Israeli human rights group B’Tselem fired back at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after he accused the group of “spreading lies” about Israel, vowing to continue its work towards ending Israel’s nearly 50-year-long illegal occupation of the Palestinian territory.
B’Tselem’s statement came after Netanyahu said on Saturday evening on social media that he would act to prohibit national service volunteers from working with B’Tselem.
The group in response told Israeli media it was only allotted one such volunteer, and that the position was not currently filled by anyone.
B’Tselem was targeted by Netanyahu after its executive director, Hagai El-Ad, spoke before the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on Friday regarding illegal Israeli settlement expansion.
“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,” El-Ad said, adding that 2016 wasthe worst year on record for the demolition of Palestinian homes.
In response, Netanyahu said he would move to prevent national service volunteers from working at the organization, and claimed that “the UN, and the so-called peace groups” that addressed the UNSC were “denying Jews our rights, spreading lies, and distorting history to recognize and condemn the actual barriers to peace.”
While the some 196 Israeli settlements in the occupied territory are considered illegal under international law, Netanyahu said 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 went on to reiterate 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.
B’Tselem fired back in a statement Sunday morning, denouncing Netanyahu for “slander,” and vowed that the prime minister's comments would not deter the organization’s work “nor the hundreds of thousands in Israel who oppose the occupation. We will continue saying the truth in Israel and abroad: the occupation must end.”
“Contrary to the complete overlap the Prime Minister establishes between the occupation and Israel, we insist on saying loud and clear: the occupation is not Israel, and resisting it is not anti-Israel."
“The opposite is true,” the statement read, highlighting that critics of the occupation, such as the US, France, and the UK, were also Israel’s greatest allies.
Netayahu’s criticism of the UN came after he expressed outrage over the adoption of a draft resolution by UNESCO last week, as he has claimed that the UN agency had “denied the over 3,000 year old connection between the Jewish people and its holiest site in Jerusalem.”
While the resolution did not reject Jewish ties to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound outright, it was highly critical of Israeli policies in and around the site and referred to it only by its Islamic name (Al-Aqsa, or Haram al-Sharif), and did not mention its Jewish name (Temple Mount).
“Our decision to control their lives, as much as it suits us, is an expression of violence, not democracy. Israel has no legitimate option to continue this way. And the world has no option to continue treating us as it has so far -- all talk and no action.”