A Jewish woman calls her Palestinian neighbour a prostitute, settlers beat up an Arab shepherd. The victims thanks to camcorders provided by an Israeli NGO filmed these highly publicised scenes. Palestinians can now record their everyday humiliations and the violence they sometimes suffer. “It’s better than a gun”, points out young Diia whose family participates to this project called “Shooting Back”.
B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Centre for Human rights in the Occupied Territories, distributed about 80 cameras in the West Bank, of which about 40 were provided in the sole region of Hebron and another 20 in the South hills.
In fact, this site draws most of the tensions. The 500 settlers living in the old town – an exceptional case in the West Bank – are considered as being the most radical. What’s more, they live in direct contact with the Palestinians. In the souk’s buildings, Arab shopkeepers often occupy the ground floor and Jewish settlers live on the top floors. Nets on top of the market were placed to avoid the falling objects thrown from the top floors. However, liquids can pass through. According to the TIPH (the Temporary International Presence in the City of Hebron, tasked to foster dialogue between the two communities), all sorts of fluids are dropped, such as water, oil and urine.
Two years ago, B'Tselem gave the first camera to the Abu'Ayesha family, who was constantly harassed. Located just in front of Hebron’s Jewish quarter, they even had to protect their house with railings to shield themselves from the frequent throwing of stones and food. When a woman settler lavishly covered the mother of the family with insults, one of her daughters filmed the scene. The video “sharmouta” (bitch, in Arabic) was widely diffused in the internet and on Israeli media. “The little sympathy that Hebron settlers had, evaporated” comments Elias Levy, a Spanish journalist based in Jerusalem since a few years.
Though these images forced the Israeli public to open their eyes on a reality they preferred to ignore, the aim of the Shooting Back project was not to use the media. B'Tselem originally meant to find a way to give evidence of the human rights violations in order to tender it to the Police, file a complaint, confirm the witnessing and pass trial.
This is a crucial issue. In fact, nine out of the ten cases submitted by Palestinians against Jewish settlers were shelved according to a study published at the start of July by Israeli organisation Yesh Din (There is a justice). In only 8% of the cases, the police requested suspects to be sent to court.
They consider us second class citizens. They don’t trust the Arabs, they trust the settlers” sums up Issa Amro, a fieldworker of B’Tselem in Hebron.
The camera is therefore a tool to uphold those words that up to now weighed little.
Two months ago, Bassam Jaabare, a cobbler from Hebron, filmed a clash between two girls. After a woman settler accused the young Palestinian woman of aggressing her daughter, “the tape demonstrated she was lying”, happily claims this father of eight.
“It won’t change my life but I can defend my rights better”, he judges. Before, the police would refuse to record these complaints because there was no evidence of the facts. Now, concrete elements can be provided, although this doesn’t sort everything out. During Purim (a religious occasion in which Jews get drunk), some settlers threw stones in his quarter. His brother ended up with a broken nose. He went to complain to the police but “nothing happened”. According to Bassame Jaabare, “the police said they couldn’t arrest settlers during a religious festivity”.
B'Tselem distributed the camcorders up to the hills South of Hebron, where Palestinian shepherds don’t have any electricity, but use solar panels or eolic energy to recharge their batteries. An incident that took place in June was therefore filmed: four masked men beat up with sticks a Palestinian family who was pasturing their flock too close to the Susya settlement. Following to the diffusion of the recording, many suspects were taken in for questioning but were released afterwards. No charge was filed up to now.
Shooting Back therefore doesn’t fight successfully against this relative impunity. However, the project helps to protect the Palestinians. “Most of the settlers don’t like their aggressions to be taken on camera. So when the camera appears they leave”, observes Issa Amro. This B’Tselem operator even heard an officer say to his soldiers: “Don’t do anything wrong to this family. They have a camera and will take you on film”.
Suhair Jabari feels safer since his household received a camera. “It improves things around here. There’s less violence”, remarks this 21 year old architect who some months ago recorded a clash between her family and some settlers on the field nearby her home. An Israeli tribunal recognised that the land was property of the Jabari family. Yet a blue tent with an Israeli flag can be seen: some settlers put up a makeshift synagogue there.
“Cameras are better than guns”, states Diaa, Suhair’s brother. This 15 year old recently filmed his father’s arrest, who was accused of physical aggression by a settler. He explains that he used the camera conspicuously to “protect” his father from any possible police violence.
Michael Yagupsky, who works at B’Tselem’s video service, also believes that cameras can be a good “tool of pacific resistance”. According to him, “kids don’t throw stones anymore, they hold cameras”.
Both the originators and the participants of Shooting Back believe that it helps neutralising the spiral of radicalism. But others don’t. “In the last two years, the situation deteriorated”, affirms David Wilder, spokesman of the Hebron’s Jewish community.
He accuses “extreme left activists” to “provoke”. And he claims that videos only show “half-truths”: when an incident is taken on film “the first part of the event is cut during the editing” and “only the reaction (of the settlers) is shown”.
B'Tselem is a very “pro-Palestinian” organisation” who “doesn’t’ care for the human rights of Jews”, follows David Wilder. According to him, it aims at “delegitimating the presence of the Jewish community in Hebron” for political purposes. “They want Jews out of Judea and Samaria”, he accuses while using the names with which settlers designate the West Bank.
“If they film, we film too” he concludes in a challenging tone, without explaining how come settlers haven’t diffused the excruciating videos they claim to have yet.
The aggressors in any case are now aware of the presence of cameras. Thus, the four men of Susya put masks on to beat up the Palestinian family. Michael Yagupsky of B’Tselem doesn’t exclude the use of mini cameras in the future, as they’re easier to hide: “It’s an arms race between those who want to get evidence and those who try to conceal it”.
This article is part of a series of features on the radicalisation in Europe and the Mediterranean. It was drafted within the framework of the
project, realised by
(Co-operation for the Development of Emerging Countries) and supported by the
"Preventing Violent Radicalisation 2007"
"With financial support from the Preventing Violent Radicalisation Programme
European Commission - Directoracte-General Justice, Freedom and Security"