Israeli Defense Chief Calls to Investigate Rights Group for Urging Soldiers Not to Shoot Unarmed Gaza Protesters

The human rights group has also been summoned by the national service organization over its slot for volunteers following the ad campaign

A banner from the B'Tselem campaign that reads "sorry, Officer, I won't shoot."
B'Tselem

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Sunday he called on the Attorney General to investigate B'Tselem activists on suspicion of insubordination. The human rights group is under fire for an ad campaign, launched over Passover, that encouraged Israeli army soliders not to shoot unarmed protestors at the Gaza border.

"I view with great severity the attempt to sow fear and divisiveness among IDF soldiers and its commanders," Lieberman said in a press release, "while the IDF defends the southern border of Israel."

"Even in the most complex situations, IDF commanders and its soldiers act in a moral and legal fashion," Lieberman continued. "The attempt to undermine the military system and instruct soldiers to act otherwise is very serious."  

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B’Tselem has also been summoned to a hearing by the government administration of the national civilian service program, which provides an alternative framework to the army for some Israelis.

B’Tselem has one slot for a civilian national service volunteer through the administration, though the volunteer role has not been filled for two years. 

Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, who is in charge of the administration, instructed the administration’s director, Sar-Shaom Jerbi, to call B’Tselem to a hearing.

Ariel said B'Tselem's call telling soliders to refuse orders is a violation of law, saying “the organization’s action to encourage refusal of orders is a clear breach of the criminal code.” Ariel’s demand, reported in the daily newspaper Israel Hayom, is to summon B’Tselem director Hagai El-Ad to immediately cancel B'Tselem's volunteer slot. 

According to the article, Ariel said he had asked Jerbi to “summon B’Tselem’s director immediately for a hearing next week before approval is withdrawn” for B’Tselem as a recognized provider of volunteers. No one has so far contacted B’Tselem on the matter.

B’Tselem itself decided in 2014 not to fill the national service slot it had been allocated in 2011. In the past, Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber determined that the slot could not be taken away from the organization.

B’Tselem was authorized to provide volunteers to the administration in late 2011 by the same director, Sar-Shalom Jerbi, who later tried to rescind approval in 2014. At the time, he said the B’Tselem should no longer be allowed to provide volunteers because it was working “against the State of Israel and against IDF soldiers.” Zilber wrote in her decision that authorization could only be withdrawn if an organization “negates the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, supports terror or armed struggle against Israel or incites to violence, terror or racism.” In that case, Zilber wrote, “these demands were not met.”

However, B’Tselem later decided not to fill their slot “because the state treats volunteering in civil society as a favor it grants and is intended to benefit only organizations it prefers, not as the democratic right of citizens to volunteer and contribute to civil society in keeping with their values,” the organization’s spokesman said.

The ad campaign launched by B'Tselem was in reponse to increasing tensions along the Gaza boorder in the days between Land Day and Nakba day, two commemorative Palestinian days that mark points in their relationship with Israel. Last Friday, nine Palestinians were killed and 300 injured by live fire in demonstrations Friday along Israel's border with Gaza, which were entering their second week. About 20,000 people took part in the demonstrations. According to the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza, a total of 29 demonstrators have been killed since last week and 1,296 wounded, with 79 in serious condition.