For over 25 years, the B’Tselem human rights organization has filed complaints on behalf of Palestinian victims of alleged abuse by the IDF, police and Israeli settlers in the West Bank and Gaza — but no more.
Citing lack of faith in the system, the group announced Wednesday it will no longer report abuse claims to the Israel Defense Forces and Israel Police.
“B’Tselem will continue to document human rights violations carried out by Israel in the territories and to report on them, but will no longer file complaints, coordinate meetings between Military Police investigators, victims and Palestinian witnesses, and acquire various documents for the investigatory authorities,” the group said Wednesday morning.
However, a spokesperson said, the organization will still abide by court orders and official requests for information. If police request a copy of a video filmed by a B’Tselem volunteer, for instance, it will be honored.
But the group will no longer operate as a “sub-contractor” for the Military Police’s investigation’s unit, B’Tselem spokesperson Sarit Michaeli said.
The organization, led by Hagai El-Ad, uses Palestinian photographers and videographers in the West Bank to document the conduct of Israeli soldiers and settlers in the area. In March, one of the group’s volunteers, Imad Abu Shamsiyeh, filmed IDF soldier Sgt. Elor Azaria shooting a disarmed, injured Palestinian in the head after a stabbing attack in Hebron. That footage sparked a nation-wide debate over excessive force and IDF values.
B’Tselem credited two central reasons for the decision: the inadequacies of Israel’s investigatory bodies in investigating crimes against Palestinians and the fact that addressing individual incidents does not tackle B’Tselem’s primary concern, what it describes as the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Though in the past the group frequently contacted the army with evidence of crimes, those investigations have resulted in comparatively few meaningful convictions, the group said.
According to B’Tselem, the organization has filed 739 complaints in the West Bank since 2000 for incidents in which “Palestinians were killed, injured or beaten by soldiers, had their property damaged or were used by soldiers as human shields.”
Of those, 182 incidents went entirely uninvestigated by the Military Police’s Investigatory Unit (MPI), while 343 cases were investigated, but never amounted to anything.
In 25 of the 739 cases, soldiers were indicted. In 13 others, the troops received low-level, in-unit punishment. Another 132 cases were still being investigated, and the files for 44 other cases could not be found by the Military Advocate General’s unit.
“MPI investigations are conducted negligently, which does not allow investigator to get to the truth,” B’Tselem said.
“Instead of evidence, the investigations are based almost solely on the testimonies of soldiers and Palestinians,” the group said, “even when it comes out that there are contradictions in the soldiers’ testimonies.”
In its announcement, B’Tselem heaped on the criticism of the MPI unit, including the difficulty Palestinians have in filing those complaints, a lack of transparency in the cases and the slow pace of the investigations, which occasionally result in the soldiers responsible getting released from the army before justice can be served.
In a conversation earlier this year with The Times of Israel, Michaeli described the group’s practice of filing complaints with the army only to have nothing come of it with a famous quote from Albert Einstein: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.”
B’Tselem’s cooperation with the Israeli law enforcement provides “legitimacy” to what they see as an inherently flawed system, the group said.
And besides, B’Tselem’s goal is not the punishment of individual soldiers, Michaeli said. The group’s goal is the end of Israel’s control over the West Bank and Gaza, something these types of complaints do not address.
“[Military law enforcement] is supposed to investigate specific incidents, in which there’s a suspicion that the soldiers operated against regulations or the orders that were given to them. This system does not investigate the orders themselves or those who are responsible for setting the policies and making the regulations,” B’Tselem said in its announcement.
“Cooperation with the military law enforcement and investigatory systems do not bring justice, but grant legitimacy to the occupation regime and assist in its validation,” the group said.