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Watchdog Group B’Tselem Rattled by Accusations of Endangering Palestinian Land Dealers

Two Israeli left-wing NGOs, including the watchdog group B’Tselem, have come under scrutiny after their members were revealed to be helping the Palestinian Authority catch and kill Palestinian land dealers who intend to sell property to Jews, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) reported [1] on Saturday.

Last week, the Israeli investigative television show Uvda broadcast a secret recording in which Ezra Nawi, described as a “Jewish far-left activist from the Ta’ayush group,” talks about his encounter with four Palestinian land sellers who thought he was interested in buying real estate. “Straight away I give their pictures and phone numbers to the Preventive Security Force,” Nawi was heard saying. The Preventative Security Force is one of the PA’s security services. “The Palestinian Authority catches them and kills them,” Nawi added. “But before it kills them, they get beat up a lot.”

According to the Palestinian penal code, selling land to Jews is a capital offense. While Palestinian courts have not carried out executions of those charged with this violation, Palestinians suspected of selling land to Jews are often kidnapped and murdered.

In separate footage, Nawi was also seen saying that he intends to turn over information about a Palestinian land dealer who thought he was a potential Jewish buyer to the PA. In this instance, a field researcher for B’Tselem helped Nawi put together a sting operation in which the seller would be caught.

Reporting in Tablet Magazine, Liel Leibovitz provided [2] further details on Uvda’s investigation. He identified the B’Tselem worker as Nasser Nawaja and described both men’s backgrounds.

Both Nawi and Nawaja are among the most internationally renowned members of Israel’s radical left. Earlier this year, Nawaja published an anti-Israeli op-ed in The New York Times, accusing the Jewish state of “dispossession and oppression.” Nawi is considerably more prominent: when he was arrested, in 2007, for attacking Israeli policemen during a West Bank demonstration, more than 20,000 people—including a long list of prominent Israeli academics as well as progressive American celebrities like Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein—signed a petition demanding his release.

Leibovitz added that instead of criticizing the actions of Nawi and Nawaji, B’Tselem seemed to excuse them, with a post on the NGO’s Facebook page saying that although they opposed torture and execution, reporting land dealers to the PA was “the only legitimate course of action.”

Shmuel Rosner offered an explanation [3] as to why B’Tselem would cross the line into justifying such behavior:

Why do human rights activists turn to such immoral methods? Many of them do it because of anger and because of fear. They are angry at a country that refuses to accept their political recipe for Israel. They fear that their activity of many years will be in vain as the country moves in a direction they disagree with.

The angrier they become, the more apprehensive they become – the more they lose their inhibitions. Thus they turn to immoral methods, they turn to other countries to look for the support they cannot get among Israelis, and they turn to language that makes Israel a caricature – a fascist state, an apartheid state, a villain among nations. They say that they act out of love of Israel – and some of them certainly do – but with time and frustration some are made hateful. And hate makes them lose the ability to separate right from wrong, acceptable from unacceptable, useful from not-useful.

The furor over B’Tselem and Ta’ayush comes as Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked is attempting to pass a law which, like the American Foreign Agents Registration Act [4], seeks greater transparency by requiring NGOs that receive a majority of their funding from foreign governments to identify themselves as such. A European Union group gave B’Tselem 30,000 Euros last month to fight [5] the proposed NGO transparency law.

Writing last week in the Lawfare Blog, Gerald Steinberg, the president of the watchdog group NGO Monitor, explained [6] the rationale behind the proposed legislation:

The most important aspect of the bill is the symbolism conveyed by the “foreign agent” designation, particularly in Israel, where sovereignty and self-determination are taken seriously.

In this sense, the proposed legislation is similar in spirit and purpose to US Foreign Agent Registration Act (1938), and the rules adopted last year in the House of Representatives, requiring witnesses testifying before a committee in a “nongovernmental capacity” to disclose “the amount and country of origin of any payment or contract related to the subject matter of the hearing originating with a foreign government.” Such regulations seek to prevent foreign governments from secretive and undue influence over democratic processes, outside diplomatic channels.

Palestinian land dealers have been targeted for selling land to Jews for nearly twenty years. Tawfiq Tirawi, a Palestinian security official who was implicated [7] in the deaths of several land dealers in 1997, remains a member [8] of the Fatah Central Committee.

B’Tselem was also in the news this weekend after a fire engulfed its Jerusalem office. Authorities believe that the fire was sparked by faulty [9] electrical wiring.

In 2014, B’Tselem admitted [10] that one of its researchers was a Holocaust denier.

[Photo: Haaretz.com / YouTube [11] ]