The vital role of Israel’s endangered NGOs
In order to comprehensively report on the uglier sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the media relies almost entirely on civil and human rights organizations. Today these organizations are under threat of being crippled by new Israeli legislation targeting their funding. If the laws are passed, the vital information and research NGOs provide on the unaesthetic details of military occupation, settlement growth and human rights abuses may simply disappear, along with the press reports built upon them.
The Israeli media pays little attention to the human plight of Palestinians living under the full civil, administrative, economic and military control of the IDF (Occupation). Without NGOs providing video footage, testimonies and detailed reports, the little coverage that does exist would no longer be possible.
It is true, as right-wing politicians and organizations charge, that Israeli rights groups rarely portray the IDF and the Occupation in a positive light. But they should not be expected to; it is not their role. The charge that reports from Israeli NGOs harm Israel’s image overseas is also true, but more relevant is the vital role they play in Israeli democracy. As former US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously wrote, “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”
When IDF troops carry out night raids on Palestinian homes in the West Bank town of Nebi Salah to wake, photograph and document children in order to arrest them several days later, the only source of footage and documentation allowing those procedures to be reported in the Israeli media comes from B’Tselem volunteers armed with video cameras. (Hebrew video)
When the government chooses to ignore and reject its own reports documenting the number and percentage of settlements built on private Palestinian land, it is only organizations like Peace Now who perform the research to provide relevant data (PDF).* When empathetic governments look the other way as settler outposts sprout up on hilltops throughout the West Bank, once again, mapping of those settlements is only available due to the tedious work of NGOs.
When the IDF contravenes Supreme Court rulings by issuing “closed military zone” orders to prevent Palestinian farmers and herders from working their agricultural and grazing lands, the only documentation provided to the media comes from organizations like Ta’ayush. When settlers attack Palestinian farmers, it is Ta’ayush activists and video cameras provided by B’Tselem that provide evidence to the media and authorities.
When Israel goes about systematically revoking the residency rights and legal status of Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the data and numbers are provided and presented to media outlets by those same NGOs.
When the heart-wrenching darker sides of occupation – like the snatching of minors in broad daylight – are exposed, it is once again only through footage provided by NGOs.
Even when the IDF investigates the conduct of its own officers and soldiers, it too utilizes the careful research performed by NGOs. Following 2008-09’s Operation Cast Lead, the IDF relied on testimonies provided by B’Tselem for its inquiries. Former IDF Military Advocate General Brig.-Gen. Avichai Mendelblit even went so far as to “[voice] his gratitude to human rights organization B’Tselem, thanking the organization” for its help in successful investigations, Haaretz reported.
It is not that Israel is incapable of providing information about the IDF’s activities in the Palestinian territories. The problem is simply that the Israeli army’s only interest is to report on incidents and angles that flatter it at best, and do no harm at worst. Never will the IDF on its own volition issue a press release highlighting the darker sides of occupation it doesn’t want you to see, and it shouldn’t be expected to – that’s not the role of the spokesman.
Without the dedicated work of Israeli NGOs, the Israeli and international media would be unable to continue exposing that which must be exposed. While right-wing politicians in Israel have grown fond of calling criticism “delegitimization,” the undesirable exposure is absolutely vital. Without criticism there can be no progress.
*The Justice Ministry committee that officially rejected the findings of the Sasson Report was headed by none other than Tzipi Livni.