Social media are Palestinians’ latest ally
An Israeli soldier was caught on camera doing what Palestinians have long asserted troops have often done: summarily executing a motionless Palestinian as he lay on the ground.
This was not the first time an Israeli soldier was caught killing a Palestinian and undoubtedly will not be the last. What is different, however, is that the action was caught on camera and attracted international attention. The UN Special Rapporteur on summary executions condemned Israel’s actions and said it carried “all the signs of a clear case of an extrajudicial execution”. Several international organisations followed suit.
Israeli officials were forced to arrest the soldier and charge him. However, given the impunity with which Israeli soldiers operate, Israelis were stunned that the soldier was actually being charged for something that is commonplace and instead of ostracising the soldier, Israelis, including politicians, rallied in support of this killer.
The Israeli town of Beit Shemesh promoted a rally in favour of the soldier, labelled a “hero”, in which hundreds turned out in support. Online petitions calling for the soldier’s release gained more than 50,000 signatures and public opinion polls indicate that most Israelis say the soldier should not face any punishment for his action.
The campaign worked: Israeli officials have announced that the soldier will face manslaughter — not murder — charges.
While there is tremendous support for the soldier, the Palestinian who filmed the execution is facing a different reality: Emad Abu Shamsiya, a Palestinian shoemaker, was brave enough to both film the execution and release the video to a human rights non-governmental organisation (NGO). Abu Shamsiya has been the target of death threats and a lawsuit by Israeli settlers seeking to silence him.
He, unfortunately, is no stranger to this. For years, Israeli settlers have tried to forcibly remove him from his home in the Old City of Hebron to make way for expanded Israeli settlements.
Abu Shamsiya is one of a number of Palestinians (and Israelis) who dare to speak out against Israel’s crimes. The Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence is one example.
Breaking the Silence collects the testimony of Israeli soldiers who describe, many in excruciating detail, the crimes that they have perpetrated against Palestinians while serving in the Israeli Army. Their stories — vetted by an Israeli censor — are published anonymously.
Breaking the Silence is not radical. The group is not trying to get Israeli officers tried for war crimes (though they should be), it is not calling on Israelis to refuse to serve in the army (though they should) and yet this organisation is being accused of treason by Israel’s government for publishing these already censored accounts of Israel’s actions.
For Israel, shedding light on the actions of the most sacred Israeli institution — its military — is considered treason, even when that light is so weak as to make viewing impossible.
While Breaking the Silence remains largely toothless, Israel is using its full force to crush it. Imagine what it will do to Shamsiya.
We need not imagine: human rights organisations have for years documented Israeli mechanisms of witness intimidation and threats, including denying Palestinians access to their land and homes, imprisoning Palestinians and threatening them with death.
We have seen laws passed by the Knesset to prevent Palestinians from filing lawsuits against Israel and we have witnessed the frequent rampages by Israeli settlers with the army turning a blind eye. Israeli human rights organisations document the abysmal indictment rate of Israeli soldiers and settlers against Palestinians. And Palestinians know better than to use the Israeli system, for it is solely designed to give soldiers cover for the war crimes they commit.
And this is precisely why Palestinians must start taking its International Criminal Court admission more seriously. If they do not, we will continue to witness more summary executions and more Emad Abu Shamsiyas will risk their lives to show the world the truth.