No sides in human rights

int; womens day gaza 2014
Gaza women protest on International Women’s Day, March 8th, 2014. Photo by Hosam Salem, posted by +972

Questions on human rights

Jessica Montell, director of B’Tselem answers questions asked by Facebook Friends.
From B’Tselem newsletter, April 2014

To mark International Women’s Day, we invited our Facebook community to present questions to Jessica Montell, the woman standing at the helm of B’Tselem. We invited people to ask her any questions they might have about human rights in the West Bank and Gaza, about the occupation, settlements, what’s legal, what’s not , and of course – about us.

Jessica Montell has worked at B’Tselem for 18 years, 12 of them as director. She will soon conclude her work with the organization. Jessica was raised in California; she has a blue belt in Taekwondo and a black belt in running a large organization and raising a family in Jerusalem. She has a partner and three children, two of them twins. Israeli economic magazine TheMarker selected her as one of the 100 most influential women in Israel, and Israeli daily Haaretz chose her as one of the ten most influential Anglo immigrants in Israel.

Below, Jessica Montell in her office waiting for questions

The Questions:

Barbra Buys asked: One gets such conflicting reports, that one really doesn’t know what to believe anymore. Depending on the the source, it is always the OTHER side that is responsible for the conflict and guilty of the worst atrocities. How does one “read between the lines” to get a balanced and (fairly) objective view, and what is your take on the possible solution / prognosis going forward?

Jessica’s reply: Yes Barbra, there are a lot of conflicting accusations, particularly regarding the political situation and the resolution of the conflict. Regarding human rights, I think the situation is much clearer: we need to hold all sides to the same human rights standards and hold them accountable when they violate human rights. In fact, when it comes to human rights we aren’t talking about sides, but about the relationship between all human beings (Jews and Arabs) and their governing authorities.

Vera Sajrawi asked: Why is the director of BetselemUSA attending AIPAC 2014? She had no idea that AIPAC is the American group lobbying for more weapons for Israel to kill Palestinians?

Jessica’s reply: The goal of B’Tselem USA is to bring our message regarding human rights to relevant target audiences. AIPAC is certainly one of those audiences.

Hannah Brennwald asked: What do you think about why Israel demolishes Palestinian homes in Palestinian territories?
And what does that mean to you why Israel applies different legal systems depending on races?…/58973/

Jessica’s reply: I just wrote an article this weekend on demolition of Palestinian homes [Our values, our homes . this is in the Premium section of JPost] And yes, the fact that Israel is applying two different and very discriminatory legal systems in the West Bank, one for Palestinians and one for Israeli settlers, is a fundamental injustice.

Juliette Verhoeven asked: Having gained such profound experiences in documenting human rights abuses in difficult circumstances and in a polically challenging environment for so many years, -what would be your key lessons learned that may help forward an emerging human rights community in a completely different setting but also very complex context such as Syria?

Jessica’s reply: I could not presume to give lessons relevant for human rights advocacy in Syria. But I would say that the international community has to mobilize and respond aggressively to protect civilians in this horrific situation.

Jonathan Howard asked: What differences does B’Tselem see between its treatment of human rights in general beyond the Green Line, and its treatment of women’s rights, specifically? Are different resources allocated, or perhaps different modes of action employed? In B’Tselem’s view, is there any difference between present day reality and ideal reality in those modes of action?

Jessica’s reply: Our work at B’Tselem naturally focuses on the gap between existing reality and how we think reality should look – including women’s rights. B’Tselem addresses all human rights. Some phenomena that we document have a particular effect on women, which we address, as ignoring gender differences in human rights violations means ignoring human rights. We usually don’t examine specific questions concerning women’s rights separately from human rights, but try to uncover relevant gender dynamics as part of examining the human rights situation in general.

Responsibility for killing 14-year-old Palestinian lies primarily with commanders who ordered armed ambush

Findings of B’Tselem inquiry: Soldiers fired live rounds at youths crossing Separation Barrier to pick wild food plants

B’Tselem report,March 26, 2014
April 2014 newsletter

Yusef a-Shawamreh going through gap in the Separation Barrier. Photo, no date, ‘Abed Al-Hashlamoun, EPA.

Today (26 March) B’Tselem published its findings on the killing of Yusef a-Shawamreh on the morning of Wednesday 19 March 2014. At around 7:00 A.M. soldiers shot and killed the 14-year-old Palestinian boy – of the village of Deir al-‘Asal al-Foqa, southwest of Hebron – as he crossed the Separation Barrier. A-Shawamrehwas shot when he and two friends, Zahi a-Shawamreh, 13, and al-Muntaser Beallah a-Dardun, 18, were going through a wide breach in the Separation Barrier. The two other teenagers were not hit, and soldiers took them in for questioning at the Kiryat Arba police station. They were released later that day.

B’Tselem’s investigation indicates that the three youths were crossing the barrier in order to pick gundelia [Arabic: ‘Akub], a thistle-like edible plant annually harvested at this time of year that serves as an important source of income for local residents. The section of the Separation Barrier in this area lies within the West Bank, some 200 meters east of the Green Line, not far from the village homes. The a-Shawamrehs own farmland that is now separated from them by the barrier, and that land is where the three youths were heading to gather plants.

Breach in barrier where Yusef was shot: Itamar Barak, B’Tselem, 20 March 2014

For the past two years there has been a wide breach in that section of the Separation Barrier. The youths went through it and crossed the patrol road on the other side. The two surviving youths told B’Tselem field researcher Musa Abu Hashhash that they heard three or four shots as they got off the road, fired with no advance warning. A-Shawamreh was hit and one of his companions helped him get back to the road. At that point, soldiers emerged from an ambush several dozen meters away.

The soldiers provided first aid to the wounded a-Shawamreh and apprehended his friends. Although a military base is located a mere two kilometers away, a military ambulance reached the site of the shooting only about 30 minutes later. A-Shawamreh was taken by the ambulance to an Israeli hospital, Soroka Hospital in Beersheba, where he was pronounced dead.

A-Shawamreh’s body was then taken to ‘Aliyah Hospital in Hebron, where an external examination found a single bullet wound to his left thigh.

According to the IDF Spokesperson’s statement quoted in the media, troops of the Armored Corp’s 77th Battalion on a proactive mission who noticed three suspicious Palestinians vandalizing the Separation Barrier began carrying out suspect arrest procedure. As the Palestinians did not to heed the soldiers’ warnings, the soldiers fired and one Palestinian was hit. He was taken by Medical Corps troops took him to hospital, where he died of his wounds.

By justifying the use of lethal fire in broad daylight at youths who posed no danger to any other persons, the above statement conveys a cynical lack of concern for the life of a Palestinian teenager. Israel’s security forces in the area are well aware that, for the past two years, Palestinians have been crossing the Separation Barrier at the breach at that particular point at this very season to pick gundelia on their own farmland. In his testimony to B’Tselem, a-Dardun stated that police officers had detained him and three of his friends at the very same spot two days before this incident. He said that, before letting them go, the police officers beat all four of them and confiscated the plants they had picked.

The decision to mount an armed ambush at a point in the barrier known to be crossed by youths, who pose no danger whatsoever to anyone, for the purpose of harvesting plants is highly questionable. It also indicates, at the very least, extremely faulty discretion on the part of the commanders. Moreover B’Tselem’s findings are markedly different from the description given by the IDF Spokesperson: the youths made no attempt at vandalism; they were crossing through a long-existing breach, and the soldiers did not carry out suspect arrest procedure, shooing at a-Shawamreh with no advance warning.

The military’s open-fire regulations around the Separation Barrier prohibit opening live fire at Palestinians crossing the Barrier, if they are identified as posing no risk to security forces. However, as revealed in a previous publication concerning shooting near the barrier, the regulations present the prohibition as an exception to the rule. This is compounded by public and media rhetoric considering every Palestinian who crosses the barrier as a potential terrorist. In reality, security forces are well aware of the fact that hundreds and even thousands of Palestinian workers regularly cross through breaches in the Separation Barrier to reach places of employment in Israel.

The Military Police Investigations’ Unit (MPIU) has launched an investigation of the incident. However, B’Tselem director Jessica Montell emphasized that the responsibility for a-Shawamreh’s death does not lie only with the soldiers who killed him:

The primary responsibility for the killing lies with the commanders who sent the soldiers out on armed ambush. The MPIU must examine whether the commanders bear personal criminal responsibility in this case and if they must be held accountable for the death of a youth.

Something rotten in the orders that you obey, Amira Hass’s impassioned
open letter to Soldier X, who shot and killed a 14-year-old

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