Ministers expected to back bill criminalizing the filming of soldiers
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Ministers expected to back bill criminalizing the filming of soldiers

Those who publish footage that puts military in negative light and ‘harms soldiers’ spirit’ could face up to 10 years in prison, according to controversial legislation

Illustrative. An Israeli soldier attempting to block the view of a photographer as troops search Palestinian men in the West Bank city of Hebron on June 22, 2017. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)
Illustrative. An Israeli soldier attempting to block the view of a photographer as troops search Palestinian men in the West Bank city of Hebron on June 22, 2017. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

Ministers are set to back a bill that would criminalize the filming of certain Israeli military activities, including clashes between IDF soldiers and Palestinians.

The controversial bill, sponsored by the Yisrael Beytenu party, reportedly enjoys the support of Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and is widely expected to gain the backing of other ministers at a Sunday meeting.

The legislation would subject anyone caught filming or publishing footage of military activities with the purpose of harming “the soldiers’ spirit” to penalties of up to five years behind bars.

More aggravated circumstances, such as publishing such footage with the intention of “harming state security,” can carry a punishment of up to 10 years in prison.

According to the Haaretz daily, coalition parties have already agreed to push the bill forward in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation’s meeting on Sunday.

The body determines whether legislation will be backed by the coalition, and is seen as a key bellwether of the bill’s success in passing the Knesset to become law.

The measure was first unveiled on April 12, two days after the IDF criticized a soldier for filming himself cheering as an Israeli sniper shot a Gazan during a border incident.

The video had prompted a wave of condemnations across the political spectrum, as well as some justification and support for the soldiers featured in it, including from Liberman.

Several incidents in recent years in which soldiers were filmed using excessive force or abusing power have become a PR nightmare for Israel, while NGOs say the footage is vital to keeping the military accountable.

Cases include the killing of an disarmed and wounded Palestinian attacker by soldier Elor Azaria in 2016, and an incident in 2012 in which a soldier hit a Danish activist in the face with his gun.

The B’Tselem NGO, which regularly publishes video footage of alleged IDF wrongdoing, 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.

An IDF soldier loading his weapon before he appears to shoot a disarmed, prone Palestinian assailant in the head following a stabbing attack in Hebron on March 24, 2016. (Screen capture: B’Tselem)

Daniel Sokatch, CEO of the dovish New Israel Fund, also criticized the proposed measure.

“In Israel, as elsewhere in the world, video footage of police and military 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,” he said in a statement, “We’ve seen that from Abu Ghraib to the case of Philando Castile. Tyrants restrict the rights of people to record what happens around them; democracies don’t.”

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