Israel Moves To Ban Video Footage Of Soldiers Seen To Harm National Interests

The Israeli government announced a bill on Sunday June 17 that intends to outlaw the filming of Israeli soldiers in ways that may be deemed harmful to the army’s image, particularly footage that reveals deadly shootings of Palestinians.  Covering both social media networks and traditional media, the bill has been justified as a means to protect the soldiers’ spirit and minimize harm to national security from footage with ‘intent to harm the morale of Israel’s soldiers or its inhabitants,’ according to Al Jazeera. The proposed bill, put forward by the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party and supported by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s governing coalition, was approved on Sunday and is now to be subjected to a series of parliamentary debates. The first of which occurred on Wednesday June 20th, passing its first reading. Those charged with the offence would be imprisoned for up to five years, or up to 10 if the intention was to damage ‘national security.’ Critics have warned that this move paves the way for military abuse, and undermines democratic processes.

While Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Yisrael Beitenu leader have celebrated the bill and its progression, stating that Israeli soldiers are “under constant attack by Israeli haters and supporters of terrorism who look constantly to degrade and sully them,” others have strongly criticized the move. They see the necessity of such footage, particularly in the occupied West Bank, and a means to expose military abuse. Eric Goldstein, deputy director of Human Rights Watch for Middle East and North Africa told Euro news, “there are clear cases captured on film that have led to prosecutions of Israeli soldiers. We can only imagine how often these cases happen out of the view of camera.”  Spokesman from Israeli rights group, B’Tselem, Amit Gilutz responded to the bill stating, “If the occupation embarrasses the government, then the government should take action to end it. Documenting the reality of the occupation will continue regardless of such ridiculous legislation efforts.”

This bill comes in the midst of an atmosphere of intolerance for human rights organizations. The United States pulled out of the Human Rights Council on Wednesday June 20th, justifying its move along similar lines, accusing it of holding ‘a chronic bias against Israel,’ reported the ABC. The advancement of human rights globally is being stunted by moves such as that of Israel and the US which continue to erode modes of transparency and accountability. While footage can be subject to misuse, to erroneously advance ones’ cause, it is still a vital tool for those who seek to use it reveal what would otherwise remain unjustly hidden. The bill is problematic in that although it only makes illegal that footage which intends to harm ‘soldier’s morale’ or ‘national security,’ discerning whether this was the intent, is equally subject to misuse to erroneously advance ones cause.

There are many examples where footage has provided the key evidence for convictions or to provoke condemnation on both sides of the Palestine Israel conflict. In 2017, video footage of Palestinian activist, Ahed Tamimi slapping an IDF soldier went viral, leading to her sentence of eight months in prison. Additionally, during Nakba demonstrations in the West Bank in 2014, CCTV footage revealed a 17-year-old shot dead by an Israeli police officer who was sentenced in April 2018 to nine months prison, and ordered to pay compensation to the boy’s family.

Though the bill has not yet been formally enacted into legislation, Middle East Eye has reported that it has encouraged an increase in violent responses to those seen to be filming incidents. It is feared that the vague language will serve as a cover for soldiers to abuse their powers. If approved without considerable rewrites, the work of human rights groups and the media could be seriously undermined. Video documentation is one of the most important tools for whistle-blowers and has a particularly important and successful track record in bringing to light violence and abuse on both sides of the Palestine Israel conflict.