by Jessica Montell, B’Tselem | This op-ed is a response to Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick. Read more
“Free speech enables us to speak the truth, even when such truth is harsh. So for example, I am free to say that Caroline Glick is a hack of a journalist, who parrots any drivel that suits her extremist ideological agenda without having the basic journalistic integrity to check her facts.”
Free speech is the backbone of a democratic society. It enables the checks and balances on government power necessary for a democracy. It enables airing of legitimate grievances and organizing for positive change.
Free speech enables us to speak the truth, even when such truth is harsh. So for example, I am free to say that Caroline Glick is a hack of a journalist, who parrots any drivel that suits her extremist ideological agenda without having the basic journalistic integrity to check her facts. Even more importantly, because we live in a democracy committed to freedom of speech, B’Tselem can publicize all of its well-documented research and information, some of it a harsh criticism of government behavior, without fear of any repression.
As with any value we hold dear, the value of free speech comes with a price. Because we are committed to free speech, we do not only allow freedom to speak the truth. We also protect the right to voice opinions, whether they are well-founded or unfounded, consensual or extreme or even offensive. And our commitment to free speech sometimes requires that we tolerate the voicing of nonsense, lies, even infuriating and irresponsible speech.
This is especially true of Caroline Glick’s column earlier this month, accusing B’Tselem of everything from fabricating incidents to blood libel. All without a shred of evidence, based mostly on false information spread by extremist settlers, and government-apologist hatchet group NGO Monitor. Many organizations would sue for libel. I breathe deeply, and celebrate the fact that we live in a democracy.
Not that tolerance means that these allegations should go unanswered. B’Tselem remains the most accurate source of information on human rights in the Occupied Territories. Our casualty figures are the most reliable. In fact, if she had bothered to study the figures, Glick would have seen immediately that there is no contradiction between the Hamas statement she quotes and B’Tselem’s figures. But unlike Glick and her biased sources, B’Tselem does not simply rely on Hamas and IDF statements. We conducted painstaking independent research into every casualty from Operation Cast Lead, cross-checking our on-the-ground field research with publicized information from every available source. This is not to say that B’Tselem is infallible – indeed we are happy to receive constructive criticism to improve our work.
The allegation that B’Tselem incited Palestinian youth to throw stones is equally ludicrous. Indeed, B’Tselem’s videographer filmed the settler attack from inside her house (the bars on her window are seen throughout the footage), so she is clearly not the person seen in the film released by Yizhar. Unlike the settlers who issued a short, highly edited clip presenting only Palestinian stone-throwers, B’Tselem provided the media with all footage from the half hour-long incident, depicting Palestinian stone-throwers, and their settler attackers.
Similarly, Glick cites a false report provided by settler sources, claiming that a Palestinian shepherd who complained that settlers attacked his sheep later admitted that he fabricated the incident. It is not incidental that the only source repeating this allegation is the settler media – it was denied by the shepherd who is sticking to his version. B’Tselem’s media statement focused solely on the fact that he submitted a complaint, and was careful to avoid irresponsibly accusing anyone of wrongdoing. Glick should try that sometime.
Just this week, the Israeli Police’s Criminal Forensic unit, a body that cannot under any circumstances be presented as biased towards B’Tselem, categorically disproved another allegation invented to malign B’Tselem. The unit’s number one expert on digital photography examined the original video tape that captured the 2008 shooting of a bound, blindfolded Palestinian in Nil’in and determined that the tape was authentic and un-doctored.
For all the many inaccuracies and downright untruths in Glick’s piece, B’Tselem has demanded that the Jerusalem Post publish a correction and apology. There is one allegation where Glick overstates the case but I would be happy were she correct: the power and influence of B’Tselem. The organization is indeed a trusted source of information, both for the military when it chooses to investigate wrongdoing, and also for the international community. Glick is correct that B’Tselem was the first organization to identify the separation barrier as a human rights issue (though she is wrong that we called it the wall), and that B’Tselem mobilized other groups to pursue legal advocacy and other measures to successfully amend the route.
We have never taken singular credit for these small improvements, as they are the result of the work of many people and groups. But I am proud of B’Tselem’s vision and role. Had Israel listened to our concerns when routing the barrier it could have avoided international and domestic criticism, as well as the financial waste – and the barrier would have been completed by now without harming tens of thousands of Palestinians. So B’Tselem serves as an early warning signal for human rights issues, a vital component of a healthy democracy.
We expect Israeli society to tolerate the important, yet sometimes painful truths we expose about government behavior in order to bring government policy in line with our values of justice, equality and fairness. If the price we must pay is the falsehoods and slander of Glick and her ilk, it is a price worth paying for living in a democracy.
Jessica Montell is Executive Director of B’Tselem: the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. Follow her on Twitter on http://twitter.com/JessicaMontell
*The op-ed was written in response to Glick’s original installment . However, since The Jerusalem Post declined to publish the B’Tselem op-ed or to correct most of the inaccuracies and lies in the Glick piece, B’Tselem has lodged a complaint with the Israeli Press Council against the columnist and the newspaper.