JERUSALEM — Israeli leaders blasted the human rights group B’Tselem on Sunday as a traitor and a slanderer after it denounced Israel's 49-year-long military occupation of the West Bank. The group's leader last week called the occupation a thriving land grab and a civil rights disgrace that Israel has no intention of ending, no matter what its politicians say.
On Friday, B'Tselem's executive director addressed the U.N. Security Council and called for “decisive international action” to end the military rule of the occupied territories. The group is respected abroad but finds itself facing withering criticism at home.
Here's what Hagai El-Ad told the United Nations:
“What does it mean, in practical terms, to spend 49 years, a lifetime, under military rule? When violence breaks out, or when particular incidents attract global attention, you get a glimpse into certain aspects of life under occupation. But what about the rest of the time? What about the many “ordinary” days of a 17,898-day-long occupation, which is still going strong? Living under military rule mostly means invisible, bureaucratic, daily, violence. It means living under an endless permit regime, which controls Palestinian life from cradle to grave: Israel controls the population registry; Israel controls work permits; Israel controls who can travel abroad — and who cannot; Israel controls who can visit from abroad — and who cannot; in some villages, Israel maintains lists of who can visit the village, or who is allowed to farm which fields. Permits can sometimes be denied; permits must always be renewed. Thus with every breath they take, Palestinians breathe in occupation. Make a wrong move, and you can lose your freedom of movement, your livelihood, or even the opportunity to marry and build a family with your beloved.”
Israel's long-running military rule over the Palestinians, especially the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, have been a target of escalating rhetoric and harsh condemnation by the White House and State Department. The settlements — with a population of 400,000 Jews — are on land in the West Bank that the Palestinians want for a future state.
Israeli leaders basically told the White House to mind its own business and focus on the slaughter in Syria instead of where Jews build homes on their biblical homeland in the West Bank. The Israeli government denies U.S. contentions that the settlements are “an obstacle to peace” and instead claims that Palestinian violence, incitement and rejectionism push peace ever out of reach.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday night condemned “a chorus of mudslinging” against Israel and focused his ire on B'Tselem, calling the group's denunciations “recycled settlement falsehoods.”
“In Israeli democracy fleeting and bizarre organizations like B’Tselem can also express themselves. But most of the public knows the truth. We will continue to defend justice and our state in the face of all international pressure,” the prime minister wrote, adding that “the truth is that the Palestinians attacked Israel for some 50 years, before there was one settlement. They continue to attack Israel from the Gaza Strip even after we left it completely.” Netanyahu said the occupation is not the root cause of the conflict but rather “the ongoing Palestinian refusal to recognize a Jewish state in any borders.”
Some Israelis said B'Tselem's executive director should be tried for treason. Other Israeli commentators said that although they might agree with B'Tselem's call for a peaceful end to the military occupation, the group's appearance at the United Nations, viewed as hostile to Israel, was a disgrace — as well as bad optics. In the Israeli newspaper Maariv, columnist Ben Caspit wrote, “My disagreement with them is basically over tactics.”
El-Ad said Sunday, “The occupation is not Israel, and resisting it is not anti-Israel.”
He said at the United Nations:
“Six-and-a-half years ago U.S. Vice President Joe Biden warned that 'the status quo is not sustainable.' Clearly he was at least 6½ years too early in voicing such a warning. The 'status quo' — that ever progressing vector of Israeli interests at the expense of Palestinian rights — has proven not merely sustainable, but in fact thriving.”