We Won’t Stop Filming, We Won’t Stop Writing

The Knesset could act not just against the press, but against human rights groups and Palestinians, the last witnesses for the prosecution against the occupation

by Gideon Levy

We will violate this law proudly. We have an obligation to violate this law, like any law with a black flag waving over it. We will not stop documenting. We will not stop photographing. We will not stop writing – with all our might.

Human rights organizations will do the same too and like them, we hope, Palestinian eyewitnesses, who will, of course, be punished more than anyone. According to the proposed law passed Sunday by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation [but also called for some of the wording to be changed], individuals documenting the actions of Israel Defense Forces soldiers in the West Bank may be sent to jail for as much as five years, under certain circumstances.

A nice initiative, MK Robert Ilatov, democrat from the well-known freedom party Yisrael Beiteinu. Your bill proves just how much the IDF has something to hide, what it has to be embarrassed about, what there is to cover up, to the point where even the camera and pen have become its enemies. Ilatov against the terrorism of the cameras and Israel against the truth.

At a time when the Israel Police are outfitting its officers with body cameras, which have proved themselves when it comes to reducing police violence, according to the force, Israel is trying to remove the cameras from the occupied territories, the real arena of its disgrace – so the truth will not be exposed and the injustice will be minimized.  

Without cameras, the Elor Azaria affair would not have existed; without cameras, there will be many more Azarias. This is exactly the goal of the law: to have many Azarias. Not that the documentation manages to prevent anything. The IDF and the public no longer get very excited about human rights violations and war crimes in the territories, and most journalists also don’t take an interest in them any longer.

To think that breaking bones with a stone in front of the cameras of an American network caused a scandal during the first intifada. Today, no one becomes upset about similar pictures; indeed, it’s doubtful whether an effort would even be made to publish them. But Israel’s soldiers learned to treat the camera and the pen as the enemy. If once we presented our press credentials at the checkpoints, today we hide them so the soldiers don’t catch us in all our iniquities. Once we were even arrested.

Covering the occupation today already entails violating the law. Israelis are forbidden to enter [Palestinian-controlled] Area A and journalists must „coordinate“ their entry with the IDF Spokesman’s Office. But because there is no such thing as journalism with coordination, except for the journalism of military correspondents in Israel – we ignore this ridiculous order, lie at the checkpoints, deceive, sneak in, use bypass tactics and go everywhere in the West Bank.

Where were you, asks the soldier after every visit to Hebron? In Kiryat Arba. What did you do there? We have friends there. Because it is a negligible handful of journalists who still bother to go, the authorities shut their eyes.

But technology and the B’Tselem NGO have given birth to a new enemy: video cameras that are handed out to Palestinian volunteers, and in their wake cellphones too, in the hands of every Palestinian or Machsom Watch volunteer. Suddenly it is harder to cover up and lie. Suddenly it is impossible to easily invent knives and other imaginary dangers after every futile killing. Who will save us? Ilatov and his proposed law, which has, of course, earned the encouragement of another well-known democrat, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

In 2003, when IDF soldiers sprayed live fire on the armored car with Israeli plates which we drove in Tul Karm, adorned with „press“ signs, the then-IDF Spokeswoman, Brig. Gen. Miri Regev, asked the editor-in-chief of Haaretz, who urgently tried to bring about an end to the incident: “What are they even doing there?”

Since then, Israel has not stopped asking this question. Now the Knesset could very well take action: not just against the press, with whom it still uses caution, but mostly against human rights organizations and Palestinian residents, the last witnesses for the prosecution against the occupation. Israel is telling them: just no incontrovertible evidence.

In the explanatory notes for the bill, it says, justifiably, that prosecution witnesses and eyewitnesses intend to “break the spirit of Israeli soldiers and residents.” This is exactly the goal: to break the spirit that views Azaria as a victim and hero, which thinks that the killing of 120 unarmed people is legal, and does not want to know, hear or see what is done every day in all our names, in our country’s backyard.

Coming soon: a law that will ban criticism of the IDF. Ilatov is already drafting it; most Israelis are certainly in favor. We will, of course, refuse to go along with it, too.

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