Activists’ lenses shoot back at IDF ‘abuses’

By Ben Lynfield, July 25, 2008

The Israeli human-rights group B'tselem says it is gathering more images of soldiers and settlers targeting Palestinians after it shocked the Israeli public this week by releasing a video clip of a soldier apparently firing a rubber-coated metal bullet at a handcuffed and blindfolded Palestinian.

The footage, which appears to show a lieutenant-colonel holding the arm of the Palestinian as the soldier shoots in the West Bank village of Na'alin on July 7, was distributed to the media by B'tselem. It says it acquired it from Salaam Kanaan, a Palestinian schoolgirl who filmed the incident from her home. At the time Na'alin, a focal point of demonstrations against the West Bank separation barrier, had been closed by the army to journalists. The Palestinian, Ashraf Abu Rahme, 27, was treated by an army medic for a wound in the toe.

Ms Kanaan used a family camera. But in other incidents - including masked settlers apparently beating Palestinian shepherds near Hebron and an Israeli protester being shot at close range with a rubber-coated metal bullet - footage was taken with B'tselem cameras as part of its Shooting Back programme. Since January, B'tselem has given out about 100 video cameras to Palestinians and run workshops on using them.

"The footage is important because Israelis find it easier to believe Palestinians are lying than that soldiers and settlers can do these things," said B'tselem spokeswoman Sarit Michaeli. "The footage is also used by us to deal with law-enforcement bodies."

Ms Michaeli says the fact that no action was taken by the army for two weeks between the Na'alin incident and the footage's release points to a "whitewash". After the release, military police opened an investigation. The shooting soldier was held for two days, then released on the grounds that he did not pose a danger to anyone.

Defence Minister Ehud Barak said the conduct was unbefitting to soldiers. Members of the dovish soldiers' group Breaking the Silence said the shooting was not an aberration.

Shooting Back has generated controversy within Israel.

"The biggest problem with this is that it is very one-sided like everything B'tselem does," said Gerald Steinberg, director of the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor. "Why are there no pictures of Palestinians preparing terrorist attacks?"

Of the Na'lin shooting, Mr Steinberg said: "We need to know more. No one will say it's an acceptable act even if he wasn't seriously wounded."

Last updated: 12:01am, July 25 2008