B’Tselem and The a-Safai School Lie

If you read something about Israel and think to yourself “How could that be?” or “Why would Israel do such a thing?” there’s a fairly decent chance you’re missing a chunk of the story.

A friend in Germany, a devout Christian who has been to Israel and truly cares about its people, messaged me on LinkedIn. He saw a tweet. Was shocked by the unfairness, the cruelty he saw in the accusations. Having been to Israel, and having met the people here, his first thought was “There must/could be a back story to this.” And so he messaged me, “Is it something that you are familiar with?”

The answer is that the story gained a bit of my attention in the past, justice was done, and the story was dismissed. Like many, I have a knee-jerk reaction to B’Tselem, which preaches that “Israel’s regime of apartheid and occupation is inextricably bound up in human rights violations” and they strive “to end this regime.” Never mind. That’s not going to happen.
Seeing that B’Tselem was the source of my friend’s concern, I already had a feeling that the story needed some correcting. The tweet made that concrete:

Many claim a picture speaks a thousand words. Three children sitting on cinder blocks in the harsh desert sun after the “Israeli military demolished their school and…confiscated the tents that were used as temporary classrooms.”

It took me under 30 seconds to find the truth. I simply Googled “a-Safai” and immediately understood what B’Tselem’s website and tweet never mention.

In 1980, Israel declared a wide area of space south of Jerusalem, in the north eastern part of the Negev Desert between Beersheva and the Dead Sea as a firing zone (Firing Zone 918). Forty-two years later, as admitted by B’Tselem (on November 23, 2022) on their website, “The school, financed by donations, was built” about “three weeks ago”.

If their claim is to be accepted, the Israeli army established a firing range 42 years ago, but it is Israel who is attempting to occupy someone else’s land. I have to admit, that makes little sense to me.

What seems to be clear is that at some point, the largely nomadic Arabs decided to attempt to live in the firing range. After the establishment of the firing range, they established no less than 12 villages, or attempted to. They were removed. They came back. Removed again. This time, their petition went all the way to Israel’s Supreme Court in May 2022. In its decision, the court dismissed the Arabs’ claims yet again, and gave the army permission to put down the attempted occupation of these still-largely nomadic tribes.

To further the absurdity, B’Tselem wrote that the decision by Israel’s Supreme Court “amounts to permitting the state to commit a war crime.”

A war crime? By way of a definition, “war crimes” technically has to happen during a state of war. Israel has never been at war with these people. To minimize the action, the Israelis even emptied out the desks, chairs, etc. and largely have done nothing over the last few decades other than attempt to hold the status quo in this area.

According to the United Nations, the term “war crimes” includes willful killing, torture, taking of hostages, causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or health. None of this has taken place. Even B’Tselem can’t complain about any action other than demolishing an illegal building ridiculously built in an active firing range.

Nothing about what Israel did comes close to a war crime. And yet, it’s said that the best way to sell a lie is to embellish it. B’Tselem says the school “was planned to extend in future through the 9th grade.” This about a school that was built a mere three weeks, had 23 students spread over 1st-4th grade and 3 teachers?

B’Tselem accuses Israel of making the lives of the “residents” so “unbearable they leave”. And yet, according to B’Tselem, despite Israel establishing the firing range 42 years ago, these people have done anything but leave. Without any evidence to their claim, the organization suggests that these nomadic tribes predate the army’s establishment of the firing zone.

At what point do we explain to B’Tselem that when you illegally attempt to build your “homes” and schools on someone else’s land, the courts are likely to back the true, indigenous owners? How do we show this organization, which was “79% funded by foreign state entities in 2020” that its claims to “struggle for human rights, freedom and democracy” are built on perpetuating lies?

Israel is not apartheid, as they claim. Israel did not violate anyone’s rights in a-Safai because those people have no rights to the land there.

The truth of the community of Khirbet a-Safai al Foqa in Masafer Yatta and what has become their existence there has been repeated many times over the years. It is the story of giving an inch, only to have more demanded. It is the story of lies.

Perhaps as disturbing as the truth, are two questions the truth of a-Safai forces upon us.
First, what does it say about the families and a culture that intentionally builds a school and encourages their children to go, knowing it was built on an active firing range? Who would put their children in such potential danger?

And the second question that should haunt us is why the truth lies hidden.

I can’t ever explain the first question, but the answer to the second lies in a deliberate attempt to hide the truth by the nearly 9,000 people who promoted this tweet. Good people may search but quickly become overwhelmed by the preponderance of mistruth.

When the enemies of peace are supported by so-called humanitarian organizations with an agenda, sometimes even determined seekers are unable to find the truth. A lie is still a lie, even if the truth is a bit out of reach.

Upon being sent proof of B’Tselem’s duplicity, my friend responded, “I strongly suspected there was more to the story; and I needed to know.” Now he knows…but what of everyone else?


Paula R. Stern

Paula R. Stern is the CEO of WritePoint Ltd, a leading technical writing company in Israel. She is also a popular blogger with her work appearing on her own sites, A Soldier's Mother and PaulaSays, as well as IsraellyCool and a number of other Jewish and Israeli sites.

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