Build up the body of Christ. Support the Pentecost Offering.

B’Tselem works toward a future of justice and equality in Israel-Palestine

Director Hagai El Ad meets with PC(USA) delegation

by Kathy Melvin | Presbyterian News Service

The sealed eastern gate of Jerusalem nearest the Temple Mount, which is holy to Christians, Muslims and Jews. (Photo by Kathy Melvin)

BETHLEHEM — As the Israeli bombing of Gaza continues, the words of B’Tselem Director Hagai El Ad are ringing in the ears of the members of the PC(USA) delegation that visited Israel-Palestine two weeks ago — perpetual occupation and zero international consequences. He has taken that message to the United Nations General Assembly several times, most recently last fall, and delivered the same words to the delegation.

Founded in 1989 during the first Intifada, B’Tselem’s work has primarily focused on documenting Israeli violations of Palestinians’ human rights in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza. It publishes statistics, testimonies and eyewitness accounts and collects video and detailed reports. B’Tselem is an independent, non-partisan organization. It is funded solely by donations — both grants from European and North American foundations that support human rights activity worldwide and contributions by individuals in Israel and abroad.

The organization’s stated goal is “to end the occupation, as that is the only way forward to a future in which human rights, democracy, liberty and equality are ensured to all people, both Palestinian and Israeli, living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.”

B’Tselem (literally “in the image of”), the name chosen for the organization by the late Knesset member Yossi Sarid, is a reference to Gen. 1:27: And God created humankind in His image. In the image of God did He create them.” The name symbolizes the universal moral edict to respect and uphold the human rights of all people.

In his testimony to the UN, El Ad said, “It is very difficult, if not impossible, to fully convey the indignity, the outrage and the pain of a people denied the benefit of human rights for more than 50 years. Here, in these chambers, it is hard to articulate the flesh and blood meaning of the exposed lives Palestinians endure under occupation. But no matter how hard it is to describe, the real hardship is that of facing such an intolerable existence day in and day out, of trying to live, and raise a family, and develop a community, under these conditions.”

As of August 2018, 137 of the 193-member United Nations’ states and two non-member states have recognized Palestine. Palestine has been a non-member observer state of the UN since November 2012. The United States does not recognize the State of Palestine and officially maintains no diplomatic relations with it.

Just last Friday, protesters in Gaza continued what they have termed The Great March of the Return protests for the 45th consecutive Friday and on Saturday, March 30, they called for a universal day of solidarity. The ongoing demonstrations have been mostly peaceful and the Palestinians who have been killed were mostly unarmed demonstrators. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, since the beginning of these protests in March 2018, 254 Palestinians have been killed and 23,603 injured.

When Hamas won elections and gained political power in 2007, Israel instituted a blockade of Gaza and cut off basic supplies to Palestinian residents including electricity, food, water and medicine. Infrastructure has been destroyed. Children often go hungry. Many are unemployed because businesses cannot get the goods to sell; few have the money to buy anyway. Currently 1.9 million people live in the Gaza Strip. More than 54 percent are under the age of 18. It’s estimated 1.6 million need humanitarian assistance.

B’Tselem said it believes that “unless a nonviolent way out of the current reality is found, the violence of the past half century — both organized and spontaneous — might be just a preview of much more to come. The effort to create a different future for this piece of land is not just an urgent moral imperative; it is a matter of life and death.”

The organization continues its efforts “fighting for a better future, one predicated on human rights, democracy, freedom and equality. All the people living on the bit of land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River have both individual and collective rights, including the right to self-determination. There are several political scenarios that could bring about a future that is based on the realization of these rights. It is not for B’Tselem to say which scenario is best. One thing is clear though: Carrying on with the occupation is not an option.”

Luciano Kovacs, World Mission’s coordinator for the Middle East and Europe office, was a member of the delegation that met with El Ad and continues to monitor the situation in Israel-Palestine.

“I was impressed with B’Tselem’s presentation, but troubled by the dire picture we were offered, both in terms of the sense of impunity Israeli military forces enjoy in their dealing with unarmed and vulnerable Palestinian civilians and of the gravity of the situation,” said Kovacs. “I also think it is essential to show the U.S. public and people around the world that there is internal dissent in Israeli society, although it is not well-known.  Hearing that they are often referred to as traitors reminds me of when people in the U.S. who were critical of U.S. foreign policies after 9/11 were considered unpatriotic.

“Dissent is a basic tenet of a democracy,” he said, “and if Israel is serious about its rhetoric of being a democratic society, which is tainted to say the least by its recently-approved nationhood law, it should welcome internal dissent.”

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

  • Subscribe to the PC(USA) News

  • Interested in receiving either of the PC(USA) newsletters in your inbox?

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.