B'Tselem: Detaching from occupation's whitewash

It is not every day that B’Tselem announces a strategic change in its work. Today is one such exceptional day, announcing a critical shift in our work on an issue that is at the very heart of our activity, the fight to ensure accountability in the occupied territories.

Read the report we published today, The Occupation's Fig Leaf: Israel's Military Law Enforcement System as a Whitewash Mechanism.

Since its establishment over 25 years ago, B’Tselem has sent hundreds of letters to the Military Advocate General Corps, demanding it investigate cases in which soldiers violated Palestinians’ human rights, including cases of fatalities and injury, violence and property damage. This type of request is a routine part of the work of human rights organizations worldwide, and B’Tselem made these requests in order to bring human rights violators to justice, with the twofold aim of achieving justice for the victims and forestalling future violations.

But our relentless efforts bore almost no fruit. After two and a half decades of determined action to promote this objective, it is our duty to take a good hard look at the facts and reach the obvious conclusions: virtually no indictments have been served while soldiers go on routinely abusing Palestinians’ human rights with impunity.

The upshot is that the military law enforcement system grants legitimacy to the soldiers’ actions while also creating a pretense of striving to get at the truth, as though it intends to take action against soldiers who have acted unlawfully. This pretense enables Israel to reject claims whereby it is not bringing the law to bear on soldiers who have harmed Palestinians. Moreover, it grants legitimacy to the continued occupation by endowing it with the false appearance of being a moral regime which denounces human rights violations and punishes perpetrators. Any dealings with the military law enforcement system that address it as if it were an effective system genuinely acting to uncover the truth and an appropriate avenue for achieving justice for the victims are baseless and harmful: such contact does not promote justice, instead it merely reinforces the credibility of this whitewash mechanism.

As of today, we will no longer refer complaints to this system, and we will call on the Palestinian public not to do so either. Yet this strategic change notwithstanding, our determination to uncover the truth and our commitment to end the occupation remain unaltered. We will continue, as we always have, to document Israeli human rights violations in the occupied territories, to report them and strive to bring them to an end, but we will no longer aid a system that whitewashes investigations and serves as a fig leaf for the occupation.

Hagai El-Ad
Executive Director, B'Tselem


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