Arson Suspected in Fire at B'Tselem's Office Building in Jerusalem

One lightly wounded; building also houses the offices of 'Hand in Hand,' the organization behind the bilingual school targeted in a 2014 arson attack.

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Firefighters at the scene of the fire in Jerusalem, outside the building that houses the office of the left-wing NGO B'Tselem, January 10, 2016.
Firefighters at the scene of the fire in Jerusalem, outside the building that houses the office of the left-wing NGO B'Tselem, January 10, 2016.Credit: Emil Salman
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

A fire broke out on Sunday evening in a building that houses the office of human rights group B'Tselem, in Jerusalem's Makor Haim neighborhood. The fire department said they suspect arson was the cause of the fire.

Firefighting crews rescued a person who was trapped on the fourth floor of the building, a fire department spokesperson said. The person was lightly wounded from smoke inhalation and evacuated to Shaare Zedek Medical Center, Jerusalem.

B'Tselem's offices were empty when the fire broke out, around 10:00 P.M. The spokesman said that the fire was contained around 11:00 P.M. The fire department reported that there were two centers of combustion, both on the first floor where B'Tselem's offices are housed. Most of the damage from the fire occured at B'Tselem's office.

The large commercial office building used to house the Israel State Archives, which had security guards stationed outside of it.

Credit: Fire and Rescue Services

The Israel Airports Authority's offices are also on the building's first floor, as are the offices of "Hand in Hand," the organization behind the bilingual school targeted in a November 2014 arson attack. Two Jewish extremists affiliated with the radical right Lehava group were convicted over the crime and sentenced to 30 and 24 months in prison, respectively.

B'Tselem said that "we are still waiting for the findings of the fire investigator. However, if it is discovered that this was an arson attack, it must be seen in the context of the wave of government incitement and smear campaigns against Israel's human rights groups, and B'Tselem in particular."

"Naturally, the damage to our offices will not stop our work of documenting and exposing the harm to human rights under the occupation," B'Tselem added.

Joint Arab List chairman MK Ayman Odeh said that the "souce of the fire was the incitement campaign waged against human rights organizations by the government and its leader." Joint Arab List MK Dov Khenin said that "too many signs point this evening to the suspicion of arson at the B'Tselem office," adding that if the fire was the result of an arson attack, "scary to think where the incitement against human rights organizations has lead here."

Peace Now said that "the arson at the B'Tselem office is an attempted attack that miraculously did not claim human lives, and the cabinet ministers, led by Netanyahu are responsible. The government must stop its incitement campaign against the left and order Israel Police to secure left-wing NGOs from any attempt to harm them."

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