Monday, May 27, 2013

B’Tselem: Champion of Human Rights?

By Tuvia Brodie

The Israel-based organization called B’Tselem declares on its website that it champions human rights. Its specific mission is human rights in what it calls Gaza and the West Bank. Their Homepage clearly suggests that B’Tselem seeks to protect Arab citizens from human rights abuse.
According to the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a disregard and contempt for human rights brings barbarism.  Therefore, Human Rights has two goals: first, to rid the world of such barbarism as torture and other acts of physical oppression; and second, to create a world where all citizens can enjoy freedom of speech and belief, and freedom from fear. In addition, human rights include: everyone has the right to a fair and impartial trial, all have the right to an education (and elementary education shall be compulsory), no one can be arbitrarily arrested, tortured or otherwise detained because of speech, belief or opinion; and marriage requires the full consent of both parties. There are other rights listed in the Declaration.
One who, like B’Tselem,  ‘champions’ these rights effectively declares that he doesn’t just talk about them, but defends them to the highest degree possible; indeed, as a champion, his efforts should be aggressive and unrelenting. That means that any violation of the rights listed above will be monitored, tracked and reported until changes are made.
But according to the organization, Human Rights Watch (HRW), there have been human rights abuses committed by Arabs in Gaza and the West Bank that may have been ignored by B’Tselem. As of early May 2013, B’Tselem’s only easily-accessible website reference to serious Arab-on-Arab human rights violations is an essay dated January, 2011 that discusses incidents from 2007-08 only—nothing more recent.
But serious Arab abuses have continued after 2008. According to HRW, during the latest year-of-record, 2012, Hamas in Gaza carried out six executions, including after unfair trials, and committed another seven extrajudicial executions in November, 2012 when armed men took detainees from a detention center and killed them. Hamas also executed a citizen after a Gazan appeals court raised his sentence from life imprisonment to death—a clear violation of Palestinian law.
Where was B’Tselem?  
HRW reported that Hamas officials frequently denied detainees access to their lawyers.
Where was B’Tselem?
As of October 31, 2012, HRW recorded 121 credible cases of torture or ill-treatment by police and the Hamas internal security agency.
Where does the average visitor to the B’Tselem website find reports on these Arab-on-Arab abuses?
In 2012, Hamas security forces assaulted, arbitrarily detained and allegedly tortured civil society activists and peaceful protesters who were calling for reconciliation between Hamas and its rival, Fatah.
Where is the B’Tselem report?  How many clicks on the website must one make before finding it? Is it  there?
During 2012, Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces also committed abuses. They beat peaceful demonstrators, detained and harassed journalists and online activists, and arbitrarily arrested hundreds, including waves of arrests in May and September alone. Credible allegations of torture by the PA increased.
Then there’s the HRW 2011 World Report. Here, HRW accused Hamas of executing in 2011 five people without due process, identified 132 credible cases of torture in the first eight months of 2011, and accused officials of harassing, detaining and torturing citizens for ‘morality’ offenses that included homosexuality and extramarital sex. PA officials, meanwhile, were accused of 106 credible cases of torture in the first nine months of 2011--and were accused of assaulting and detaining journalists, and for preventing peaceful demonstrations. 
B’Tselem’s own 2011 Report, however, was blind. Its Human Rights in the Occupied Territories 2011 report mentions virtually nothing about these Arab-on-Arab abuses.
Gaza and the West Bank citizens live in fear. How does B’Tselem, the champion of human rights, defend them?
 Perhaps, by using the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a guide, B’Tselem can begin with these questions:
-what is the Gazan and West Bank literacy rate?
-what is the incidence of rape, forced marriage and the honor-killing of women?
-Do citizens have the freedom to express their opinions safely?
-do authorities torture their citizens?
-do detainees receive a fair and impartial trial?
-are coerced confessions used in court as evidence of guilt?
Remember, B’Tselem champions human rights for these Arabs. But it ignores what amounts to persistent Arab barbarism. It does nothing to haul Hamas and PA authorities before the court of public opinion so they can be pressured to change.
It hauls Israel into the public eye. What about Gaza and the PA?
The average visitor to the B’Tselem Homepage finds it easy to read about alleged Israeli violations of Arab rights, detail-by-detail, page-after-page. But finding details about Arab-on-Arab abuse is difficult, time-consuming and hardly successful. Meanwhile, Arab citizens in Gaza and the West Bank are murdered. They do not have basic freedoms.  They lack human rights. They are not safe. They are tortured by their own police.
Does B’Tselem champion human rights for Arabs? 
Anyone else hear crickets?

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