cases lead to prosecution is inconsistent with the official reports provided by the police, showing that 151 (60%) of the 250 files opened in the first quarter of 2006 resulted in indictments. In 2007, 15.38% of investigations of Palestinian complaints against Israelis resulted in indictments.  These percentages are significantly higher than the results presented by Yesh Din.
Furthermore, the data presented by Yesh Din lacks a comparative dimension. For example, it would have been useful to compare these results with the number of Palestinians prosecuted as a consequence of complaints filed by Israelis, or convictions of Israelis within the Green Line. Yesh Din’s analysis makes it impossible to evaluate if the numbers are representative of general Israeli police procedure and investigations, irrespective of the nationality of the complainants and defendants. Indeed, it is unclear if these figures are out of proportion to the indictment rate in other democratic societies as well.
Israeli Military Court Project:
Similar methodological problems are apparent in Yesh Din’s Military Courts project. Started in December 2006, Yesh Din observes trials conducted by the IDF military courts, focusing on procedural issues. In December 2007, Yesh Din published its first comprehensive report on the subject, Backyard Proceedings: The Implementation of Due Process Rights in the Military Courts in the Occupied Territories, accompanied by a legal and public relations campaign that highlighted the main political objectives of these activities.
An IDF response to the report notes that the report’s “data and research methods . . . suffer from a number of fundamental flaws” and that it reveals an “obvious lack of understanding as regards legal proceedings under criminal law and in administrative arrests”. Problems and omissions in the report include:
- The 800 cases surveyed by Yesh Din comprise an unrepresentative sample of the 42,000 indictment and arrest hearings conducted in the military courts in 2006 alone.  In regards to specific observations, the sample is even smaller. To draw conclusions regarding average period of time that passes from detention hearings and to reading of the indictment, Yesh Din relies on only 31 cases out of thousands.
- The report refers to data regarding the judicial appointment system from 2002, even though the system was completely redesigned in 2004.
- Yesh Din fails to compare its statistical results with parallel situations in civilian Israeli courts or in other Military Courts around the world dealing with terrorism. For instance, Yesh Din claims that Palestinian suspects do not enjoy the presumption of innocence to which they are entitled by international law, since only 0.29% of cases  ended in complete acquittals. In fact, the rate of full acquittal in the military courts is nine times higher than in Israel itself, yet this statistic is omitted. 
In addition to the statistical and factual errors, Backyard Proceedings often repeats unsubstantiated statements by parties to the disputes, such as Palestinian attorneys. On page 142, attorney Jamal Mahameed complains that “[p]lea bargains are a part of the system, such a crappy system – forgive the expression – that you have to be a part of it. If not, you’re out. You’re rejected”. This statement gives prominence to Mahameed’s subjective feelings and fear of unemployment, omitting the fact that plea bargains are an integral part of most Western legal systems and in no way unique to the Israeli military courts. The IDF spokesperson noted that “throughout the entire report, its authors systematically preferred the feelings of the defense attorneys even when there (sic) were not checked by other means, or were event (sic) contradicted by objective data […] The preference of feelings over data undermines the basis for the report’s conclusions.” 
Exploiting Human Rights Terminology
Yesh Din’s reports and website often exploit human rights terminology in order to condemn Israel. For example, between November 2006 and March 2007, Yesh Din led seven other Israeli NGOs in filing a petition with the High Court of Justice to change official Israeli security policy regarding transporting Palestinians in Israeli cars. Yesh Din used “apartheid” rhetoric in this campaign, attempting to reframe the conflict as one of race, rather than acknowledging the necessity to balance interests in an asymmetrical conflict. Yesh Din’s phrase “Apartheid Order” was adopted by the media and other NGOs, functioning as a slogan to demonize Israel. 
Affiliation with other Politicized NGOs
Since its inception, Yesh Din has cooperated closely with a number of highly politicized Israeli NGOs on its campaigns, including the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), B’Tselem, HaMoked: Center for the Defense of the Individual, Rabbis for Human Rights, Gisha, the Palestinian Monitoring Group, Machsom Watch and Physicians for Human Rights – Israel (PHR-I). (NGO Monitor has published reports on these organizations.)
Yesh Din frequently cites the claims of these organizations. In Backyard Proceedings, for instance, Yesh Din quotes from numerous B’Tselem reports,  and B’Tselem’s casualty figures are quoted in A Semblance of Law. (These statistics have been shown to be inaccurate in studies by NGO Monitor and CAMERA.) Yesh Din also cites to PHR-I’s publications,  ignoring the credibility problems associated with this organization’s work.
Yesh Din also belongs to the “Palestinian Israeli Peace NGOs Forum.” This framework of 120 Palestinian and Israeli NGOs promotes cooperation among member organizations that claim to favor a resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict “based on a shared vision […] which ensures the dignity, liberty and security of both nations.”
Yesh Din claims to document and monitor human rights violations against Palestinians by the Israeli police and military courts. However, as seen in their reports, selective use of data and problematic methodology reflect the primacy of the political goal. In addition, Yesh Din exploits human rights vocabulary by invoking “apartheid” rhetoric, demonstrating a political stance that demonizes the State of Israel. An agenda which removes the context of terror and Palestinian violations of human rights is inconsistent with the universal moral foundation of international norms, and such activities contribute to the politicization of human rights rhetoric in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
To read NGO Monitor’s correspondence with Yesh Din about this report, click here.
“Backyard Proceedings: The Implementation of Due Process Rights in the Military Courts in the Occupied Territories.” Yesh Din. pp. 3-4.
Suggesting that only 13 of 163 files (8%) and 205 investigations resulted in indictments.
“Law Enforcement upon Israeli Civilians in the OPT: Yesh Din’s Monitoring,” page 4, footnote 5. Accessed at http://www.yesh-din.org/sys/images/File/LESVDataSheetJuly2008Eng%5b1%5d.pdf.
According to the Israeli police, in 2007, 550 case files were opened by the Judea and Samaria Police against Israelis. Of these, 323 cases were fully investigated and 69 indictments were issued (21.36%). In cases of complaints by Palestinians against Israelis, 195 investigations led to 30 indictments (15.38%).
Ibid. page 3
23 out of 9,123 in 2006.
Response of IDF spokesperson. page 9Ibid. page 6-7
“The accusation that Israel is an apartheid state is an insidious tool in the hands of those who deny the entitlement of Jews to a viable national home. The tool is so effective because it contains within it the precedent of the use of boycotts as a method of attack as was the case against apartheid South Africa.” “Deconstructing Apartheid Accusations Against Israel,” Interview with Gideon Shimoni, Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism No. 60, 2 September 2007
The Military Judicial System In The West Bank (November 1989) (page 25), Detainees Without a Trial: Administrative Detention in the Occupied Territories Since the Beginning of the Intifada (October 1992) (page 55), Ground to a Halt: Denial of Palestinians’ Freedom of Movement in the West Bank (August, 2007) (page 88) and Absolute Prohibition: The Torture and Ill-Treatment of Palestinian Detainees (May 2007, with HaMoked) (page 113).
 Backyard Proceedings, page 60.