Executive director of B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights monitoring group.
Jessica Montell is the executive director of B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. The organization was created in 1989 to promote human rights by shedding light on human rights violations in the Occupied Territories and inspiring action and understanding amongst Israelis.
Montell was born and raised in Berkeley, California, in a Reform Jewish family. She visited Israel as a teenager and later for a semester while a sophomore at Oberlin College where she earned a degree in women's studies and Judaic and Near Eastern Studies. She visited again as a recent college graduate when she volunteered with Hamoked, a human rights organization.
After a year in Israel she went back to the United States and started her graduate study at Columbia University, focusing her master's degree work on human rights. In 1995, Montell became an Israeli citizen and began working as a Development Director of B'Tselem. She later became Executive Director in 2001.
B'Tselem's work includes public education through reports and research on the realities of occupation. This includes detailed information about human rights abuses such as fatal shootings by the Israeli military, restrictions on Palestinians’ movement, settler violence, and the building of the Separation Wall to segregate Palestinian villages.
In a piece for the Los Angeles Times, published in 2004, Montell writes of the Wall, "It is obvious to anyone who studies the map that although the barrier was conceived for security reasons, the route is dictated by politics. In Jerusalem, the barrier divides Palestinians from each other, rather than separating Israelis from Palestinians, and does so in order to strengthen Israel's claim to a united Jerusalem as its capital."
B'Tselem's work helps inform policymakers; it is regularly shared with Knesset members, some of whom help bring these matters to public attention. B'Tselem also works with journalists, providing them with important information on human rights violations.
In addition to its work within Israel, B'Tselem also works in the Occupied Territories by participating in protests, sharing information from their research, and responding to problems and requests from Palestinian leaders.
In the Oberlin Alumni Magazine, Montell says "My best hope for the future is that B’Tselem will be superfluous. ... I used to think this might be possible in 10 years; now that doesn’t seem likely. But I am still hopeful for the 50-year prognosis. If I wasn’t, I don’t think I could be raising children here. B’Tselem is part of building this hope."
Montell lives in Jerusalem with her husband Avi Ben-Tzur, a planner at the Ministry of Environment, and their children.
For more information about B'Tselem see www.btselem.org