Palestinians wary of proposal that criminalises filming of Israeli soldiers

Journalists warned that the bill would grant Israeli soldiers legal cover to target anyone with a camera or smartphone.
Sunday 17/06/2018
Capturing the violence. Palestinian women use their mobile phones to take photos during clashes with Israeli troops, last March. (AP)
Capturing the violence. Palestinian women use their mobile phones to take photos during clashes with Israeli troops, last March. (AP)

LONDON - Palestinians and human rights activists who rely on cameras and smartphones to document actions by Israeli soldiers that may be considered crimes said they are concerned that a proposal being considered by Israel’s parliament would hinder their work.

Israeli lawmakers introduced legislation that would criminalise the photographing or filming of Israeli Defence Forces soldiers while on duty.

“Anyone who filmed, photographed [or] recorded soldiers in the course of their duties, with the intention of undermining the spirit of IDF soldiers and residents of Israel, shall be liable to five years imprisonment. Anyone intending to harm state security will be sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment,” the draft legislation reads.

The legislation was introduced after Israel’s killing of 62 Palestinian protesters near the Gaza border on May 14. More than 2,200 people were injured in the protests against the relocation of the US Embassy to Jerusalem, an event that coincided with the eve of the 70th anniversary of Nakba.

Palestinian journalists warned that the bill would grant Israeli soldiers legal cover to target anyone with a camera or smartphone.

“The new proposed bill aims to keep media in the dark and avoid global condemnation, especially after the deadly attacks in Gaza that sparked international outcry. However, I guess the bill would be more effective in the West Bank as journalists have direct contact with the Israeli soldiers on the ground,” said Mohammad Balousha, a Palestinian journalist from Gaza.

The view was shared by Mohammad Hamayel, a journalist from the West Bank. “The Israelis have, for many years, tried different measures against Palestinian journalists, including the dreaded incitement conviction in their military courts. The new proposed bill will make our job difficult. If I cannot film them, what am I supposed to film?”

The Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate (PJS) urged the United Nations to protect the freedom of press and the role of journalists in documenting events.

“It severely attacks the profession of the press and legitimises the criminal practices committed by the Israeli occupation army against the Palestinian people,” read a statement by the PJS.

Adnan Abu Amer, head of the Political Science Department at the University of the Ummah in Gaza, said the proposed law would make it more difficult to win convictions against Israeli soldiers accused of wrongdoing.

Salah Abdalati, a human rights lawyer, said the proposed legislation aims to make it difficult to hold Israeli soldiers and their commanders to account internationally.

“The documentation of the attacks through gathering filmed material helps to build international public opinion,” he said. “The videos constitute evidence that can be presented to the International Criminal Court to take action. We can also present it to any fact-finding investigation committee.”

Palestinians point to high-profile cases that would have been unknown outside the Palestinian territories had they not been filmed.

The bill’s explanatory notes took aim at Israeli rights groups B’Tselem, Machsom Watch and Breaking the Silence: “In many cases [these] organisations spend entire days near IDF soldiers waiting impatiently for activities that can be presented in biased and tendentious form — and to disgrace the soldiers thereby.”

The measure was proposed by Robert Ilatov, chairman of Yisrael Beiteinu party, and backed by Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

“Documentation is usually done while interfering with IDF soldiers’ operational activities, sometimes even shouting accusations and insults against them,” said Ilatov. “We have a responsibility to provide IDF soldiers with optimal conditions for carrying out their duties, without having to worry about a leftist or organisation who might publish their picture to shame and disgrace them.”

The bill was condemned the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).

“The Israeli legislative proposal must by no means become a law,” IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger said in a release. “It constitutes a serious breach of the freedom of the press [because] it precisely criminalises the work of journalists. Censorship should not be enshrined in law and it is media workers’ duty to inform the public.”

Scopophobia. Israeli soldiers inspect the phone content of a Palestinian youth in the West Bank town of Hebron. (AFP)
Scopophobia. Israeli soldiers inspect the phone content of a Palestinian youth in the West Bank town of Hebron. (AFP)
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