Israel seeks to outlaw filming of its soldiers by rights groups

Proposal would make filming ‘with intent to harm morale’ punishable by up to five years in jail

 An Israeli soldier shouts and  aims his weapon at a videographer and photographer during clashes with Palestinian demonstrators at a protest last December against US  president Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in the West Bank city of Hebron. File photograph: Mussa Qawasma/Reuters

An Israeli soldier shouts and aims his weapon at a videographer and photographer during clashes with Palestinian demonstrators at a protest last December against US president Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in the West Bank city of Hebron. File photograph: Mussa Qawasma/Reuters

 

Israel moved on Sunday to thwart rights groups that film its troops’ interactions with Palestinians by introducing a Bill that would make such activity a criminal offence.

Rights groups frequently film Israeli soldiers on duty in the occupied West Bank – generating evidence which the organisations say is necessary to expose abuse by the military.

A video filmed by Israeli rights group B’Tselem in 2016 showing an Israeli soldier shoot dead an incapacitated Palestinian assailant drew international condemnation and led to the soldier’s conviction for manslaughter in a highly divisive trial.

The proposed law, formulated by the ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu party in prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition, would make filming or publishing footage “with intent to harm the morale of Israel’s soldiers or its inhabitants” punishable by up to five years in prison.

The term would be raised to 10 years if the intention was to damage “national security”.

Scrutinised and amended

A ministerial committee which oversees legislation voted to approve the Bill on Sunday. It will now go to parliament for a vote that could take place this week. If ratified, it will be scrutinised and amended before three more parliamentary votes needed for it to pass into law are held.

Yisrael Beitenu leader and the defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman, praised the committee and said: “Israeli soldiers are under constant attack by Israel haters and supporters of terrorism who look constantly to degrade and sully them. We will put an end to this.”

A Palestinian official condemned the move.

If the occupation embarrasses the government, then the government should take action to end it

“This decision aims to cover up crimes committed by Israeli soldiers against our people, and to free their hands to commit more crimes,” deputy Palestinian information minister Fayez Abu Aitta told Reuters.

The phrasing of the Bill stops short of a blanket ban, aiming instead at “anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian organisations” which spend “entire days near Israeli soldiers waiting breathlessly for actions that can be documented in a slanted and one-sided way so that soldiers can be smeared”.

Naming B’Tselem and several other rights groups, the Bill says many of them are supported by organisations and governments with “a clear anti-Israel agenda” and that the videos are used to harm Israel and national security.

The ban would cover social networks as well as traditional media.

‘Ridiculous legislation efforts’

B’Tselem shrugged off the Bill.

“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,” the group’s spokesman, Amit Gilutz, said.

B’Tselem’s video of the shooting in the West Bank in 2016 led to Israeli soldier Elor Azaria being convicted of manslaughter. He was released in May after serving two-thirds of his 14-month term. Opinion polls after his arrest showed a majority of Israelis did not want a court-martial to take place. – Reuters