Jessica MontellJessica Montell presented a talk on February 25th entitled “Politics Aside: Promoting Human Rights and Accountability in Israel-Palestine.” Montell, who served as director of B’Tselem: the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, acknowledged this title is a pretty provocative one because separating politics from these conversations is no simple task. Montell started by describing how politics can obscure conversations about the reality of the human rights situation.

Israel has upcoming elections and there are 2.5 million people in the West Bank and 1.5 million residents of the Gaza Strip who will undoubtedly be impacted by the outcome but won’t have voting rights. Montell believes discussion of Israeli development in the occupied territories is not a prominent topic in the election dialogue. This absence of development from the electoral conversation confirms what DHRC FAB member Rebecca Stein refers to as “the infrastructure of not knowing”, a system in which the Israeli public doesn’t have to directly confront the human rights violations that are occurring in the Gaza Strip and West Bank because there is a system in place that works to ensure this isn’t a prominent topic of conversation.

Montell argued that this “infrastructure of not knowing” has very real implications for human rights for populations in the occupied territories. She cited three main problems that politicians have not been forced to address: the subdivision of Palestinian territories, exploitation of resources, and the division of the legal system in the West Bank.

The subdivision of Palestinian territories is problematic because it divides families- Montell noted the problems that arise when Palestinians don’t have the physical ability to enter East Jerusalem.

Montell cited Israeli exploitation of resources in the Dead Sea as a significant issue:

Division of legal system in West Bank where Israelis are governed by civilian law and Palestinians are governed by military law. Montell was very critical of the duality of the legal system and the discrepancies in law enforcement between the two populations.

DHRC@FHI Faculty Advisory Board Members Erika Weinthal and Rebbecca Stein were instrumental in organizing the talk. Many students in the class they joint-teach Israel-Palestine: Comparative Perspectives were in attendance. After the talk, Montell hosted a Q&A where she answered questions about her involvement with B’Tselem and her thoughts on the possibility for these issues of development in the Occupied Territories to be heard in the ICC.

I came away from the talk with a greater desire to explore this question of how the infrastructure of not knowing is developed? What other human rights issues lack prominence due to this infrastructure? What are some methods we can use to break it down and bring these topics to the international dialogue?

Sarah Kerman is a freshman undergraduate student majoring in Public Policy and working for the Duke Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute.  

The series Israel/Palestine: Comparative Perspectives that accompanies the class is sponsored by the Center for Jewish Studies, the DHRC@FHI, the Forum for Scholars and Publics, and the Franklin Humanities Institute.

Click here for more information on Montell and the talk she gave.