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CJ Werleman

Why Israel wants to ban filming Israeli soldiers

Israeli lawmakers have concocted a typically anti-democratic strategy to combat the rise of citizen journalists[Anadolu]

Date of publication: 30 May, 2018

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Comment: Israeli lawmakers' attempts to muzzle citizen journalists and the press shows the power of their narratives, writes CJ Werleman.
Israel has carried out three military wars against the besieged Palestinian population in Gaza in the 13 years since it disengaged from the embattled enclave in 2005.

There was Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09, which killed more than 1,400 Palestinians, including 926 civilians, while destroying more than 4,000 homes and displacing 50,800 residents. Then came Operation Pillar of Defense three years later, which killed 105 Palestinian civilians and injured more than 1,000.

In 2014, however, Israel launched the siege to end all sieges, Operation Protective Edge, a merciless form of collective punishment meant to break the will of Palestinian resistance forever and eternity.

Adopting an "open fire policy", which gave Israeli soldiers unprecedented freedom to fire upon civilians, the Israeli military killed 2,200 Palestinians, including more than 500 children, along the way to destroying at least 10,000 homes and displacing nearly a quarter of Gaza's 2 million people.

One element that made the 2014 siege of Gaza different to the two the preceded it, at least in the court of world opinion, was that it was the first to take place in the age of ubiquitous social media.

As the Israeli military carried out their assault on one of the most densely populated areas in the world, Palestinians used Facebook and Twitter to post photos and videos of dead bodies, destroyed homes, bombed hospitals and schools. In doing so, they not only put a human face to Israel's 51-day campaign of terror, but also undercut and countered a global media landscape that is too often saturated with pro-Israel pundits and propagandists.  

"Photography has always been a powerful force, but the Gaza conflict was one of the first wars to be photographed mainly by amateurs and social media platforms, allowing those images to spread far and wide at the click of a button, helping the people of Gaza win hearts and minds, and subsequently causing unprecedented outrage against Israel," writes  Yousef al-Helou.

Every Palestinian who owns a cell phone is now a would-be journalist capable of documenting crimes and injustices carried out by the Israeli military

"In demonstrations around the world, such photos were enlarged and carried by demonstrators, demanding that their respective governments take action to halt Israel's onslaught."

Social media posts beamed the reality of Israel's brutal 2014 siege of Gaza into the living rooms and onto the screens of mobile phones around the world, which resulted in international condemnation of Israel's actions. But even more worryingly for the self-proclaimed Jewish state, it started to strip away global support for Israel, ultimately shifting the court of global opinion towards the Palestinian people, including from long standing European allies.

Read more: Cracks in the wall: Beyond apartheid in Palestine/Israel

These images that document the Israeli military's violations of Palestinian human rights have also contributed towards the growth of the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) movement, which Israeli officials fear could decrease Israeli exports by US$5.7 billion, a calculation based only on even a modestly successful boycott campaign.

The past two months of protests in Gaza have seen Israel's illegitimate and unjustifiable use of deadly force against Palestinian protesters intensify, and social media has responded accordingly. 

A Palestinian man holds a mobile phone as Israeli soldiers ride a 155mm self-propelled howitzer tank during a
military exercise near the West Bank village of Ain Shibli, east of Nablus, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank [AFP]

While videos of unarmed Palestinians being shot in the back or during prayer have seldom been given airtime in the mainstream media, they've been shared millions of times across social media platforms.

Essentially every Palestinian who owns a cell phone is now a would-be journalist capable of not only documenting crimes and injustices carried out by the Israeli military, but also sharing these crimes with the world, which, in turn, threatens to further isolate Israel in the international community.

Needless to say Israel is less than uncomfortable with this reality, so Israeli lawmakers have concocted a typically anti-democratic strategy to combat it.

Israel now seeks to reassert its domination of the media landscape

Israel's Knesset is due to vote on proposed legislation that would ban the filming of Israeli soldiers.

The bill, which has been entitled the "Prohibition against photographing and documenting IDF soldiers," proposes upwards of 10 years in prison for those found guilty of filming Israeli soldiers "with the intention of undermining the spirit" of the army.

One of the bill's co-authors, Robert Ilatov, a member of the Knesset and the chairman of the right-wing nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, thundered, "For many years now, the state of Israel has witnessed a worrying phenomenon of documentation of IDF soldiers."

Not only is this measure a dangerous attempt to undermine transparency and scrutiny of Israeli military actions against Palestinians, but also it is a major curtailment of free speech, which threatens to drop Israel's world freedom of press ranking.

That said, Israel is already ranked below Niger, Belize, Sierra Leone and Kosovo - to name a few - at  87th in the global Press Freedom Index, which rates freedom of journalists in 180 countries. Anti-democratic measures, enacted for the sole purpose of concealing human rights abuses, do nothing to advance Israel's self-proclaimed democratic character.

Moreover, should this bill pass into law, it will subject Palestinians to even more brutality at the hands of the Israeli military, emboldened by the sense its actions will know no potential consequences.

For decades, major western media outlets have demonstrated a bias towards Israel, a bias that has been broken or interrupted in recent times by citizen Palestinian journalists and their social media accounts.

Israel now seeks to reassert its domination of the media landscape via the kind of censorship measures long associated with fascist totalitarian regimes, thus further eroding its laughable claims to being the Middle East's longest running democracy.

CJ Werleman is the author of 'Crucifying America', 'God Hates You, Hate Him Back' and 'Koran Curious', and is the host of Foreign Object.

Follow him on Twitter: @cjwerleman

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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