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An attempt to erase the shame of occupation

A Knesset bill that would prohibit filming soldiers on duty is meant not only to make the work of human rights organizations impossible, but also to prevent Israelis from having to confront what soldiers are sent to do in their name. 

By A. Daniel Roth

An Israeli soldier attempts to block the view of a photographer as Israeli soldiers search Palestinian men in the West Bank city of Hebron, June 22, 2017. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

An Israeli soldier attempts to block the view of a photographer as Israeli soldiers search Palestinian men in the West Bank city of Hebron, June 22, 2017. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

The Israeli government voted this week to support a bill that would criminalize documenting Israeli soldiers tasked with carrying out the violence of the occupation in the West Bank. Supporters of the bill — which could make “videotaping, recording, or photographing Israeli soldiers carrying out their duty with the intention of eroding morale” a crime punishable by five years in prison — believe that stopping the dissemination of violent images from the occupied territories will help Israel’s PR game. But at the core of the proposed law lies something else: a fear of the power that the camera may hold for Israeli soldiers.

While the final version of the bill may ultimately not criminalize all documentation of soldiers — only those “interfering with their duties” —the very idea is terrifying, especially for those who write about and photograph the reality in occupied territories. For journalists and activists alike, cameras are often the only line of defense against violence, and perhaps the only hope for obtaining justice in cases of soldier or settler violence against Palestinians and others.

And yet, the bill’s underlying aim — hiding the shameful and violent reality of the occupation from the world — is a near impossibility in 2018. Its proponents seem to imagine that they can succeed in stopping people from witnessing the brutality and humiliation of the occupation, and ensure that no one will be able to criticize Israel anymore.

Israeli soldiers show an order for a closed military zone to a cameraman on the Israeli side of the border with Gaza, November 15, 2012. (photo by: Oren Ziv/Activesillts.org)

Israeli soldiers show an order for a closed military zone to a cameraman on the Israeli side of the border with Gaza, November 15, 2012. (photo by: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

If the occupation has continued for more than half a century with near impunity, why is the idea of this law getting so much traction at this particular moment? Many are suggesting the bill is a direct response to the case of Elor Azaria, an IDF soldier caught on video shooting an incapacitated Palestinian assailant in the head two years ago. The video is the sole reason he stood trial and eventually served any time for the killing.

It is also clear that the bill’s supporters are genuinely worried that documentation of IDF activities dissuades soldiers from carrying out their duties. They are worried that the young people who carry out the day-to-day operations of the occupation, who conduct overnight home invasions and stand guard at checkpoints, who arrest children and drive jeeps over hillsides, may catch a glimpse of what they are actually doing somewhere online or on some foreign news service, and begin to falter in their mission.



At the core of this bill is a fear that the young people sent to control millions of civilians will feel shame. And that shame could lead young Israelis to begin questioning the frightening logic of their leaders, who are at the helm of a system that seeks to hide its violence from the world.

This bill should sound the alarm for anyone who still thinks that the political reality in Israel is static and that any of the country’s democratic institutions are somehow protected from this government, which seeks to dismantle the Supreme Court’s power as it gives a green light to shooting unarmed protesters.

In the end, a government that fears the images its policies produce is a government that fears the day its own people will oppose those policies when they know the truth. In the meantime, keep those cameras rolling.

A. Daniel Roth is an educator and journalist based in Jerusalem. His writing and photography is at allthesedays.org. Follow him on Twitter: @adanielroth.

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    1. itshak Gordin Halevy

      In any country in the world one must ask the authorization to the armed forces before filming them.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        @Itshak: If you’re saying that the armed forces aren’t doing police work, they’re doing military work….then you’re saying the Palestinians are living under a military occupation.

        Reply to Comment
        • itshak Gordin Halevy

          Israeli border guards are like the gendarmerie in France. An armed police. Are the French under military occupation? The special forces of the French gendarmerie fight against terrorism in this country. It is forbidden to film them. It is the same for our sons and daughters who protect us from terrorism in the Judea and the Samaria.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “Are the French under military occupation?”

            No, the Palestinians are.* Next question?

            *The French once were under occupation, you bet, and their occupiers forbade filming them too. So does that make the occupiers of the French in 1942-1945 the righteous ones?

            Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Bruce Gould is correct. And Halevy, if you and other Israelis are so proud of what your army does to civilians in the West Bank then why are you afraid of the images of them doing this thing of which you are so proud? Excuse me, but it doesn’t add up. At all. So in my view you are making the author’s point for him. Wouldn’t be the first time, as we know.

        Reply to Comment
        • itshak Gordin Halevy

          I am from Switzerland. If you film the police or the army without permission, you get shut up. And so it is in many countries .. Why not in Israel? That’s what bothers me.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Like hell that is what bothers you. There is absolutely no security or military reason for disallowing filming of IDF or border police. As the proposed law clearly states, it is about fear of the images transmitted “breaking the spirit” of the troops and the society.
            Let me tell you, Halevy, troops don’t have their spirit broken by photos showing necessary, proper or heroic behavior. They have their spirit broken when they are caught between the rock of carrying out orders and the hard place of having the resulting behavior filmed and exposed for what it is. There is no way of getting around this. If they were proud of what they are doing, or simply unashamed and neutral about what they are doing, then they would not have their spirit broken by having what they are doing filmed.
            What you want is for the crimes to go down on the down low. So you can feel good.

            Reply to Comment
    2. Bruce Gould

      In case anyone doesn’t know, here’s how the issue of filming the police goes in the U.S.:

      “Federal appeals courts covering half of U.S. states have now ruled that Americans have a First Amendment right to videotape encounters with law enforcement”


      Americans have a constitutional right to film on-duty police officers in public, a federal appeals court in Philadelphia ruled Friday. The three-judge panel’s decision is not the first of its kind, but it marks a significant milestone: Half of U.S. states are now covered by rulings protecting the videotaping of law enforcement.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Pepper Wingate

      When the “journalists” outnumber the soldiers and civilians at the scene, then something needs to be done.
      Frequently videos are edited and faked with posed Palestinians. Sometimes there are videos attributed to Israeli soldiers doing horrific things, yet the uniforms are not Israeli. I saw one where the uniform was Guatemalan but was attributed to be Israeli. Then again there are Palestinians who are becoming very good at faking injuries for the camera. One famous fake was a man praying at the end of a line of men. He leaped up claiming to have been shot. Unfortunately he was clasping the leg that had been next to his neighbour and not the one next to the fence.
      The journalists are publishing lies. They are not reporting the events but looking for ways to slant the events to libel Israel and Israeli soldiers. They are not using the material for evidence in court but going with the material they slant, to the news media to have Israel tried in the biassed press.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Wingate, Wingate, unbelievable. The ultra-hackneyed ‘Pallywood’ schtick is so old and so threadbare and so discredited by now that you should be embarrassed. Embarrassed! Geez. Have some respect. These are not the ultra-dumbed-down JPost talkback forums. This is a quality establishment.

        Reply to Comment