Israeli Group Monitors Rights Violations. (World)
Patterson, Margot, National Catholic Reporter
While Israeli opposition forced the United Nations to disband a fact-finding mission to Jenin to investigate Palestinian allegations of civilian massacres by Israeli troops, other human rights groups have been conducting their own investigations. Jessica Montell, executive director of B'Tselem, an Israeli information and advocacy center for human rights in the occupied territories, said preliminary findings indicate human rights abuses took place at Jenin but not a massacre.
"There is no evidence of mass willful killings if that is what is meant by massacres," Montell said. "There is fairly strong evidence suggesting human rights violations and violations of humanitarian law, particularly in the failure to allow access to humanitarian workers -- by which I mean ambulances to attend to the injured or the sick as well as access to aid workers providing food and water to the population under curfew."
Other human rights abuses B'Tselem is investigating before issuing its report include the vandalization of civil society structures by Israeli soldiers, who destroyed offices, computers and databases during their recent sweep through West Bank towns and villages, as well as soldiers' use of Palestinian civilians as human shields. It's clear that both abuses occurred, said Montell. What is still unclear is whether these abuses occurred at the initiative of individual soldiers or reflected military policy, she said.
B'Tselem's findings are in line with a May 3 report by the international group Human Rights Watch, which found evidence of Israeli war crimes in Jenin but not evidence to support claims that the Israeli Defense Force massacred hundreds of Palestinians in the refugee camp.
Since its founding in 1989 by a group of academics, attorneys, journalists and Knesset members, B'Tselem has reported to an often unresponsive Israeli public on human rights violations in the occupied territories ruled by Israel. One of the organization's stated aims is to "combat the phenomenon of denial prevalent among the Israeli public and help create a human rights culture in Israel."
According to some, that culture is still far in the distance. Though human rights groups like B'Tselem, Rabbis for Human Rights, the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions and others exist in Israel, even their sympathizers and supporters say they are bucking a strong national consensus that supports harsh measures against Palestinians as necessary and justifiable.
"There's no concept in Israeli society that Palestinians have a legitimate case, that they have human rights, that there is international law that applies here," said one journalist for a well-known U.S. newspaper who has covered Israel for several years.
Over the years B'Tselem has published reports on torture--standard operating procedure for Israel military forces interrogating Palestinian suspects up until 1999 when the Israeli Supreme Court disallowed the practice--houses demolitions by Israeli forces in the occupied territory, assassinations of Palestinian activists and leaders, beatings and physical abuse of Palestinians, unjustified shootings of Palestinians, the water crisis in Palestinian villages, and the sealing of Palestinian towns and villages. Even as it has earned the respect of other human rights activists around the world for its careful documentation of Israeli violations of humanitarian law, B'Tselem has not become beloved by Israelis.
"Most of the public feels that B'Tselem is a traitor," said Montell, a 34-year-old native of Northern California who grew up in a liberal Jewish home and first visited Israel during high school. Montell moved to Israel after college, along the way shedding what she said were "Zionist myths" about her adopted country.
Since the onset of the second intifada almost 20 months ago, Montell said Palestinian human rights in the occupied territories have deteriorated seriously. …