Government Plans to Jail Anyone Documenting Soldiers in Occupied West Bank or along Gaza Border

Israel’s far-right government and coalition is advancing an anti-democratic law that would ban the photographing or videoing of soldiers “carrying out their duties” in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Despite reservations by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, who considers the legislation problematic from a constitutional point of view, on Sunday, June 17, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved the bill, but demanded significant changes in its wording and further discussion in the committee before it is brought to the Knesset plenum for a preliminary vote next Wednesday.

Under the proposed legislation, taking or distributing photos like this would be a crime punishable by 5 or 10 years of imprisonment.

Under the proposed legislation, taking or distributing photos like this would be a crime punishable by 5 or 10 years of imprisonment. (Photo: Activestills)

The version of the law approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation calls for a five-year prison term for anyone filming or distributing footage on social media that documents confrontations between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians, with the intent to “break the spirit of Israeli soldiers and inhabitants.” Anyone who documents such activities and disseminates the information with the intent to harm national security could face up to 10 years in prison.

Explanatory information appended to the text of the bill states: “For many years Israel has witnessed a worrisome phenomenon in which IDF soldiers are being documented by means of video, stills and audio recordings by anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian groups such as B’Tselem, the women of Machsom Watch, Breaking the Silence and various BDS groups. In many instances, these organizations spend entire days near IDF soldiers waiting with baited breath for some action they can document in a biased way in order to slander the IDF… Such documentation generally interferes with ongoing and operational IDF duties, sometimes accompanied by accusations and insults being hurled in their [soldiers’] faces.”

Several incidents in recent years in which soldiers were filmed killing Palestinians, using excessive force or abusing power have become a PR nightmare for the far-right government, while human rights organizations say the footage is vital to keeping the military accountable. Cases include the 2016 killing of a disarmed and wounded Palestinian attacker by Sergeant Elor Azaria, who was convicted of manslaughter and jailed, and an incident in 2012 in which a soldier hit a Danish activist in the face with his gun.

B’Tselem, which regularly publishes video footage of alleged wrongdoing by Israeli forces, including the Elor Azaria video, slammed the bill as “idiotic.” “If the government is embarrassed over the occupation, it should work to bring it to an end. In any case, visual footage of life under occupation will continue. This is a fact of life that no idiotic proposed bill will change,” the group said in a statement.

Hadash MK Aida Touma-Sliman (Joint List) said, “In Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, as elsewhere in the world, video footage of police and military repression activity has become an important tool for human rights groups and the media. It’s part of how citizens can blow the whistle on wrongdoing by authorities.” She continued: “If the government wants to take care of its soldiers so much, perhaps it should start by put an end to the occupation. Without occupation, there won’t be any embarrassing pictures.”