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UN report contributor removed from Israel's service program

June 24, 2015 11:34 A.M. (Updated: June 24, 2015 7:08 P.M.)
Palestinian children play next the remains of their house on June 22, 2015 in Gaza City, destroyed by Israeli forces during last summer's war. (AFP/Mahmud Hams, File)
JERUSALEM (AFP) - An Israeli cabinet minister said Tuesday that he had barred a local NGO cited in a critical UN report on the 2014 Gaza war from the country's national service program.

Israeli rights group B'Tselem was one of 10 human rights groups which wrote to the attorney general last July to raise "concerns about grave violations of international humanitarian law" in the bombing and shelling of residential buildings in the Gaza Strip.

The UN Commission of Inquiry on the conflict published a report on Monday saying it had received "credible allegations" that both the Israeli military and Palestinian militants had committed war crimes.

"The extent of the devastation and human suffering in Gaza was unprecedented and will impact generations to come," the chair of the commission, New York judge Mary McGowan Davis, said in a statement following the report's release.

The UN report decried the "huge firepower" used in Gaza, with Israel launching more than 6,000 airstrikes and firing 50,000 artillery shells during the 51-day operation that killed 2,140 Palestinians, most of them civilians, a third of whom were children.

Palestinian armed groups meanwhile fired 4,881 rockets and 1,753 mortars towards Israel, killing six civilians and injuring at least 1,600 others, not including 67 Israeli military members killed during combat.

The decision by Israeli authorities to ban B'Tselem from the national service program was made because the organization was among the sources for the UN inquiry's data on the war.

Israeli citizens excused from the state's obligatory military draft, mainly on religious or moral grounds, can volunteer for civilian community service instead, giving them benefits similar to those granted to army veterans.

Uri Ariel, minister responsible for the National Insurance Institute, which supervises the scheme, said on Tuesday he had given orders that volunteering with groups seen as hostile to the state would no longer be recognized as national service.

"Is the state of Israel supposed to finance those who work against it... against its soldiers? There's a limit," he told public radio.

"It's not just B'Tselem," he added. "It's not just one organization, there may be others and it applies to them as well."

B'Tselem spokeswoman Sarit Michaeli told AFP that while the group was quoted "quite extensively" in the UN report, the group had never sent any evidence to the commission.

"Our material is available online and the commission read it online and took it and used it," she said.

"We didn't actually submit anything to the commission... but we're very proud of our research into Protective Edge," she added, using the Israeli name for last summer's war in Gaza.

Last August, the government's national service commission told B'Tselem it was being blacklisted as an employer of its volunteers, but the assistant attorney general forced it to back down.

Michaeli said both attempts were distractions from the real issue.

"It's just a way to divert public attention from the actual findings of the report through NGO-bashing," she said.

Ma'an staff contributed to this report.

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Comments
Tibi / Tubas
Israel still supplies water and electricity to Hamas militants, who constantly try to kill or abduct Israel's citizens, with so why should it not supply a few volunteers to B'Tselem, who only tries to discredit the state ??
24/06/2015 14:02
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