« The traditional framework of human rights organisations is unappealing »

Jessica Montell est présidente de l’association de défense des droits de l’homme israélienne B’tselem, et ce qu’elle dit dans son article « Making universalism resonate locally » n’est pas sans intérêt même dans un autre contexte que celui d’Israël:

As in many contexts, in Israel there is a correlation between views on human rights and religion, class and ethnicity, as well as political positioning. Among the Jewish majority, those who voice support for the human rights message in our surveys are disproportionately on the left of the political spectrum, better educated, with at least an average income, families who come from a European background (with the exception of first generation immigrants from the Former Soviet Union), and define themselves as secular or traditional rather than religious.

Of course there are complicated intersections between these various identities, and I cannot address here the historical, political and sociological factors that have influenced the different publics’ views on human rights. The relevant question here is: given these factors, can we widen the base of support for human rights in Israel?

Certainly the military occupation and armed conflict is a big obstacle. I do not think we will succeed in mobilizing a majority of Israelis to champion the human rights of Palestinians, seen as the « other » and even the « enemy. » But military conflict is not our only obstacle.

What we have learned so far in our efforts to reach beyond our usual audience is that Israelis don’t share our views, not only because of security concerns, and not (only) because some are racist, nationalist, chauvinist, or religious extremists. It is also that the traditional framework of human rights organizations is unappealing. We are seen to be overly legalistic, unresponsive to local concerns, dismissive of traditional values and anti-religion – and in all honesty, I cannot say that this critique is without merit.

To what extent can we remain true to the uncompromisingly universal message of human rights while responding to these concerns? The very name of my organization tries to bridge this gap; B’Tselem is taken from the Biblical book of Genesis, which describes the creation of humankind in the image of God, b’tselem elohim in Hebrew. This is the religious source for the statement in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that we are all created equal in dignity and rights. However, B’Tselem did not build on this beginning and develop a language rooted in Jewish religious sources to argue for respect for human rights, but instead relied exclusively on the language of international treaties.

Advocacy with the policymaking community is always going to be a central strategy for the human rights movement – both advocacy with local policymakers and international advocacy as well (which many in Israel view as traitorous). However, I believe the human rights community can make some strides toward expanding and diversifying our base of support. To do so requires us to leave our comfort zone.

It is not only a question of designing more attractive packaging of our message; if we are serious about reaching broader audiences, we need to engage in genuine dialogue with them, based on the understanding that we also are open to change. In the hostile context in which Israeli human rights organizations operate, the openness (even vulnerability) required for such dialogue cannot be treated lightly. But to my mind, the benefits clearly outweigh the risks.

Une Palestinienne de 50 ans tuée par un soldat israëlien alors qu’elle tenait un drapeau blanc

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Entendu sur Al Jazeera. La victime, Rawhiya Najar, du village de Khuza’a, avait été sommée, ce mardi 13 janvier au matin, avec une cinquantaine de civils palestiniens, de quitter son logement – les maisons devaient être détruites par l’armée israëlienne. Alors qu’elle sortait de la maison avec un drapeau blanc, afin de permettre à sa famille de la suivre sans risques, elle fût abattue par balles par des soldats israëliens.

L’après-midi, une trentaine d’autres habitants avaient été sommés, par hauts-parleurs, de quitter leurs logements. Ayant fait environ une vingtaine de mètres, ce groupe de civils se vit tirer dessus par l’armée israëlienne – trois civils furent tués: Muhammad Salman Najar, 54 ans, Ahmad Jum’a Najar, 25 ans, et Khalil Hamdan Najar, 80 ans.

La version de Btselem:

13 Jan. ’09: Witness reports that Israeli soldiers shot woman waving white flag in Gaza Strip

A Palestinian who is besieged with his family in the Khuza’a area, in the south-eastern Gaza Strip, notified B’Tselem that soldiers had shot a woman waving a white flag and several civilians who were fleeing a bombed house on army orders.

Munir Shafik a-Najar, a resident of Khuza’a village, told B’Tselem’s researcher by telephone that as of 2.30 A.M., the army has been demolishing homes in his area, which lies near the border with Israel. The forces have been using gunfire to signal civilians to evacuate their homes.

This morning, Rawhiya a-Najar, 50, stepped out of her house waving a white flag, so that the rest of the family could leave the house and walk behind her. The witness reported that she was shot and fell. Neither family members nor rescue workers have managed to reach her to ascertain her condition, but she is still lying motionless where she fell.

This afternoon, the army announced on loudspeakers that residents are to leave their homes and walk to a school in the village center. Some 30 people left their houses carrying white flags. The witness reported that after they had walked approximately 20 meters, fire was opened at the group, killing three of his relatives: Muhammad Salman a-Najar, 54, Ahmad Jum’a a-Najar, 25, and Khalil Hamdan a-Najar, 80. Many others were injured.

The rest of the group took cover in a nearby house, in which there are currently 46 persons waiting to evacuate the premises and take shelter in the village school. B’Tselem has passed on the information at its disposal to the army and the Red Crescent.

Although B’Tselem cannot, at present, independently verify or disprove the witness’s claims, it believes their severity merits immediate notification of the media.

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