Israeli rights group B'Tselem Jerusalem office torched in suspected arson

Israeli fire-fighters stand at the entrance to an office building where the offices of B'Tselem is located, in Jerusalem January 10, 2016. © Ronen Zvulun
The office of a prominent Israeli rights group was targeted overnight in a suspected arson attack. B'Tselem said if proven true, the government's “incitement and smear campaigns” are to blame.

The fire broke out on Sunday evening in a large commercial building in Jerusalem's Makor Haim neighborhood. In addition to the office of B'Tselem it houses Hand in Hand, an organization that runs a bilingual school for Israeli and Palestinian students. This was also targeted in a November 2014 arson attack by two Jewish extremists, as well as the Israel Airports Authority. However, this time it was B'Tselem's office that was mostly damaged by the fire.

The blaze started from two separate points of origin, indicating probable arson, the fire department reported as cited by the Haaretz newspaper. The building was mostly empty at the time of the incident, but one person was trapped on the fourth floor and was slightly injured before being rescued by firefighters.

A fire broke out at B'Tselem's office in Jerusalem this evening. None of our staff were in the building, but people...

Posted by ‎B'Tselem בצלם‎ on Sunday, January 10, 2016

The organization, which was founded in 1989 and focuses on documenting alleged violations of human rights in Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, pledged the suspected arson wouldn’t stop its work. It also accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government of attacking human rights groups.

“If it is discovered that this was an arson attack, it must be seen in the context of the wave of government incitement and smear campaigns against Israel's human rights groups, and B'Tselem in particular," the organization said in a statement.

Similar sentiments were voiced by fellow rights defenders from the Peace Now group, which said, "the arson at the B'Tselem office is an attempted attack that miraculously did not claim human lives, and the cabinet ministers, led by Netanyahu are responsible."

B’Tselem has been at the center of a political dispute in Israel following a television report at the weekend, which alleged an activist linked with the group had reported to Palestinian authorities about land deals, in which Palestinians sold their property to Jews. Palestinians consider such deals a crime.

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The Israeli government has lately targeted rights groups receiving foreign funding by introducing legislation that would limit foreign donations. It would also force NGOs that receive a large share of their budget from foreign governments to disclose this information.

The fire comes at a time of heightened tension in Israel, as dozens of Jews and Palestinians have been killed in a wave of violence over the past few months.