Jul 27 2016

Palestinians concerned about new Israeli NGO law

Published by at 11:52 am under Articles,Palestinian politics


By Daoud Kuttab

Susan Jaber says her life changed four years ago when she began volunteering with the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem. “When they gave me a camera and I began using it, the level of harassment and attacks by settlers and soldiers went down a lot,” Jaber told Al-Monitor.

 Jaber, 39, lives in Hebron very close to the Ibrahimi Mosque and in the path of Jewish settlers who would be happy to see her leave. “Before we began filming and B’tselem was publishing videos of settlers’ harassment, our family was living in constant fear. We are now able to live a normal life. The cameras that we have are our strongest weapon,” Jaber, a mother of seven children, said. She pointed to the Facebook page showing her and other volunteers filming.

Like other Palestinian volunteers working with B’Tselem, Jaber has heard about the new Israeli law restricting the work of all Israeli nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), but she is not surprised by it. “It is normal that the occupiers do that, because they can see that B’Tselem is doing a good job documenting and exposing Israeli crimes,” she said.

Jaber, who said that B’Tselem is “working in a legal and proper way and is very serious about its documentation efforts,” vowed that she and her co-volunteers will “cooperate with B’Tselem until the last moment.”

Manal Jaabari, who has been working as a field researcher with B’Tselem for six years and is in charge of the Camera Project, recruited Jaber along with some 50 other volunteers.

Since 2007, B’Tselem has trained Palestinians and provided them cameras with the aim of documenting human rights violations. Volunteers in high tension areas regularly film Israeli soldiers’ and settlers’ interactions with Palestinians and publish what is filmed.

Jaabari told Al-Monitor that she has raised concern about the future of working with B’Tselem a number of times to her superiors. “We are all worried that this law will be the beginning of further restrictions on the organization. We have talked to them [B’Tselem] about it and they insist that they are not shaken and will continue to do the human rights documentation work that they have always done,” Jaabari said.

The Israeli law aims to embarrass NGOs in the eyes of the Israeli public by forcing NGOs to reveal all their foreign funding sources. B’Tselem will abide by the law and doesn’t expect it will affect its work in the occupied territories.

Kareem Jubran, the manager of all the Palestinian field workers at B’Tselem, believes that the new Israeli law is only the first step in a new escalation against human rights organizations such as B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence. “When we published the names of all the Palestinian children who were killed in the 2014 war on the Gaza Strip and used our film equipment to document human rights abuses, pro-government pundits began trying to discredit our work and claim that we are fabricating stories,” he told Al-Monitor.

On July 11, the Israeli Knesset passed the law formally called “Transparency Requirements for Parties Supported by Foreign State Entities,” with the ultimate aim of curtailing Israeli human rights organizations fighting against human rights abuses in the occupied territories.

Jubran said that the current campaign calling B’Tselem and other human rights organizations traitors began when Avigdor Liberman was foreign minister; the campaign is still ongoing as the right-wing Liberman is now minister of defense and directly in charge of life in the occupied territories.

But Jubran is confident that this law and any further law will not deter B’Tselem or Palestinians from working with the organization. “This law itself will not have a direct effect on us. The aim of the law is to embarrass B’Tselem in the eyes of the Israelis and to make them look like traitors,” he said. Right-wing Israelis expect that organizations such as B’Tselem will be judged by the Israeli public when it becomes clear that they are receiving foreign funding.

B’Tselem spokesman Sarit Michaeli also insists that the new Israeli law will not affect the Israeli organization’s work in the occupied territories. “I think this law will have virtually no impact on our Palestinian staffers and volunteers, considering it is not going to make a major change on how we operate in practical terms, especially regarding our research, documentation and fieldwork in the West Bank. But it [the law] is primarily intended to shame us vis-a-vis Israeli audiences,” Michaeli told Al-Monitor.

Jubran said B’Tselem has eight Palestinian employees in the West Bank and three in Gaza, in addition to some 200 volunteers throughout the occupied territories. He said, “Our staff and volunteers are strong and resilient and understand that we are not going to abandon them. But they are concerned about the future. Will there be more laws and how will all this affect our work and our relationship with them?”

The importance of organizations such as B’Tselem, however, is not new. In an interview with an Israeli newspaper in September 1993, the late Yitzhak Rabin was quoted as saying, “The beauty of empowering [Yasser] Arafat was that Arafat could operate ‘bli bagatz uvli B’Tselem’ — Hebrew for ‘without the Supreme Court and without B’Tselem.’”

Palestinians working and volunteering with organizations such as B’Tselem have at times been worried about the futility of their efforts. Painstakingly documenting human rights abuses is not always pleasant and is often frowned upon by Palestinians who fear that some of the information could be harmful to the community if it gets into the hands of the Israeli army and is used in military courts. But the more the Israeli government and the Knesset put pressure on some of these human rights organization, the more people such as Jaber, Jaabari, Jubran and others are confident that they are doing the right job for the ultimate benefit of the Palestinian people.

No responses yet

Comments RSS

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.