To mark International Women’s Day, we invited our Facebook community to present questions to Jessica Montell, the woman standing at the helm of B’Tselem. We invited people to ask her any questions they might have about human rights in the West Bank and Gaza, about the occupation, settlements, what’s legal, what’s not , and of course – about us.
Jessica Montell has worked at B’Tselem for 18 years, 12 of them as director. She will soon conclude her work with the organization. Jessica was raised in California; she has a blue belt in Taekwondo and a black belt in running a large organization and raising a family in Jerusalem. She has a partner and three children, two of them twins. Israeli economic magazine TheMarker selected her as one of the 100 most influential women in Israel, and Israeli daily Haaretz chose her as one of the ten most influential Anglo immigrants in Israel.
Barbra Buys asked: One gets such conflicting reports, that one really doesn't know what to believe anymore. Depending on the the source, it is always the OTHER side that is responsible for the conflict and guilty of the worst atrocities. How does one "read between the lines" to get a balanced and (fairly) objective view, and what is your take on the possible solution / prognosis going forward?
Jessica’s reply: Yes Barbra, there are a lot of conflicting accusations, particularly regarding the political situation and the resolution of the conflict. Regarding human rights, I think the situation is much clearer: we need to hold all sides to the same human rights standards and hold them accountable when they violate human rights. In fact, when it comes to human rights we aren't talking about sides, but about the relationship between all human beings (Jews and Arabs) and their governing authorities.
Vera Sajrawi asked: Why is the director of BetselemUSA attending AIPAC2014? She had no idea that AIPAC is the American group lobbying for more weapons for Israel to kill Palestinians?
Jessica’s reply: The goal of B'Tselem USA is to bring our message regarding human rights to relevant target audiences. AIPAC is certainly one of those audiences.
Hannah Brennwald asked: What do you think about why Israel demolishes Palestinian homes in Palestinian territories?
And what does that mean to you why Israel applies different legal systems depending on races? http://972mag.com/visualizing-occupation-children.../58973/
Jessica’s reply: I just wrote an article this weekend on demolition of Palestinian homes:http://www.btselem.org/.../201403_jpost_our_values_our_homes And yes, the fact that Israel is applying two different and very discriminatory legal systems in the West Bank, one for Palestinians and one for Israeli settlers, is a fundamental injustice.
Juliette Verhoeven asked: Having gained such profound experiences in documenting human rights abuses in difficult circumstances and in a polically challenging environment for so many years, -what would be your key lessons learned that may help forward an emerging human rights community in a completely different setting but also very complex context such as Syria?
Jessica’s reply: I could not presume to give lessons relevant for human rights advocacy in Syria. But I would say that the international community has to mobilize and respond aggressively to protect civilians in this horrific situation.
Jonathan Howard asked:
What differences does B’Tselem see between its treatment of human rights in general beyond the Green Line, and its treatment of women’s rights, specifically? Are different resources allocated, or perhaps different modes of action employed? In B’Tselem’s view, is there any difference between present day reality and ideal reality in those modes of action?
Jessica’s reply: Our work at B’Tselem naturally focuses on the gap between existing reality and how we think reality should look – including women’s rights. B’Tselem addresses all human rights. Some phenomena that we document have a particular effect on women, which we address, as ignoring gender differences in human rights violations means ignoring human rights. We usually don’t examine specific questions concerning women’s rights separately from human rights, but try to uncover relevant gender dynamics as part of examining the human rights situation in general.