Young barred from serving in organisation as alternative to military service after it is accused of 'incitement against IDF'
IDF soldiers at a checkpoint in Bethlehem, West Bank. Israelis must perform three years of national service, either in the military or a civilian alternative such as humanitarian or medical groups. Photograph: Bj Rn Kietzmann/Demotix/Corbis
Israel has banned young people from serving with one of its most prominent human rights groups because of its opposition to the war in Gaza. B'Tselem, which campaigns against Israeli settlements in the West Bank, was informed on Wednesday night that it has been blacklisted as a civilian alternative to military service.
The director of the body responsible for non-military options for Israelis who don't want to serve in the IDF, Sar-Shalom Jerbi, told Channel 2 TV that B'Tselem had "crossed the line in wartime [by] campaigning and inciting against the state of Israel and the Israel Defence Force, which is the most moral of armies".
Hagai el-Ad, executive director at B'Tselem, said that the move was the latest in a campaign of intimidation and threats against the organisation over the last three weeks, during which it has voiced vociferous opposition to the war in Gaza. It had tried to have the names of Palestinian children aired on state TV during Operation Protective Edge, but was denied. Its appeal to the high court of justice was rejected on Tuesday.
"The level of intimidation and the broadness of attacks on the organisation over the past three weeks is unprecedented in the 25-year history of B'Tselem," Ad said, citing death threats and attempts to violently attack employees, as well as an organised internet campaign against the group.
He said it was a trend that could apply more generally to Israeli society over the past month, where groups of rightwing Jews and ultra-nationalists have attacked peace rallies in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and there has been a surge in racism against Arabs in Israel.
"Until this day Arabs in Jerusalem are afraid of gang violence against them on the streets of this city. This has never happened before, and still remains the situation in Jerusalem," he said.
B'Tselem has called on Uri Orbach, the government minister in charge of the authority for national civic service and a member of the ultranationalist Jewish Home party, that is in coalition with Binyamin Netanyahu, to overturn the decision, but the minister seemed to rule that out in a statement, published by Reuters.
"Israel is in the midst of a difficult military and diplomatic campaign against terrorists. An organisation that works to prove allegations that Israel is committing war crimes should be so good as to do so with its own resources and not with civilian national service volunteers and state funds," he said.
Ad would not speculate on how the disqualification would affect B'Tselem – the authority revealed that the group only has one civilian volunteer – as the organisation intends to fight the decision.
All Israeli citizens have to carry out three years conscription when they turn 18, and all but a handful of young people choose to serve in the IDF. However, the Israeli government has been increasing alternatives to military service to accommodate Orthodox Jews and Arab Israelis, as well as pacifists.