An itchy IDF trigger finger or a ‘Pallywood’ movie?
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Analysis

An itchy IDF trigger finger or a ‘Pallywood’ movie?

Some IDF efforts to discredit footage ostensibly showing the shootings of two Palestinians on Nakba Day are unconvincing, but one major question remains

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Mourners pray for the bodies of Palestinian teens Mohammed Abu Dhaher, front, and Nadim Nawara, behind, during their funeral in the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 16, 2014 (photo credit: AP/Majdi Mohammed)
Mourners pray for the bodies of Palestinian teens Mohammed Abu Dhaher, front, and Nadim Nawara, behind, during their funeral in the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 16, 2014 (photo credit: AP/Majdi Mohammed)

The images captured on the security cameras of the Zaher family on Beitunia’s main street last Thursday struck a nerve in Israeli society. The apathy that characterizes Israeli journalism on everything having to do with Palestinians may remain, but the footage, released on Tuesday, did clear some room for a renewed debate about the morality, or lack thereof, of the IDF and other security forces operating in the territories.

Is it possible that an IDF soldier or Border Policeman shot two young Palestinians last week for no reason?

The footage from the security cameras shows, it seems, Mohammed Abu Dhaher and Nadim Nawara being shot and killed while not doing anything suspicious or posing any threat. They weren’t even throwing stones.

Since the incident, and primarily since the footage was released, many claims have been heard from Israelis expressing doubt about the reliability of the clips. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, most prominently, dismissed the footage’s credibility before he had even seen it, saying he knew “the system” of discrediting Israel via such films. He was alluding in part to “Pallywood” staged footage of purported Palestinian victims filmed during the Second Intifada.

Some of the claims made by anonymous sources in the defense establishment to discredit the footage sound ridiculous, others quite reasonable.

A combo of pictures shows Palestinian youths Mohammed Abu Dhaher (top) and Nadim Nawara, both 17 years old, lying on the ground after allegedly being shot by Israeli forces, on May 15, 2014 (photo credit: AFP/Abbas Momani)
A combo of pictures shows Palestinian youths Mohammed Abu Dhaher (top) and Nadim Nawara, both 17 years old, lying on the ground after allegedly being shot by Israeli forces, on May 15, 2014 (photo credit: AFP/Abbas Momani)

For example, one of the senior officers who briefed Israeli journalists hinted that the small number of participants in the funerals and demonstrations afterward indicate that perhaps the two were not killed at all.

This is nonsense. We are talking about two teens living in relatively small villages north of Ramallah, and it makes perfect sense that they had small funerals.

And while it is true that demonstrations across the West Bank on the day of the funerals last Friday were relatively small, that can be explained by the current level of Palestinian apathy to what is happening on the ground.

The claim that one of the casualties braces himself before he falls doesn’t dent the credibility of the footage for this reporter. Unlike Hollywood movies, in real life someone who is shot doesn’t always fall at once, and will often limp before he hits the ground, or will even kneel on the ground before finally collapsing.

The suggestion that the two victims in the film are not the slain teens also sounds less than serious. Whoever has watched the entire tape can see clearly that no one else is hit besides the two killed and two others injured. And the two who appear in the film can also be seen in stills and other clips as the two slain teens.

But one point still sounds valid. Someone hit in his chest by a rifle bullet will usually fall backward, but in the footage, falls forward, as though shot in the back.

Is the film fabricated? On Wednesday I spoke with Faher Zaher, owner of the house where the security cameras were affixed. This is not a terrorist leader with an overt anti-Israel agenda. Zaher, who speaks Hebrew fluently, said that as a businessman, he installed the cameras to prevent break-ins. He also explained how the incident last week unfolded, and how the four gunshots of live ammunition from the Israeli side were clearly heard by the Palestinians. His testimony sounded reliable.

According to the version of the soldiers and Border Policemen who operated in the area, they refrained from using live ammunition on demonstrators during Nakba Day. This came from the unequivocal order from Central Command headquarters that they were not to use live ammunition unless their lives were clearly at risk.

A report from the government hospital in Ramallah, however, determined that the two slain teens, and the two others injured, were hit by live fire.

Could it be that some Border Policemen or IDF soldiers failed to report using live fire on youths who were throwing stones at them a minute or two before? It is possible that they lied?

It is preferable to wait for the end of the investigation before we jump to far-reaching conclusions. And it might be better for those anonymous IDF officers, who gave such a wealth of explanations to the press, to wait for the investigation, as well.

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