In November 2017, the EU approved a €269,975, four-year grant to an Israeli legal NGO, Yesh Din, for a project designed to increase “Israeli security forces personnel (ISFP) accountability for forcible home entries in line with democratic standards and international humanitarian and human rights law.” Yesh Din is carrying out these efforts in partnership with Breaking the Silence and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-I).
As reported in Israel HaYom (June 17, 2018), the activities undertaken as part of this project reveal the highly politicized premises under which these NGOs raise money from European governments.
In a funding appeal submitted to the UN, Yesh Din alleges, “…the military justice system grants nearly complete impunity for Israeli security forces personnel and their conduct” regarding “Forcible Home Entries (FHEs)” (emphasis added). The three Israeli groups intend to address these supposed deficiencies by “Appealing decisions to close investigations on a case-by-case basis” and “Filing petitions to High Court of Justice on specific cases and principled matters” (emphases added).
This project and the rhetoric surrounding it are part of a wider “lawfare” strategy of pressing “war crimes” cases against Israeli officials in foreign courts and in the International Criminal Court (ICC). The threat of ICC intervention and other examples of lawfare is a central concern for Israeli decision-makers.
This is not the first example of Yesh Din receiving EU funding to accuse Israeli soldiers of criminal behavior. In 2011-2013, the EU granted Yesh Din €150,000 to “change Israeli policy vis- a- vis criminal accountability of Israeli Security Forces Personnel in the occupied Palestinian Territories, in such a way that acknowledges and takes into account the severity and the different nature of War Crimes, as distinguished from regular, domestic crimes” (emphases added).
Similarly, Yesh Din regularly publishes statistics and findings that accuse Israel and the IDF of impunity towards soldiers. NGO Monitor analysis has concluded that Yesh Din’s numbers are often misleading and misrepresentative.
Yesh Din is also active in other legal frameworks intended to pressure Israeli legal institutions. It is a longtime partner of an EU- and UK-funded program, managed by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), which bombards Israeli courts with hundreds of cases each year.
NGO Monitor notes that part of the project is “preparation and submission of Freedom of Information requests.” EU funding for FOI inquiries is ironic, since the EU systematically refuses to release documentation related to its funding for NGOs active in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Yesh Din’s Spin
In response to media exposure of the program objectives that appear in the funding appeal and EU documents, Yesh Din posted a statement on Facebook. It tried to reframe the project as “examining the different practices of forcibly entering Palestinian homes, in order to ensure that they are done out of real military necessity in accordance with international law and protecting the rights of the homeowners” (translation from Hebrew by NGO Monitor). In its statement, Yesh Din erases the focus on legal investigations and proceedings, which are explicit themes in the project documents.
Breaking the Silence Involvement
While this type of legal campaign is standard for Yesh Din, it appears to contradict Breaking the Silences’ stated mandate of addressing “the broad picture of the policy of occupation, which is inherently immoral – and not the specific conduct of any individual soldier.”
In its approach, Breaking the Silence has repeatedly refused to cooperate with IDF legal mechanisms, maintaining that “We know these aren’t isolated cases and that violations of military law characterizes the reality of occupation. Therefore we will not aid the system in shirking its responsibility through solely laying the blame on the individual soldier.” Moreover, in the past, the group maintains that the “Investigation of low-ranking soldiers… could prove to be an obstacle in launching external investigations of Israeli actions.”