For the past 49 years – and counting – the injustice known as the occupation of Palestine, and Israeli control of Palestinian lives in Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem, has become part of the international order. The first half-century of this reality will soon be over. [I] implore you today to take action. Anything short of decisive international action will achieve nothing but ushering in the second half of the first century of the occupation.
So spoke Hagai El-Ad, executive director of Israeli NGO B’Tselem, at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on October 14, 2016, at a special event where Israel’s illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) were discussed.
Since its founding in 1989, B’Tselem has been documenting Israel’s human rights violations in the OPT, and its reports have long become go-to-sources on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for the international media. El-Ad’s statement at the UNSC was as accurate and factual as any of B’Tselem’s reports, especially when it came to his description of the reality facing millions of Palestinians living under the yoke of Israel’s brutal occupation:
Living under military rule mostly means invisible, bureaucratic, daily, violence. It means living under an endless permit regime, which controls Palestinian life from cradle to grave: Israel controls the population registry; Israel controls work permits; Israel controls who can travel abroad – and who cannot; Israel controls who can visit from abroad – and who cannot; in some villages, Israel maintains lists of who can visit the village, or who is allowed to farm which fields. Permits can sometimes be denied; permits must always be renewed. Thus with every breath they take, Palestinians breathe in occupation. Make a wrong move, and you can lose your freedom of movement, your livelihood, or even the opportunity to marry and build a family with your beloved.
Hard-pressed to refute El-Ad’s fact-laden message, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took to shooting the messenger instead. As al-Monitor reports, the day after El-Ad’s speech, Netanyahu lambasted him on his official Facebook page for allegedly:
recycl[ing] the false claim that the occupation and the settlements are the cause of the conflict. B’Tselem’s executive director pleaded with the Security Council to take action against Israel. What these groups cannot achieve through democratic elections in Israel, they try to achieve by international coercion.
Shortly thereafter, David Bitan, the chairman of Netanyahu’s Likud party, called for new legislation stripping Israelis who demand action against Israel at world bodies such as the UNSC – read: El-Ad – of their citizenship. It was not long before Israelis took to social media to demand the head of B’Tselem be executed.
Persecuting human rights groups has become common practice for the Israeli right and the Netanyahu government, in particular. In July, a Russian-style foreign agents bill was voted into law after passing the third and last reading in the Knesset. According to The Times of Israel, critics of the law argue that it “unfairly targets left-wing NGOs [such as B’Tselem] critical of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians, and seeks to brand them as agents of foreign governments.” One of the bill’s sponsors was Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who in the past has called for the genocide of the Palestinians.
In January of this year, journalist Jonathan Cook revealed how the Israeli government was funding far-right organizations to spy on and smear “groups opposed to the occupation” and “expose peace activists as ‘moles,’ planted by foreign governments to damage Israel.”
The officially-sanctioned persecution of anyone who voices criticism of Israeli apartheid in the OPT is the backdrop for El-Ad’s powerful plea to the international community to end the occupation:
We need your help. Fifty years of “temporary” occupation are too long for even a single person on this planet to accept such a contradiction in terms. The rights of Palestinians must be realized; the occupation must end; the UN Security Council must act; and the time is now.
Listen to Hagai El-Ad’s full statement here.