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Translating Human Rights of the “Enemy”: The Case of Israeli NGOs Defending Palestinian Rights


  • Daphna Golan,

  • Zvika Orr

  • We are grateful to all the interviewees for their honesty and courage to share and reflect on their dilemmas. Limor Yehuda and Amany Khalefa contributed many insights to this research. Special thanks to Stanley Cohen for valuable comments on an earlier draft. We thank the editors and three anonymous reviewers for their very helpful comments and suggestions. Please direct all correspondence to Daphna Golan, Faculty of Law, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Mount Scopus, Jerusalem 91905, Israel; e-mail:


This article explores the practices, discourses and dilemmas of the Israeli human rights NGOs that are working to protect and promote the human rights of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. This case can shed light on the complex process of “triangular translation” of human rights, which is distinct from other forms of human rights localization studied thus far. In this process, human rights NGOs translate international human rights norms on the one hand, and the suffering of the victims on the other, into the conceptions and legal language commonly employed by the state that violates these rights. We analyze the dialectics of change and reproduction embedded in the efforts of Israeli activists to defend Palestinian human rights while at the same time depoliticizing their work and adopting discriminatory premises and conceptions hegemonic in Israeli society. The recent and alarming legislative proposals in Israel aimed at curtailing the work of human rights NGOs reinforce the need to reconsider the role of human rights NGOs in society, including their depoliticized strategies, their use of legal language and their relations with the diminishing peace movement.