Director of top Israeli human rights organization threatened with revoked citizenship
Hagai El-Ad, Executive Director of B'Tselem, at a press conference in Tel Aviv, February 05, 2016. (AFP/Jack Guez)
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A right-wing member of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, called for revoking the citizenship of Hagai El-Ad, the director of Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, in response to El-Ad’s recent criticism of Israel's illegal occupation of the Palestinian territory before the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).
In an interview with Israel’s Channel 2, MK David Bitan, who serves as the Knesset’s coalition chair and as the whip for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party, stated “I examined whether, legally speaking, if I can ask the interior minister to revoke the citizenship of B’Tselem’s executive director.”
“I checked, and there’s no legal avenue for doing so today,” Bitan continued, “but we must strip his citizenship.”
Referring to El-Ad’s appearance at a special meeting at the UNSC -- when he slammed numerous Israeli policies in the occupied West Bank, particularly illegal settlement building -- Bitan called El-Ad’s actions a “blatant breach of trust by an Israeli citizen to the state,” saying that “as such, he should find another nationality.”
In response to Bitan’s comments, B’Tselem released a statement saying that “for nearly 50 years Palestinians have not had citizenship or rights. Now the coalition chairman, the messenger of the Prime Minister, wants to cancel of the citizenship of those who speak out against this reality.”
The statement added that the MK's threats would not deter B'Tselem's work, nor the “hundreds of thousands of Israelis who oppose the occupation.”
According to Israel National News, MK Zehava Galon of the left-wing Meretz party blasted Bitan for his comments, calling them "dangerous,” adding that “in a democratic country, citizenship is a basic right. It is not a gift granted to those who are favorable in the eyes of the chairman of the coalition.”
In his speech to the UNSC, El-Ad highlighted that 2016 has been the worst year on record for the demolition of Palestinian homes, saying that “Israel has systematically legalized human rights violations in the occupied territories through the establishment of permanent settlements, punitive home demolitions, a biased building and planning mechanism, taking over Palestinian land and much, much more.”
Following El-Ad’s speech, Netanyahu accused the group of “denying Jews our rights, spreading lies, and distorting history to recognize and condemn the actual barriers to peace,” and said he would act to prohibit national service volunteers from working with B’Tselem. However, the group was only ever allotted one such volunteer, and said that the position was not currently filled by anyone.
Despite Netanyahu’s verbal assault on B’Tselem, the US came out in defense of the group, saying it was “troubled” by the attacks on the human rights organization, and that the US administration values the information published by the group about the situation in the West Bank.
While the some 196 Israeli settlements in the occupied territory are considered illegal under international law, Netanyahu went on to say that the UN’s stance against settlements “only makes sense if you ignore thousands of years of Jewish history” and if “you accept the anti-Semitic Palestinian demand for a state free of Jews as somehow essential for peace.”
He continued his attack on B’Tselem by reiterating a previous claim arguing that since “over a million and a half Arabs live in Israel as full citizens,” then Jews residing in the West Bank’s illegal settlements could not be considered an obstacle to peace.
The last time Netanyahu made this comparison, Israeli parliament member Ayman Odeh said it was “an absurd equation between a native minority that has lived on this land for generations -- a people on whose backs the state of Israel was founded -- to the settlers, who moved into an occupied territory against international law and ignoring and violating the rights of the people of the West Bank and Gaza.”
Netanyahu insisted that “the real barrier to peace is not the settlements but the persistent Palestinian refusal to recognize a Jewish state in any boundaries,” in spite of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) recognition of a state in Israel in 1993.
There are an estimated 500,000 to 600,000 Israeli settlers residing in 196 illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem, and a further 232 settler outposts considered illegal both by international law and Israeli domestic law, according to the Applied Research Institute - Jerusalem (ARIJ).
While members of the international community have rested the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the discontinuation of illegal Israeli settlements and the establishment of a two-state solution, Israeli leaders have instead shifted further to the right.
A number of Palestinian activists have criticized the two-state solution as unsustainable and unlikely to bring durable peace, proposing instead a binational state with equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians.