Israeli rights group vows to fight against settlements

B'Tselem leader, who urged the UN to take decisive action against settlements, says he won't be deterred by criticisms.

    An Israeli human rights group has vowed to continue its battle against Israel's settlements built on occupied lands sought by the Palestinians, rejecting a harsh rebuke by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

    The Israeli leader accused B'tselem of joining a "chorus of slander" against Israel, after the rights group urged the UN Security Council to take decisive action against settlements.

    B'Tselem responded to Netanyahu's remarks on Sunday, saying that "unlike the prime minister and his slander, we believe that the Israeli public is worthy of meaningful discussion of the occupation.

    "But the prime minister has no answers for the Israeli public, so instead he tries to go after B'Tselem," it added.

    "This will not deter us, nor the hundreds of thousands in Israel who oppose the occupation."

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    B'Tselem joined American Friends of Peace Now, the US affiliate of an Israeli anti-settlement watchdog, at Friday's informal Security Council session.

    Hagai El-Ad, executive director of B'Tselem, told the meeting that with the 50th anniversary of the 1967 war approaching next year, "the rights of Palestinians must be realised, the occupation must end, the UN Security Council must act, and the time is now".

    Late on Saturday night, Netanyahu accused the group of making "false claims" and said he would remove B'Tselem from a list of organisations where Israelis can do national service in lieu of mandatory military service.

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    Israel occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem, along with the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast war and began building settlements soon after.

    About 600,000 Israelis now live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, in addition to roughly 2.5 million Palestinians.

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    Palestinians demand these occupied territories, along with Gaza, for a future state. They view Israeli settlement construction as a major obstacle to statehood, a position that has wide international support. 

    B'Tselem's move at the UN came after a resolution by the UN cultural agency last week denied the Jewish connection to holy sites in Jerusalem. 

    Netanyahu's government is dominated by West Bank settlers and their allies, and his coalition has repeatedly pushed legislation apparently aimed at curbing the power of rights groups suh as B'tselem.

    Veteran columnist Ben Caspit criticised B'Tselem's tactics, saying it risked antagonising the public. But he said what it had done was not "treason".

    "What Netanyahu is doing is questioning the legitimacy of these organisations, just as he questions the legitimacy of journalists who criticise him," he wrote in the Maariv daily.

    "That is incitement, and in the current mood, it is liable to be dangerous."

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    SOURCE: News Agencies


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