Israeli rights group hit in suspected arson attack

B'Tselem's offices extensively damaged amid government push to restrict work of human rights groups.

    Israeli rights group hit in suspected arson attack
    B'Tselem said it will not be deterred from its human rights work in the occupied territories [Ronen Zvulun/Reuters]

    The offices of a prominent Israeli human rights group have been damaged in a blaze that local authorities are investigating as a potential arson attack. 

    B'Tselem, which documents Israel's human rights abuses in the occupied Palestinian territories, said in a statement that "the fire brigade reported the damage to our office is extensive" after the incident on Sunday.

    Firefighters evacuated the building and extinguished the flames, while a handful of Israelis gathered near the site to celebrate, according to the local 972 Magazine blog. No casualties were reported.

     Israelis charged over fatal West Bank family arson attack

    The fire comes at a time when Israel's right-wing government is advancing a new bill sculpted to label human rights groups as "foreign entities", while a pro-settler group has launched a campaign to paint rights groups as "foreign agents". 

    "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," the group said in its statement. 

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

    Palestinian human rights groups are regularly closed down or raided by Israeli forces, while other Israeli groups have been targeted by ultranationalist Jewish activists in the past. 

    In late December, Israeli troops ransacked the offices of a Palestinian Authority-administered charity in Bethlehem and a prisoners' rights group in Nablus, both in the occupied West Bank. 

    READ MORE: Palestinians in Israel accuse Netanyahu of incitement 

    Hardline Israeli settlers have carried out similar attacks - known as "price-tag attacks" - on Palestinians and their properties in the past. The term is meant to indicate that there will be a cost to Palestinians if the power of the settlers is challenged.

    A Palestinian couple and their 18-month-old son were killed in July 2015 in an arson attack that is believed to have been carried out by settlers. 

    In November 2014, a Jewish-Arab coexistence school in Jerusalem was partially torched in an arson attack carried out by Israeli settlers, who left behind graffiti that said "Death to Arabs" and "You can't coexist with cancer". 

    The assailants of that attack were members of Lehava, a right-wing organisation that campaigns against assimilation between Jews and Arabs and regularly leads marches through Palestinian neighbourhoods. 

    Protected by the Israeli army, more than 547,000 Israelis live in government-funded, Jewish-only settlements across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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