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Hiding the occupation doesn't make it go away

A proposed law, said to be supported by Netanyahu’s government, would criminalize videotaping Israeli soldiers doing the dirty work of the occupation. But hiding something from sight doesn’t make it go away. Or does it?

Israeli soldiers arrest a Palestinian boy during a protest in the West Bank city of Hebron, following US President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, on December 7, 2017. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

Israeli soldiers arrest a Palestinian boy during a protest in the West Bank city of Hebron, December 7, 2017. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

If an Israeli soldier beats a Palestinian and no one is there to catch it on video, did it really happen? That is the question a group of Israeli lawmakers seems determined to find out.

A new bill, proposed by four members of Avigdor Liberman’s far-right Israel Beiteinu party, would 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. If the intent is to harm state security, the punishment doubles to 10 years in prison. The law would also apply to those disseminating such documentation.

According to a Haaretz report, the bill was expected to gain the support of the entire government in a vote on Sunday.

Here are three important things to note about this bill.

1. This is an explicit attempt to silence and criminalize the work of Israeli human rights organizations. The bill’s explainer section specifically cites the work of B’Tselem, Machsom Watch, and Breaking the Silence as its impetus. After a decade of going after human rights and anti-occupation groups’ funding, the ability of Israel’s critics to freely travel, and campaigns accusing them of treason, the government may now attempt to criminalize their activities outright.

Whenever despondency starts to set in, whenever the work of human rights and anti-occupation groups seems utterly futile, remember this bill — irrespective of whether it becomes law or is left to die in committee. This bill is a reminder that Israel’s right-wing nationalist government sees those groups’ work as threatening enough that it is constantly looking for ways to marginalize, disparage, and outlaw them and their work. Clearly, exposing the reality of occupation is a threat to the occupation, and by extension, to the current Israeli regime.

2. The law would only apply to Israelis, not Palestinians. Because Israel has not yet annexed the West Bank and therefore rules over Palestinians as non-citizen subjects of its military regime, laws passed by the Knesset do not apply to the 2.8 million Palestinian who live there. (In order for an Israeli law to apply to Palestinians, the commander of Israeli forces in the West Bank would have to add it to the military code that serves as the law for Palestinians.)

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The result would be that if a Palestinian and an Israeli are standing right next to each other on the side of a West Bank highway filming the same soldier beating a Palestinian man, only the Israeli would be committing a crime. Of course, Israel doesn’t need any new laws in order to put Palestinians behind bars, especially for publishing things online that catch the ire of its security services: from incitement to violence to administrative detention (imprisonment with no charge or trial), there is no shortage of “legal” tools already at the disposal of Israeli authorities.

3. The bill’s authors are actually onto something. It does harm morale, of IDF soldiers and Israeli civilians alike, to watch one’s comrades and sons carry out the ugly, violent, grunt work of ruling over another people by way of brute force and daily humiliation. The occupation is not a pretty thing — not for its victims and not for its perpetrators. That is basically the raison d’être of the three organizations the bill put in its crosshairs: to make sure that soldiers know they are being seen (Machsom Watch), and to make sure Israelis and the world see what those soldiers are doing (Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem).

Which brings us back to the question of whether a crime that isn’t documented actually took place. In the Israeli public conscious, such a bill might actually prove that the answer is no, at least partially. Most Israelis don’t want to see the violence of the occupation. Out of sight, out of mind, cognitive dissonance, object impermanence — whatever you want to call it, human beings have a plethora of tools for suppressing thoughts that aren’t comfortable to think about. By literally removing from sight the offending images, those mental acrobatics become much easier.

Watch undercover Israeli troops shoot Palestinian youth point blank:

The rest of the world (and a smaller section of Israeli society) is a different story. After half a century of occupation and three decades since American network television began broadcasting videos of Israeli soldiers breaking the bones of Palestinian protesters, the cat is out of the bag. Images of Israeli oppression and violence against Palestinians has long been seared into the minds of millions of people around the world.

If those images suddenly stop being shared at the frequency with which they occur, people will not conclude it is because the occupation ended or because it became a benevolent and kind military dictatorship overnight. No, they will understand why those images stopped coming: because even far-right, hyper-nationalist Israelis realize that the occupation is morally repugnant and corrosive to their own society, but that the only remedy they have for that problem is to cover their eyes.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Lewis from Afula

      I fully support Bibi’s new law.
      If the “fakestinyans” want to end the occupation, they must first dismantle their fake “fakestinyan” identity and revert to their original JORDANIAN identity.
      Fair is fair.

      Reply to Comment
      • Stein

        To which identity are you going to revert to, your original Polish one or your even deeper Moron Land heritage?

        Reply to Comment
      • Dave Kreiselman

        You know, I’ve been reading this blog for awhile, and almost never comment, because anything I had to say about Israelis and Palestinians I said a long time ago. But after reading your comment, I decided to make an exception. You’re a jackass, who’s commentary attracts other jackasses like flys to sh*t. And just so you understand, I’m not commenting upon your politics. Opinions are like a**holes. Everyone’s got one and you’re entitled to yours. When you utilize such bon mots as “fakestinyans”, you come off like someone who’s last original thought came about as an epiphany while taking a dump. Such elequence beguiles others to respond in kind with witticisms of their own such as; “Moron Land”. Self awareness begins with the individual..

        Reply to Comment
        • Lewis from Afula

          Dave:
          If you think the “f” nation is a genuine nation-state, then please tell me:
          1. Where was their capital ?
          2. Who founded it and when ?
          3. What was the name of its native currency ?
          4, Who was its 1st King ?
          5. Where was his royal palace ?

          Since nobody can answer these questions, I believe that we are dealing with a fake peoplehood, invented after the aggressor community (JORDANIANS) failed to exterminate Israelis in the 6 day war. My solution is to deport the lot of them back to Amman.
          Fair is Fair.

          Reply to Comment
          • Dave Kreiselman

            Reading comprehension not your strong suit, eh? I don’t give a wet fart about your politcs. You’re a wanker who’s puerile meanderings cheapen the dialectic, hence I opined. See above. smh.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            You want me to call a fake nation by its self-proclaimed fake name ?
            Why do you want me to do that?
            To give the bastards the legitimacy that they strive for.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula: There has been a distinct Palestinian national identity since before the time of the crusades (see the book on Palestinian identity by Haim Gerber, a professor in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem).

            Palestine became a nation State in 1922 under the British Mandate. It had a settled population, a government, defined borders and recognition by other states. Those are the requirements for a territory to become a State. Its inhabitants, formerly Turkish citizens, became Palestinian citizens (as did some of the foreign Jews who migrated to Palestine under the Jewish National Home policy).

            Its Head of State was His Brittanic Majesty. Its head of Government was the High Commissioner. Its capital was Jerusalem. Its currency was the Palestinian Pound.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            Fincham:
            What was the raison d’etre of the Palestine Mandate set up in 1922 ?
            To create a Jewish National Home.
            No Jewish National Home = No Paletine Mandate
            Hence, the fake nation fallacy is based on nothing.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            Fincham:
            We must never forget why did the League of Nations created the Palestine Mandate in the first place. To facilitate the reconstitution of the Jewish National Hone.
            Hence, No National Home = No Mandate.

            Reply to Comment
          • Tom

            @Lewis from Afula
            Ok, let’s say than palestinian people identity has never existed, appear later after the 6 days war (this is historicly discutable, but anyway).

            It doesn’t change ANYTHING : Arabs people (if you prefer to use this name), christian, muslim, even jewish (old Yishouv), belongs to this country and their ancestors lives here since générations (before 1920, arabs people used to be 90% of the population of Mandatory Palestine).

            Propaganda is not an argument, please stop your lies, and go to read history books.

            Reply to Comment
    2. Bruce Gould

      @Jeffrey Wilens: The perpetual question: are the 20% of Israeli citizens who have Palestinian heritage ‘looters and rioters’?

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        A corollary question would be: Why is it that Wilens, an ostensible conservative, is willing to let looters and rioters in the form of Israeli settlers and army troops run wild in the West Bank?

        The only factor propelling this striking exception to his declared love of law and order seems to be racism driving unequal protection of the laws.

        It’s as if Wilens ran around California letting white but not black people loot and riot, and steal blacks’ real estate properties, and thought the proper answer to objections to this was: “But you liberals don’t understand, black people don’t want peace and quiet, they want to kill white people, and they don’t respect property, it’s just the way those people are.” And you know, in the lawless wild wild West of yore he’d have gotten away with that.

        And the West Bank is such a lawless place now; that is lawless for one group but not another. Or administered by applying one set of laws for one ethnic group (and actually mostly not applying any law, but looking the other way) and another very different, draconian, rigidly enforced set of laws for another ethnic group. The definition of apartheid.

        So it is that Wilens has his categories of lawlessness upside down and backwards. And his ostensible concerns about law and order impress me as strikingly disingenuous.

        Reply to Comment
    3. David Milstein

      This reminds me of the draconian censorship laws in Apartheid South Africa, which enabled the Apartheid governments to literally get away with murder.

      Reply to Comment

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