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From the field

22 March 2012: Letter to al-Dameer, PCHR and PNGO

We at B'Tselem were dismayed to see your public statement regarding our participation in the J Street conference - issued without discussing with us first. If, as you wrote in your statement, you "highly value the relationship between Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights organisations" and "wish to see [it] strengthened and developed" I would expect this sort of criticism to be conveyed to us directly, rather than via public statements. I was saddened particularly by the conduct of PCHR, which publicized Raji Sourani's letter to me without even noting that I had responded.

As I noted in my letter to Raji, B'Tselem regrets the first notice sent out by our US office, which both mistakenly stated that we are sponsors of the J Street conference, and noted (as if approvingly) the participation of Ehud Olmert in the event. However, I understand that your criticism also relates to the very fact of B'Tselem's participation in the conference, given that Olmert is a featured guest there. I appreciate your concerns. As you know, B’Tselem has raised grave suspicions regarding serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law under the Olmert government, specifically regarding Operation Cast Lead in Gaza at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009. These suspicions and responsibility for any violations have yet to be adequately investigated and addressed. If asked, we would certainly not have advised featuring Olmert as a speaker.

However, to my mind, this only illustrates the importance of B'Tselem's work in the United States, including at events like J Street. B'Tselem established an office in the US precisely to reach out to a broader audience, expose them to our human rights message and encourage greater accountability and greater respect for human rights. This is also the goal of our participation at J Street and we are glad that we convinced the organizers to let us organize a panel devoted to human rights in the Occupied Territories and the way the international community addresses Israel's human rights record.

There is much work to be done. We face bigger challenges than ever before - not only regarding the reality on the ground, but also regarding the public climate in Israel and in the US. In the face of these challenges, we must continue and even expand our efforts to foster a reality where human rights violations will not be tolerated and all those who violate human rights will be held accountable. There are no easy answers how best to do this, but it certainly requires a variety of strategies and all our best efforts.


Jessica Montell

Executive Director