- B’Tselem became very active following the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens on June 12, and continuing into the renewed Gaza conflict. Activities include numerous statements, media appearances, and campaigns featuring slick graphics. These activities were characterized by repeated false or distorted factual and legal allegations and blatant political bias, which is often repeated at face value by journalists and in media appearances (for example, in this tendentious interview on Sky News, July 10, 2014.)
- On June 22, 2014, B’Tselem initiated a campaign cynically and immorally entitled “Hitching a ride,” which condemned Israel’s efforts to find the three teens, including accusations of “cynically exploiting the deep concern for the abducted teens” to “implement sweeping actions which intensify harm to the human rights of Palestinians.” The campaign featured a poster with pictures of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon – highlighting the partisan, political agenda under the façade of human rights. (See detailed analysis here.)
- B’Tselem also joined 10 other Israeli political advocacy NGOs in a public letter that falsely accused Israel of “unnecessary violation of basic rights and collective punishment” in the operation to find the teens and capture the perpetrators.
- In the first 10 days of the Gaza conflict (beginning July 8), B’Tselem published 15 statements:
- 4 present unverifiable statistics citing Palestinian sources regarding civilians in Gaza allegedly killed in Israeli attacks, with unsupported statements claiming that the Israeli responses violate international law.
- 4 others allege “unlawful” Israeli military actions and emphasize B’Tselem’s self-proclaimed role in “voicing dissent.”
- 6 emotive “testimonies,” which highlight the human suffering of Palestinians and Israelis, but are largely irrelevant for analyzing the legal dimensions.
- 1 statement solely focused on violations of the rights of Israelis (a unique action among the numerous NGOs claiming human rights agendas).
- Overall, B’Tselem’s publications reflect its political agenda – “dissent” and opposition to Israeli policy – in contrast to fact-based documentation of human rights violations and sound legal analysis.
This report was updated on July 17, 2014. Following Hagai El-Ad’s appointment to head the NGO (May 2014), B’Tselem’s unsupported factual and legal claims and blatant political agenda have multiplied, further reducing credibility. Their donor-enablers, including European governments and the New Israel Fund, share responsibility for these activities.
B’Tselem is supported with grants from the European Union, Norway, Germany (via EED), Ireland (via Trocaire), UK, Sweden (via Diakonia), the Netherlands (via ICCO), the Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law Secretariat (joint funding from Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark and the Netherlands). B’Tselem also receives significant funds from the New Israel Fund (NIF), $1,381,969 in 2008-2013.
Detailed analysis of B’Tselem’s Activities to Date Regarding the Gaza Conflict
1. Four statements present unverifiable statistics based on Palestinian sources regarding civilians casualties in Gaza, and unsupported statements claiming that the Israeli responses violate international law.
- B’Tselem info sheet: 52 Palestinians killed in bombings of homes in Gaza Strip, which are unlawful, July 13, 2014
- Initial figures: 114 People killed in Gaza Strip to date (12 July 2014, noon), July 13, 2014: “Initial findings indicate that 27 of the people killed were involved in combat.”
- Initial figured: 172 People killed in Gaza Strip, by evening of 14 July 2014, July 15, 2014
- Gaza Strip, July 2014: A constant state of emergency, July 15, 2014
Sources are not provided; the reports cite B’Tselem’s “initial findings,” which are apparently based on unverifiable Palestinian eyewitness accounts.
In addition, B’Tselem lacks the legal and military expertise to make determinations regarding the legality of Israeli operations. Extensive legal allegations are solely based on parsing the IDF blog and drawing inferences from statements by the IDF spokesperson. As in the past, B’Tselem does not have the necessary information required to ascertain the legality of Israeli operations. The IDF is under no obligation to provide B’Tselem with evidence of a particular structure’s role to Hamas’ military deployments (i.e. weapons storage, command and control center, etc), or explain the military value of targeting specific Hamas officials.
B’Tselem posted a “Note concerning testimonies about the ‘Protective Edge’ campaign,” admitting that: “With the current military campaign ongoing, B’Tselem is taking testimony from Gaza residents, mainly by telephone. B’Tselem verifies, to the best of its ability, the reliability and precision of the information reported; nevertheless, in these circumstances, reports may be incomplete or contain errors. Given the urgency of informing the public about events in Gaza, B’Tselem has decided to publish the information now available. When the military campaign ends, B’Tselem will supplement these reports as needed.”
B’Tselem also applies a highly faulty logic, claiming that Israel is barred from targeting Hamas officials so long as they (illegally) embed themselves within the civilian population of Gaza and use their own families as human shields. There in absolutely no basis in international law for this claim.
Finally, B’Tselem’s statistics are built around invented categories such as “were involved in combat” versus “did not participate in hostilities” – implying that armed conflict is a “numbers game” focusing on simplistic comparisons of civilian death counts. However, this claim is not based on any legal or moral standard. Legally, the criteria are that military objectives should be proportionate to the civilian harm caused, and as noted, B’Tselem has no capacity for assessing military objectives. (For instance, the accidental death of someone who “did not participate in hostilities” but was near someone who was, or who happened to be near a legitimate target such as a launcher or weapons storage facility located in a house or school, is unfortunate but not illegal.)
2. Four statements that allege “unlawful” behavior by Israel and emphasizing B’Tselem’s political role in “voicing dissent”:
- Protect civilians from the impact of hostilities, July 8, 2014
- Bombing family homes of activists in armed Palestinian groups violates international humanitarian law, July 9, 2014: “Even if uninvolved civilians are not injured, these houses are not legitimate military targets, and attacking them is a grave violation of international humanitarian law.”
- Everyone has the right to life, July 14, 2014: “At present, B’Tselem staff is concentrating on documenting the situation, analyzing it – and issuing unequivocal public statements according to the information we have gathered. As missiles ‘knock on the roof’, little room is left among the Israeli public to allow for criticism of government policy. Yet the missiles don’t merely ‘knock’ on the roofs; they bring death and destruction. This means that now, more than ever, is the time for us to document, analyze and voice dissent.”
- Military demand to evacuate rehabilitative hospital in Gaza unlawful, July 16, 2014: “The military’s demand to evacuate the hospital is unlawful. A hospital is not a military target and the military may not target it even after it is evacuated.”
These public statements highlight B’Tselem’s primary political purpose, and further demonstrate B’Tselem’s blatant violation of NGO best practices. Since B’Tselem cannot possibly know essential details regarding the incidents it has commented on – in part because much of the information is not available and in part due to a lack of necessary competence– such “unequivocal public statements” are entirely inappropriate.
3. Six emotive “testimonies,” highlighting the human suffering of Palestinians and Israelis, but largely irrelevant for analyzing the legal and human rights dimensions:
These emotive testimonies contain speculative comments about why Israeli strikes on specific targets may or may not have happened. Such claims are entirely unverifiable and prejudicial, and if anything, bolster allegations that Hamas is illegally using the civilian population of Gaza as human shields.
4.One statement solely focused on violations of Israeli rights, which is unique among human rights NGOs: