Common Grounds

How Israeli rights groups prevent Palestinians from framing their own reality

April 01, 2021

Source: Source: Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JFJFP)


Haneen Maikey and Lana Tatour write in Middle East Eye:

Published April 1, 2021


Imbued in the settler-colonial system, Israeli human rights organisations appear to view Palestinians as little more than a raw data source, while Jewish staff set the agenda

How Israeli rights groups prevent Palestinians from framing their own reality

A Palestinian protester walks across Israeli forces during a demonstration against Israeli settlements in the village of Deir Jarir near Ramallah on 8 January 2021


In recent years, people of colour working in the human rights and international development sector have called on NGOs and agencies to examine institutional racism, and to look at how their structures, discourses and programmes reinforce colonialism and white supremacy.


Last year, 1,000 former and current staff of Doctors Without Borders called for an independent investigation to dismantle “decades of power and paternalism”. A year earlier, a report by an independent commission determined that Oxfam International was plagued by “racism, colonial behaviour and bullying behaviours”.


But this emerging global conversation appears to have skipped over Israeli human rights organisations, still praised for their courageous fight against Israel’s occupation and their advocacy of Palestinian rights. The recent report from B’Tselem, which declared Israel to be an apartheid state, offers an opportunity to speak about the racial politics of Israeli human rights work.


Racial hierarchy

Some Israeli rights organisations are not only imbued in the settler-colonial system and benefit from it, but they also embody and reproduce in their institutional structures and operations, racial colonial power relations. Put more bluntly, the Israeli human rights sector has an Ashkenazi Jewish-Israeli supremacy problem.


A close look at the staffing structures of such organisations reveals a striking picture of racial hierarchy between Israeli Jews, ’48 Palestinians (also referred to as Palestinian “citizens” of Israel), and Palestinians from the occupied West Bank and Gaza (also referred to as ’67 Palestinians) – the same hierarchy upon which the Israeli racial settler-colonial project rests.


Palestinians are designated specific roles … yet, even though they are the backbone of these organisations, they are barred from top-level positions
Palestinians from Gaza and the occupied West Bank have two main roles in Israeli human rights organisations. They are the field researchers tasked with documenting violations of human rights, collecting data and taking testimonies. They are also the “clients” and “beneficiaries” who appeal to these organisations to help them secure their health, education, residence and movement rights vis-a-vis Israeli authorities.


Then there are the ’48 Palestinians, who occupy positions that demand a good command of both Arabic and Hebrew. Their role is to mediate between ’67 Palestinians and Israeli staff. They are the data and intake coordinators who manage fieldworkers, process information and coordinate the programmes that require direct communication with ‘67 Palestinians.


Finally, positions such as chief executives, spokespersons, international advocacy coordinators, resource development staff, and researchers who write public policy reports – the public faces of the organisations – are Israeli and Jewish American, almost exclusively Ashkenazi.



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