GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The Palestinian Ministry of Information issued a statement May 27 describing the Israeli Knesset deliberations on a bill that would ban the filming of Israeli soldiers in action as the height of discrimination. The statement said the proposed law encourages Israeli soldiers to continue killing and called it an attempt to protect them from international legal pursuit. The proposal to ban the filming of Israel Defense Forces soldiers stems from concern that documentation would affect the soldiers’ work.
The bill states, “Anyone who films, photographs and/or records soldiers in the course of their duties with the intention of undermining the spirit of IDF soldiers and residents of Israel shall be liable to five years imprisonment. Anyone intending to harm state security will be sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment.” The bill also would prohibit the publication of such photo or video content on social media.
Haaretz' May 27 editorial condemned the bill as dangerous, saying its aim is to ban criticicism of the Israeli army and the documentation of its behavior and to forbid human rights’ organizations from doing their work, a clear violation of journalism and the people’s right to access information.
Fayez Abu Atia, undersecretary of the Palestinian Ministry of Information, told Al-Monitor that the whole point of the bill is to halt supervision of soldiers to avoid publicizing their crimes and violations against the Palestinian people. The bill coincides with the rise in violations against peaceful protesters at the border fence separating the Gaza Strip and Israel. Since the Great March of Return protests began March 30, the soldiers have killed 115 citizens and wounded thousands.
He said, “The bill aims to encourage Israeli soldiers to commit more crimes without being held accountable and it seeks to offer them protection from international justice. It indicates that Israeli policy does not acknowledge the rights of Palestinian citizens.”
Abu Atia said the bill is a blatant violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2222, which calls for protections for journalists and condemns impunity. Abu Atia urged the International Federation of Journalists to take action before the UN to prevent the bill's passage. He said the ministry will contact rights and journalistic organizations.
He said, “These laws won’t stop Palestinian journalists from doing their job and duty in exposing Israel’s crimes.”
On May 26, the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate also expressed its rejection of the bill as discriminatory. The syndicate warned that the bill would deal a heavy blow to journalism, legalize Israeli soldiers’ criminal acts against Palestinians and encourage impunity from international courts.
Tahseen al-Astal, vice president of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, told Al-Monitor that the bill shows that Israel is concerned about potential punishment of its army, which is violating international and humanitarian laws and committing atrocities against Palestinians. The bill coincides with the Palestinian territories’ submission of a complaint to the International Criminal Court (ICC) against the Israeli army’s alleged war crimes and the syndicate’s complaints before European courts and the ICC about crimes against journalists.
On May 17, the syndicate announced the formation of a committee of Palestinian journalists to prepare the legal cases to be submitted to the ICC and some European courts against Israeli leaders and institutions that are directly responsible for Israeli soldiers’ crimes against Palestinian journalists. A private international meeting at the UN is to be held in New York in September and testimonials will be given before the UK Parliament in the coming weeks.
Astal said, “All countries or organizations that ratified agreements related to the freedom of expression or cultural and media exchange with Israel, such as the International Federation of Journalists, should revisit their decisions. This bill shows their discrimination and disrespect for the basic rights of freedom of expression that are a requirement to join the federation.”
Astal argued that the bill will widely impact journalists’ work, be they nationals or foreigners. He said that the syndicate has already announced a cultural and media boycott of Israel and called on the UN and international organizations that are concerned with journalistic freedom to pressure Israel to adhere to international charters and laws. He said, “All international journalistic institutions should condemn this bill because it affects their work.”
Maamoun Abu Amer, who writes on Israeli affairs, told Al-Monitor, “The bill wants to forbid any citizen or journalist from photographing and publishing any Israeli army activity. Israel is seeking to limit what is published about its army,” he went on, pointing out that the bill emerged after videos and photos depicting scandalous Israeli behavior against protesters in the Gaza Strip were published. “Israel wants to criminalize the documentation of its soldiers’ crimes to encourage international impunity.”
He concluded, “Israel does not have the right to impose its laws on Palestinian territories because they are not part of it.”