Israel seeks to muzzle witnesses of its crimes

Israel is trying to silence people who witness its atrocities.

The Knesset, Israel’s parliament, is considering a bill that would criminalize filming or recording Israeli soldiers and publishing the content.

The law calls for a five-year prison sentence for those who film “to harm the morale of Israel’s soldiers or its inhabitants,” and a 10-year prison sentence for those who film to “harm the security of the state.”

The group Reporters Without Borders questioned the basis on which Israeli morale or national security would be determined.

“In a country in which much of the political class already accuses the media and NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] of anti-patriotism or treason, isn’t there a danger that such a provision would prevent the dissemination of video footage simply because it wasn’t very flattering?” Reporters Without Borders stated.

“We urge parliamentarians not to pass this bill, which would result in journalists settling for content provided by the Israeli army and for propaganda videos to avoid going to prison.”

Israeli army medic Elor Azarya was caught on video shooting an incapacitated Palestinian, Abd al-Fattah Yusri al-Sharif, in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron during 2016.

Azarya was released from prison in May this year after serving nine months for the point-blank execution.

On Tuesday, Azarya returned to the site of the shooting to a hero’s welcome from Israelis living in a nearby settlement.

Azarya was greeted by the cheering, “Elor Azarya, I wanted you to know how many people love you in Hebron,” according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

The Knesset bill, introduced by the far-right party Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home), names Israeli human rights groups B’Tselem, MachsomWatch and Breaking the Silence. It also refers to groups that support the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

Breaking the Birthright silence

A group of five American Jews on a Birthright Israel trip recently walked away from the program to join Breaking the Silence on a tour to witness Israel’s crimes against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron.

Birthright Israel is the program that doles out free trips to Israel in an attempt to foster Zionist commitment and eventual emigration by young American Jews.

One of the deserters broadcast the incident on Facebook, stating, “Birthright wouldn’t show us the occupation so we are going to see it for ourselves.”

In the broadcast, a woman is seen speaking to the rest of the group on the Birthright trip.

A tour guide quickly interrupts the woman before she announces the group’s departure from the program. The guide also continues to argue with her after she speaks.

“There is a group of us on this trip who have been asking questions and trying to engage and we have not been able to do that,” the woman says.

“As a result, the five of us will be leaving. As we get off the bus we will be going on a trip with Breaking the Silence to learn about the occupation from the perspective of Palestinians and IDF [Israeli military] soldiers.”

The five-strong group then walks to meet with Breaking the Silence, an organization comprised of Israeli military veterans who document human rights abuses committed against Palestinians.

“What we’ve seen firsthand on this trip is that Birthright is using a political agenda to miseducate tens of thousands of young Jews,” the five-strong group stated on Twitter.

“Birthright cynically believes the only way to get us to be in touch with our Jewish identity is to hide the occupation from us, but we felt compelled precisely by our Jewish values to seek out the truth by meeting Palestinians and confronting the reality here.”

Deporting human rights defenders

An activist with the antiwar group Codepink was deported by Israel on Sunday despite having a visa.

Ariel Gold had obtained an Israeli student visa in New York to attend Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Upon her arrival at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Gold was deported.

Gold is now considering trying to enter Palestine under the blatantly discriminatory “Law of Returnaccording to Haaretz. The Israeli law grants the automatic right to those it recognizes as Jews from anywhere in the world to immigrate and receive citizenship even if they have no connection to the country.

At the same time, Palestinians are barred from returning because they are not Jewish.

“It’s hard to believe I might not be allowed into a place that is so important to me,” she told Haaretz.

Gilad Erdan, Israel’s minister for strategic affairs, tried to defend Gold’s deportation, in comments made on Twitter.

Gold responded by saying that Erdan is “afraid of dissent” and that Israel “is in violation of Jewish values.”

In a statement, Gold said that “Israel claims to be a democratic country and a place where diaspora Jews are not only welcomed, but encouraged to visit.”

“Yet, more and more, the state’s repressive policies, which have always been applied to Palestinians, are being applied to anyone, even Jews, who are critical of occupation and apartheid.”

Gold said one of Israel’s goals in denying her and others entry is “to obstruct our relationships with Palestinians on the ground and with their peaceful movement for freedom and equal rights. As a result, Israel is increasingly isolating itself as a pariah state.”

In late June, Omar Shakir, the Jerusalem office director with Human Rights Watch, challenged in court Israel’s decision to revoke his work permit and order for his deportation.

Israel’s strategic affairs ministry has claimed the decision was based on Shakir’s support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. But Shakir said the “real aim is to muzzle dissent.”

“Today, Israel, flanked by pro-government NGOs, argued in court that my tweets highlighting Human Rights Watch’s call on companies to stop violating rights justifies deporting me,” he tweeted on the day of the hearing.

During the hearing, Shakir’s lawyer colleague Michael Sfar said that Israel is not after “the little Satan” – referring to Shakir – “but the big Satan, Human Rights Watch,” according to The Jerusalem Post.

“I’ve lived in Egypt and Syria, but first time my social media posts the subject of a judicial hearing,” Shakir tweeted. “We await a decision.”

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Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.