A controversial new bill set to go before Israel's Ministerial Committee for Legislation in the Knesset on Sunday would ban taking videos or photos of Israeli soldiers in the process of arresting or subduing Palestinians.
It's a move that advocacy groups are decrying as an aggressive censorship measure aimed at banning the documentation Israeli soldiers' human rights violations, especially as the U.N. Human Rights Council has opened a formal investigation into accusations that Israeli security forces recently gunned down scores of Palestinian civilians protesting along the Gaza-Israeli border fence.
The legislation, if passed, could result in a punishment of 5 to up to 10 years in prison for merely recording encounters between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians.
The bill reads, “anyone who shoots a video or a photo, or records soldiers while they are doing their job, with the aim of disturbing the morale of soldiers and citizens, will be sentenced to five years imprisonment. In case this is done with the aim of destabilizing the state’s security, the perpetrator will be sentenced to ten years imprisonment.”
Even so much as an individual sharing such content on social media could fall under purview of the proposed law, as Middle East Monitor reports, "the bill prohibits the sharing of photographs or recorded content on social media or in the media."
The proposal originated via the right wing Yisrael Beiteinu bloc , significantly with support from the party's leader Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman. The bloc chairman, MP Robert Ilatov, identified mostly left-wing groups responsible for hindering Israeli security efforts, notably among them BDS organizations (the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, which seeks to halt West Bank settlement expansion by exerting economic pressure on Israel).
In comments carried by Middle East Monitor, MP Ilatov explained:
Israel has long been facing a disturbing phenomenon; that of the documentation of Israeli army soldiers, by video shooting or audio recordings by organizations that are hostile to Israel and supportive of the Palestinians, such as B’Tselem, Machsom Watch, Breaking the Silence, BDS and other organisations.
Disturbingly, it appears those behind the bill simply don't want people with the wrong politics to be able to film, with the further suggestion that foreign governments are fueling anti-Israeli activism.
The bill's sponsor, MP Ilatov, claimed further that “the majority of these organisations receive support from associations and governments with anti-Israel agenda, and that they are using these contents to jeopardize Israel and its security,” according to Middle East Monitor.
He decried it as "unreasonable for an activist or leftist organisation, supported by a foreign entity, to be granted the freedom to document soldiers while doing their duties. The best conditions must be provided for the soldiers to do their duty without worrying about any activist or organization publishing their photos to intimidate them.”
There's no doubt this attempt is in response to the dozens of viral videos which show Palestinian civilians — some of them teenagers — shot in open fields by Israeli snipers, sometimes while running away from Israeli positions.
Al-Jazeera describes one such video of a death that occurred during the first month of Palestinian "Great Return March" protests:
In one of the videos, a demonstrator - identified by relatives as 19-year-old Abdelfattah Abdelnabi - is shot in the back while running away from the border separating the Gaza Strip and Israel.
The footage shows Abdelnabi and another Palestinian being just a few meters away from a small group of unarmed protesters. A loud shot rings out and Abdelnabi drops to the floor. According to the Palestinian health ministry, Abdelnabi died from his wounds.
Original footage showing Israeli sniper attacks begin at :38 mark.
But then again among the most shocking videos, which unambiguously confirm that some Israeli soldiers are willfully intending to execute unarmed Palestinian civilians, have been recorded by the soldiers themselves, and subsequently leaked to Israeli press.
Israel's Haaretz newspaper described the video as depicting "a motionless Palestinian shot by Israeli sniper to the sound of soldiers' cheers" and that "following the shooting, a voice is heard shouting 'Wow, what a video! Yes!'." The video has been confirmed as authentic by the Israeli government, which promised to investigate.
Here's the Haaretz published video "Motionless Palestinian Shot by Israeli Sniper to Sound of Soldiers' Cheers" (warning: mature content):
The censorship bill, aimed at stopping the spread of such videos by pro-Palestinian activists and left-wing Israelis sympathetic to the Palestinian plight, also comes after a 16-year old Palestinian girl named Ahed Tamimi attracted global media attention, including from Hollywood celebrities who spoke out on her behalf, after she was filmed kicking and slapping two Israeli soldiers said to be violating her family's property.
As the the Independent reported at the time, "A teenage Palestinian girl who was filmed kicking and slapping two Israeli soldiers has been sentenced to eight months in jail as part of a plea bargain."
The newly proposed legislation will seek to suppress such viral videos from the very moments they are uploaded to the internet.
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Throughout the mass Palestinian protest along the Gaza-Israel border, which began on March 30th, Israel has maintained its stance that Hamas is purposefully provoking the shootings, even to the point of sending children and disabled to the fence near Israeli security positions, and hiding firearms among the crowd. However, the U.N. and a number of nations that have condemned the killings — some like South Africa even recalling their ambassador — aren't buying this as a valid explanation for the appalling death toll.
But both the Israel and the United States appear to be shrugging off the recent UN stinging rebuke — a formal vote which initiated a UN inquiry into the Gaza deaths near the border fence — and both countries have repeatedly accused the 47-member council of anti-Israel bias. Israeli ambassador Aviva Raz Schechter was quick to question the legitimacy of the body, calling the newly passed human rights inquiry "politically motivated and [it] won't improve the situation on the ground by even one iota."
The Israeli ambassador further said blamed falls exclusively on Hamas' shoulders: "The loss of life could have been avoided had Hamas refrained from sending terrorists to attack Israel under the cover of the riots, while exploiting its own civilian population as human shields," she said, and added further, "It is Israel, certainly not Hamas, which makes a real effort to minimize casualties among Palestinian civilians." Schechter concluded, "It is regrettable that so many member states allow themselves to be misled by the false narrative of so-called peaceful protests."
In addition to the 60 killed on May 14, Gaza's Ministry of Health stated that 1,703 Palestinians were wounded by live fire, occurred simultaneously with the opening ceremony for the new US embassy in Jerusalem, and which corresponded further with both Israel's 'Jerusalem Day' festivities, and the eve of Palestinian 'Nakba' day.
Prior to the incident, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that by the end of April over 40 Palestinians had been killed and 5,511 were wounded after the first full month's protest.
Despite global outrage and demands for justice, the U.N. inquiry will be slow going and is unlikely to satisfy any party to the conflict. What the resolution describes as an "independent, international commission of inquiry" mandated by the council will not produce its final report to be placed before the Human Rights Council until next March — nearly a full year away.