Rights group B’Tselem, maligned in Israel, to receive French prize

Al-Haq, a Palestinian NGO, also recognized, along with four other groups and individuals ‘harassed or pressured for defending and promoting their work’

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

B’Tselem Executive Director Hagai El-Ad, left, next to Palestinian Ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour, at a session of the UN Security Council, October 18, 2018. (Courtesy UN WebTv)
B’Tselem Executive Director Hagai El-Ad, left, next to Palestinian Ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour, at a session of the UN Security Council, October 18, 2018. (Courtesy UN WebTv)

Israeli and Palestinian groups frequently castigated by Israelis and the government as hostile to the Jewish state will be jointly bestowed the French Republic 2018 Human Rights Award.

The Jerusalem-based B’Tselem and its Ramallah-based partner al-Haq will be honored with four other groups and individuals that the selection committee deemed to have faced harassment or pressure while carrying out their work.

France’s Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet and National Consultative Commission on Human Rights President Christine Lazerges will be awarding the prize to recipients, including human rights defenders from China, Colombia, Belarus and Niger, in a ceremony at the Justice Ministry in Paris next Monday.

“It is a particularly special honor to receive this award – together with our colleagues from Al-Haq – on the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We, at B’Tselem and Al-Haq, share the same values and the same realization: that only by ending the occupation can there be a future based on human rights, equality and liberty,” said B’Tselem director Hagai El-Ad.

Al-Haq director Shawan Jabarin speaks at a conference on November 12, 2012. (Screen capture/YouTube)

“It is a great honor for Al-Haq to receive this prestigious award jointly with our colleagues at B’Tselem, who are our partners in the struggle for justice and a better future free from oppression and occupation. Together, we are working to end the culture of impunity so that Palestinians can enjoy the full realization of their human rights,” said al-Haq director Shawan Jabarin.

The Human Rights Prize of the French Republic has been awarded annually since 1988. Past recipients have included rights defenders from Nicaragua, Côte d’Ivoire, Haiti, Cambodia, Colombia, Rwanda and France.

B’Tselem, which uses Palestinian photographers and videographers to document the conduct of Israeli soldiers and settlers in the West Bank, has often drawn the ire of the Israeli government. In March 2017, one of the group’s volunteers, Imad Abu Shamsiyeh, filmed IDF soldier Sgt. Elor Azaria shooting a disarmed, injured Palestinian in the head after the latter carried out a stabbing attack in Hebron. That footage sparked a nationwide debate over excessive force and IDF values.

In April 2017, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to meet with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel after the diplomat held talks with rights groups, including B’Tselem.

The current government has several times worked to advance legislation targeting human rights groups.

In June 2016, the Knesset approved the so-called “NGO Law,” obligating certain nonprofit groups — including B’Tselem — to declare all their foreign funding.

Netanyahu called B’Tselem a “disgrace” and “full of lies” in October after El-Ad testified at the United Nations Security Council against Israel’s administration of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The appearance drew criticism from opposition lawmakers as well, with Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid tweeting that “B’Tselem’s speech at the UNSC was a predictable mix of lies, distortions and propaganda. They represent no one but themselves.”

In June, the Strategic Affairs Ministry issued a report placing Al-Haq along with dozens of NGOs around the world as part of a “hate-net” of Israel-bashing organizations that support a boycott of the Jewish state.

“The head of the Al-Haq organization is Shawan Jabarin, a resident of Ramallah, who served a 13-year sentence in an Israeli prison for his involvement in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine’s military wing,” Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan said at a conference where he released the report. The PFLP is designated as a terror organization by Israel and US.

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