Gisha and B’tselem: responses to Knesset assault
Dear friends, colleagues, and those taking an interest in Gisha’s work
In 2005, we founded Gisha with the goal of protecting the right to freedom of movement of residents of the occupied Palestinian territory. We did so out of a belief in the importance of promoting human rights, particularly for those living under occupation, who are impacted by state policies but are not citizens of Israel, and who therefore do not participate in the Israeli political system.
We are proud of our work and the positive effect it has on the lives of those living in the region.
We wish to express our concern over the ongoing attacks on human rights organizations in Israel by certain members of Knesset and representatives of the Israeli government. We wish to express our firm belief that Gisha and its fellow organizations play a valuable role in promoting democratic values and human rights.
Recently, the Knesset passed a proposal to establish a parliamentary committee of inquiry to investigate Israeli human rights organizations’ sources of funding and activities. Gisha and fifteen other organizations responded to this decision in a joint statement. The decision itself is mostly symbolic, because the Knesset does not have the authority to summon witnesses or to engage in other investigative procedures, but the proposal has been accompanied by harsh statements by government representatives, including accusations that human rights organizations are “terror supporters“, “enemies of Israel” and “traitors”.
We are concerned over this attempt to undermine the legitimacy of civil society organizations which scrutinize the actions of the government and seek to defend the rights of disempowered populations. Civil society organizations are at the very heart of a democratic society, and their role – our role – is to bring the actions of the Israeli authorities up for public scrutiny.
We do not understand the proposal to investigate our sources of funding, because, by law, Gisha reports its sources of funding to the Israeli authorities and publishes them online.
We are proud of our donors: public and private foundations and generous private donors, primarily from Europe, the US and Israel. Gisha, in accordance with the law, submits annual financial statements to the authorities in which we report on donations received that year. The donations that Gisha receives from public European sources constitute a fraction of the support these same countries give to civil society organizations in the academic, scientific and cultural spheres in Israel and in other places around the world. By doing so, these countries seek to maintain a dialogue with Israeli civil society on the basis of mutual values of freedom, democracy, peace, and security.
We wish to express our gratitude to our donors and other supporters from Israel and abroad who join us in promoting shared values and defending human rights.
We invite the public – including members of the Israeli Knesset – to get to know our work by visiting us at http://www.gisha.org. We will continue to work to achieve a better future based on promoting fundamental rights, freedom of expression, human dignity and of course – freedom of movement.
Prof. Kenneth Mann, Chair of the Board
Adv. Sari Bashi, Executive Director
Uri Zaki, U.S. director of B’Tselem
It seems inevitable that after 44 years in which one nation occupies another and deprives it of basic human and civil rights, the occupying society would also come to be affected by the occupation. Indeed, increasingly the tools of occupation — the restrictions of personal and political freedoms — are no longer confined to the territories. These methods are now being extended beyond the Green Line, which divides sovereign Israel from the occupied West Bank, and are tainting Israeli democracy. The rise of Avigdor Lieberman — whose Yisrael Beiteinu party sponsored the push for the investigative panel — and the presence in the Knesset of unabashed racists like Michael Ben-Ari, a Kahanist who represents the National Union party, is testament to how the ongoing occupation is penetrating Israeli society.
Last year, we witnessed a surge of anti-democratic, and often racist, legislation and rhetoric. Now, in the first week of 2011, the Knesset has launched a witch hunt against Israel’s human rights community. In justifying this initiative, Lieberman accused human rights organizations of supporting terrorism. Only 15 years ago, such political incitement led to the assassination of our prime minister; with his unrestrained vitriol, Lieberman has placed a target on the backs of all of us who work on behalf of human rights.
When B’Tselem was established in 1989 to monitor human rights abuses in the Occupied Territories, the organization’s founders would never have imagined that the occupation would still exist 22 years later. They would not have believed that a third generation of settlers would be born in the West Bank, enjoying the full rights of any other Israelis, while Palestinians in neighboring villages and towns continue to live under military occupation, deprived of basic rights such as freedom of movement, freedom of assembly, and the right to a fair trial and due process.
Israel’s human rights community has been at the forefront of the struggle against this state of affairs. Much like the brave Americans who spoke out against oppression during the civil rights movement, we love our country and are concerned about what might become of it if the status quo continues.
Speaking in synagogues and at universities across America, I encounter American Jews who have been instructed by the representatives of established Jewish organizations to unconditionally support Israel. To this I answer that in human affairs the only place where unconditional love exists is within a family. If you were to learn that a member of your family was headed in a dangerous direction, would you simply support him or her unreservedly? Or would you try to help your loved one understand the dangerous path he or she was taking?
It is not too late. Israel is still a democracy. Only very recently we saw that our court system did not hesitate to convict a former president of rape. Our media is still free and vocal, and yes, our civil society is more determined than ever to sustain the only democracy in the Middle East. The Knesset has now put Israel’s human rights organizations on the front line of the struggle to preserve Israeli democracy. We are taking a stand, but we cannot do it alone. We need the help of all of those who care about Israel’s future.
Uri Zaki is U.S. director of B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.