B'TSELEM - The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories was established in February 1989 by a group of prominent academics, attorneys, journalists, and Knesset members. It endeavors to document and educate the Israeli public and policymakers about human rights violations in the Occupied Territories, combat the phenomenon of denial prevalent among the Israeli public, and help create a human rights culture in Israel.
B'Tselem in Hebrew literally means "in the image of," and is also used as a synonym for human dignity. The word is taken from Genesis 1:27 "And God created humans in his image. In the image of God did He create him." It is in this spirit that the first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "All human beings are born equal in dignity and rights."
As an Israeli human rights organization, B'Tselem acts primarily to change Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories and ensure that its government, which rules the Occupied Territories, protects the human rights of residents there and complies with its obligations under international law.
B'Tselem is independent and is funded by contributions from foundations in Europe and North America that support human rights activity worldwide, and by private individuals in Israel and abroad.
B'Tselem has attained a prominent place among human rights organizations. In December 1989 it received the Carter-Menil Award for Human Rights. Its reports have gained B'Tselem a reputation for accuracy, and Israeli authorities take them seriously. B'Tselem ensures the reliability of information it publishes by conducting its own fieldwork and research, the results of which are thoroughly cross-checked with relevant documents, official government sources, and information from other sources, among them Israeli, Palestinian, and other human rights organizations.
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The focus on documentation reflects B'Tselem's objective of providing as much information as possible to the Israeli public, since information is indispensable to taking action and making choices. Readers of B'Tselem publications may decide to do nothing, but they cannot say, "We didn't know."
B'Tselem has published scores of reports, some comprehensive in scope, covering most kinds of human rights violations that have occurred in the Occupied Territories. The reports have dealt, for example, with torture, fatal shootings by security forces, restriction on movement, expropriation of land and discrimination in planning and building in East Jerusalem, administrative detention, and settler violence.
Press conferences are often held when a new report is published. In addition, reports often lead to B'Tselem accompanying and assisting journalists reporting on human rights violations, and to other activities intended to affect public opinion in Israel.
Activity in the Knesset
B'Tselem regularly provides Knesset members with information on human rights violations in the Occupied Territories, and injustices caused by Israeli authorities. Several Knesset members, from various factions, assist B'Tselem in placing human rights matters on the public agenda and in safeguarding human rights.
B'Tselem has hundreds of supporters and volunteers who work to improve the human rights situation in the Occupied Territories. These activities include, in part, setting up information stands, distributing printed material, addressing problems and requests to decision-makers, and participating in protests in the Occupied Territories.
B'Tselem's contact information
35 Mekor Haim St. (1st Floor), Jerusalem
Mailing address: P.O. Box 53132, Jerusalem 9153002, Israel
Tel: 972-2-6735599, Fax: 972-2-6749111
Since its founding, certain questions have repeatedly been asked about the organization, among them:
What does B'Tselem do?
B'Tselem promotes respect for human rights in Israel and the Occupied Territories through a variety of means. We document both specific incidents and systemic problems impacting human rights. We maintain an extensive communication with Israeli authorities to ensure that individual cases are addressed, and to encourage a rethinking of policies that are out of step with Israel's legal obligations. We conduct first-class research analyzing the full spectrum of human rights concerns. And we use creative public education and advocacy strategies - including pioneering video advocacy - to generate public discussion and foster positive change.
Why is B'Tselem bringing this work to the United States instead of keeping it in Israel?
American foreign policy plays a vital role in shaping Israel's policies in the Occupied Territories. The debate in the United States is often based on a false dichotomy between Israel's legitimate security concerns on the one hand, and Palestinians' basic rights on the other. As an Israeli human rights group, we are uniquely positioned to inform and enrich this debate, providing the facts necessary to evaluate Israeli policy in light of security needs and applicable legal standards. B'Tselem has established a presence in the United States to enable Americans to support a human rights agenda that will protect the rights of Israelis and Palestinians alike, while also strengthening Israel's civil society and its democracy.
Just as B'Tselem's work spurs vigorous debate in Israel about the implications of our control over the West Bank and Gaza Strip, so too does B'Tselem aspire to serve as a resource to promote the same healthy debate within the United States. B'Tselem works in the United States to provide accurate, reliable information to policy makers, opinion shapers, and the public alike about the reality on the ground. Our work is guided by the belief that accurate information is indispensable to effective policy making and broadens and informs the public debate that drives it.
Don't you worry that you are making Israel look bad?
B'Tselem's primary goal is to ensure that Israel respects human rights in the Occupied Territories and fulfills its obligations under international law. Publicity has often proven effective in improving Israeli policies and for this reason we are obligated to publicize policies that harm human rights and run counter to Israel's legal obligations. While B'Tselem reports on some of the least attractive aspects of Israeli policy, in doing so we highlight some of the best aspects of Israeli society. B'Tselem is part of Israel's vibrant, civil society, working in spite of the difficult security situation to improve our society from within. We are proud to represent this part of Israel to a world which is all too often unaware of it.
What does the word “B'Tselem” mean?
B'Tselem's work is rooted both in the Jewish tradition and in the universal principles of international law. Its name in Hebrew literally means "in the image of," and is also used as a synonym for human dignity. The word is taken from Genesis 1:27 "And God created human beings in his image. In the image of God did He create them." This spirit is echoed in the first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "All human beings are born equal in dignity and rights."
Does B'Tselem report on all human rights violations in the Occupied Territories, or just those committed by Israelis?
B'Tselem sees international law and human rights norms as universal standards that are equally applicable. All Israelis and Palestinians have equal rights to live in dignity and safety, and Israeli and Palestinian authorities must respect these rights. B'Tselem monitors and reports on severe violations of human rights by the Palestinian Authority against their own population, as well as on terror attacks against Israelis. Ultimately, though, B'Tselem is an Israeli organization and our primary concern is the actions of the Israeli government and security forces.
How is B'Tselem's work received by the Israeli government and security forces?
B'Tselem maintains an extensive and multi-faceted relationship with the Israeli authorities. Every year we send hundreds of individual cases to the relevant authorities asking them to investigate allegations of wrongdoing. In turn, these authorities request B'Tselem's assistance in conducting investigations, and B'Tselem locates Palestinians witnesses, encourages them to cooperate with Israeli investigations in the interest of promoting justice, and provides other forms of assistance to achieve redress.
On the policy-level as well, the Israeli government and military authorities have learned to take B'Tselem's work seriously. Both military and government officials understand that B'Tselem's reports must be addressed in a substantive manner, even if they are unhappy about the content of those reports.
The Israel Defense Forces and other relevant authorities frequently issue formal responses to B'Tselem reports and these responses are published together with the reports. B'Tselem is also invited to participate in Knesset hearings and meets regularly with military and government officials to voice our concerns. B'Tselem has worked successfully on both the political and public level to shape Israel's national debate over policies regarding the Occupied Territories, and to change Israeli policy to better accord with human rights obligations.
Regarding such a politically polarizing issue as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, much of the information that comes out of the region is weighted to favor one side or the other. Why should I trust B'Tselem's information?
B'Tselem ensures the reliability of its information through independent fieldwork and rigorous research, the results of which are thoroughly cross-checked with relevant documents, official government sources, and information from other sources, among them Israeli, Palestinian, and other human rights organizations. B'Tselem includes responses from the relevant authorities in its reports whenever we get them, so you can evaluate both our findings and those of the government and make your own judgment.
Why don't you work to protect human rights within Israel?
B'Tselem's energies are intentionally focused exclusively on violations of human rights within the Occupied Territories, where there is a systematic lack of accountability for ensuring the rule of law that endangers the well-being of the population there and undermines Israel's image as a country guided by the rule of law. A broad spectrum of other Israeli organizations engage in the important work of addressing human rights issues within Israel.
Where does B'Tselem stand on a two-state solution?
B'Tselem's primary goal is to promote Israel's adherence to human rights and international humanitarian law as it applies to Israel's conduct in the Occupied Territories. We support all policies that would substantially decrease or end the violations of human rights under the Occupation. We do not weigh in on political matters, except to comment on their implications for human rights.
Who funds B'Tselem?
B'Tselem is independent and is funded by contributions from foundations in Europe and North America that support human rights activity worldwide, and by foreign governments, and private individuals in Israel and abroad.