Jerusalem Office of Israeli NGO B'Tselem Hit by Suspected Arson

Israeli firefighters stand at the entrance to a building where the offices of B'Tselem are located, in Jerusalem January 10. Reuters/Ronen Zvulun

A fire broke out at the Jerusalem office of the left-wing Israeli human rights group B'Tselem late Sunday, in an incident that Israeli enforcement and fire authorities suspect to be an arson attack.

The blaze, which began at around 10pm local time, left one person slightly injured from smoke inhalation after they became trapped on the fourth floor.

It took fire services one hour to contain the fire. While the building houses other offices, the majority of the damage took place in B'Tselem's office, Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz reported.

B'Tselem issued a statement that blamed any arson attack on a campaign of government incitement against the group, just a week after a controversial NGO bill was passed by the Israeli cabinet, which obliges NGOs to reveal the identity of their backers and proposes to limit foreign donations.

"We are still waiting for the findings of the fire investigator. However, 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," a spokesperson for B'Tselem said.

"Naturally, the damage to our offices will not stop our work of documenting and exposing the harm to human rights under the occupation," the statement continued.

Israel's main political Arab coalition, the Joint List, also said the "source of the fire was the incitement campaign wages against human rights organisations by the government and its leader."

In the past week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested that B'Tselem "encourage murder" while Israel's right-wing Minister of Education Naftali Bennett accused them of murder.

The accusations came after a report by Israel's Channel 2 last week suggested that a B'Tselem-linked activist passed the details of a Palestinian land seller, someone who sells Palestinian land in the West Bank to Jewish Israeli settlers, to the Palestinian security services. The activist was secretly recorded saying that the seller would be tortured and killed by the Palestinian security services if found to be selling Palestinian land to Israelis.

"I give their photos and their phone numbers immediately to the [Palestinian] Preventive Security Force," says the activist in the recording. "The Authority catches them and kills them. But before they kill them they beat them up."

B'Tselem responded that the activist only reported the land sale as the seller was offering "land that is partly owned" by his family for sale. "This is the only legitimate course of action for Palestinians, given that Israeli authorities do not protect Palestinian landowners in the area from attempts by settlers to take over their land, and, in fact, actively aid such takeover efforts," a separate B'Tselem statement issued on Thursday said.

B'Tselem was founded in 1989 and aims to document human rights violations in the occupied territories, specifically east Jerusalem and the West Bank, and to create a culture of human rights within Israel.

Jerusalem Office of Israeli NGO B'Tselem Hit by Suspected Arson | World