B’Tselem, a Jerusalem-based NGO, released video footage this week of a handcuffed Palestinian detainee being shot in the leg by an Israeli soldier. The footage is part of a new trend to use video footage to document abuses against Palestinians by Israeli soldiers and settlers. On July 20, Jerusalem-based human rights group B’Tselem released video footage showing an Israeli soldier shooting a handcuffed Palestinian detainee in the knee with a rubber-coated steel bullet.

A 14-year-old Palestinian girl, Salaam Kanan, shot the footage two weeks earlier in the West Bank village of Ni’lin, using nothing but her own cellphone camera.

B’Tselem, also known as the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, decided to go public with the information after it had sent the footage to the Israeli army in early July to no effect.

No army investigation into the incident was launched, nor were the soldier or his commanding officer relieved from active duty. Villagers in Ni’lin reported seeing both soldiers on duty after the shooting incident.

Shooting back

To human rights groups like B’Tselem, the Ni’ilin incident is further proof that abuse that is not recorded often goes unpunished.

It is the reason why B’Tselem launched its ‘Shooting back’ project last year.

For a long time. Palestinians have been complaining that many Israeli abuses in the Occupied Palestinian Territories go unnoticed. On the ground, critics blamed the media coverage and what Palestinians see as a biased narrative that dominates any coverage of the events.

The Arab media are full of eyewitness reports of settler and army abuse and human rights violations in the West Bank. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these atrocities are not supported by photographic evidence. The bruises and cuts on people’s bodies are not sufficient evidence to get the Israeli authorities to act.

Organizations like B’Tselem are trying to change this picture.

As part of the ‘Shooting Back’ project, B’Tselem has distributed one-hundred cameras to a number of Palestinians in the West Bank, especially those living in remote villages.

The project was launched in January 2007, with an initial focus on the Hebron area, and subsequently spread to all of the Occupied Palestinian territories.

The project aims to bring the reality of the lives of Palestinians under military occupation to the attention of the Israeli and international public, exposing and seeking redress for violations of human rights.

Apparently these little cameras are doing their job.

Since the launch of the project, a significant number of tapes have been sent to B’Tselem from various sources. Just a few of them have gained widespread attention because, according to Oren Yacobovich, program coordinator at B’Tselem, the media choose to air only the most extreme and violent ones.

On its website, B’Tselem features some of the videos it has received. Most is from the Hebron area, where civilians face almost daily abuse from Israeli settlers. There is also footage from the village of Qalqilia. And since last Sunday, there is 14-year-old Salaam Kanan’s cellphone footage from Ni’lin.

Israeli investigation

On July 7, Ashraf Abu-Rahman had been taking part in a demonstration against the ongoing construction of a ‘separation barrier’ around the village Ni’lin.

Ni’lin had been a hotspot for several weeks. Last month, it had been placed under Israeli curfew for four days after protests by villagers, international activists and Israeli sympathisers against the expropriation of village land for the building of the separation barrier and the extension of the neighboring Israeli settlement of Modi’in.

Ashraf Abu-Rahma, an active member of the Ni’lin Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements, had been arrested three times before.

[IPS has an interview with Ashraf Abu-Rahma which is available here.]

According to IPS, when Salaam Kanan pointed her cellphone camera at Abu-Rahma, he had been arrested, beaten up and forced to sit blindfolded and handcuffed in the sun for three hours before he was shot.

‘I thought I was going to be arrested but not shot,’ Abu-Rahma told IPS.

This week, Israeli media said an investigation was being launched against the soldier, who was detained on July 21 but released the next day.

When questioned by investigators, the soldier stated, according to press reports, that the battalion commander had ordered him to shoot the detainee. The commander, however, admitted only that he had ordered the soldiers to frighten the Palestinian.

Israel’s Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, promised a full inquiry.

‘The Israeli military will investigate the incident, learn its lessons and hold those responsible to account,’ Barak said. ‘Warriors do not behave like this.’

Video power

For B’Tselem, the Ni’lin incident is just one of many.

Last June, one of its cameras caught four masked Israeli settlers beating Palestinian farmers with baseball bats because they refused to move from the land where they were tending their sheep. The farmers, a man and his wife with their nephew from the Al-Nawaja family in the village of Susiya near Hebron, suffered moderate injuries to different parts of their bodies.

According to B’Tselem’s Yacobovich, ‘Palestinians who file complaints against settlers or the army have to go through heavy bureaucratic procedures, and usually do not receive any attention, which makes them hesitant to do so. The presence of a video and media scrutiny, however, forces the authorities to take them seriously.’

‘B’Tselem also uses these videos as a tool in filing complaints and as powerful supporting evidence in court cases,’ he added

The fact that incidents of soldier or settler abuses against Palestinians have been rarely reported or documented meant that these abuses often happened with impunity. According to B’Tselem, using video documentation has been a means of redressing this imbalance of power.

Sarit Michaeli, another spokesperson for B’Tselem, told The Guardian, ‘I see no better way of encouraging accountability among members of the security forces.’

This story was written for and published by Menassat.com on July 25, 2008.