Israel bars rights groups from volunteer programme

Israel bars rights groups from volunteer programme
An Israeli cabinet minister said Tuesday that he had barred a local NGO cited in a critical UN report on the 2014 Gaza war from the country's national service programme.
2 min read
24 June, 2015
The Israeli decision comes after UN report on Gaza war exposed war crimes (Getty)
B'Tselem was one of 10 human rights groups which wrote to the attorney general last July to raise "concerns about grave violations of international humanitarian law" in the bombing and shelling of residential buildings in the Gaza Strip.

The Commission of Inquiry on the conflict published a report on Monday saying it had received "credible allegations" that both the Israeli military and Palestinian militants had committed war crimes.

The conflict killed about 2,200 Palestinians, most of them civilians, and 73 people on the Israeli side, mostly soldiers.

It lists B'Tselem as among the sources for its data on the 50-day war dubbed "Operation Protective Edge" by Israel.

Israelis excused from the obligatory military draft, mainly on religious or moral grounds, can volunteer for civilian community service instead, giving them benefits similar to those granted to army veterans.

Uri Ariel, minister responsible for the National Insurance Institute, which supervises the scheme, said on Tuesday he had given orders that volunteering with groups seen as hostile to the state would no longer be recognised as national service.

"Is the state of Israel supposed to finance those who work against it... against its soldiers? There's a limit," he told public radio.

"It's not just B'Tselem," he added. "It's not just one organisation, there may be others and it applies to them as well."

B'Tselem spokeswoman Sarit Michaeli told AFP that while the group was quoted "quite extensively" in the UN report, the group had never sent any evidence to the commission.

"Our material is available online and the commission read it online and took it and used it," she said.

"We didn't actually submit anything to the commission... but we're very proud of our research into Protective Edge."

Last August, the government's national service commission told B'Tselem it was being blacklisted as an employer of its volunteers, but the assistant attorney general forced it to back down.

Michaeli said both attempts were distractions from the real issue.

"It's just a way to divert public attention from the actual findings of the report through NGO-bashing," she said.