Israeli Plan to Jail Anyone Filming Soldiers in the West Bank Hits Legal Wall

Despite Avichai Mendelblit's reservations for constitutional reasons, ministerial panel okays bill but demands other changes before Knesset vote

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Israeli soldiers restrain a Palestinian in Hebron in September 2016.
Israeli soldiers restrain a Palestinian in Hebron in September 2016.Credit: AFP
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The proposed Israeli law that would ban the filming of soldiers carrying out their duties is problematic from a constitutional standpoint which may prevent its enactment, says Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit.

Despite the attorney general's reservations, on Sunday, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved the bill, but demanded significant changes in its wording and further discussion in the committee, in advance of the preliminary vote on it in the Knesset plenum.

The parliament is expected to vote in favor of the proposed law, sponsored by MK Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beiteinu), once it is revised substantially.

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A senior member of the coalition told Haaretz that an agreement had been reached with Ilatov whereby the proposed law will call for a ban on interfering with Israel Defense Forces soldiers in the line of duty, but there will not be a total prohibition on filming and documenting such activities. 

Credit: Yesh Din

The final wording of the bill has yet to be agreed upon but coalition MKs say it would call for a prison sentence of up to three years for preventing a soldier from carrying out his duties.

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The version of the law approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation calls for a five-year prison term for anyone filming or distributing footage on social media that documents confrontations between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians, with the intent to “break the spirit of Israeli soldiers and inhabitants.”

Anyone who documents such activities and disseminates the information with an intent to harm national security could face up to 10 years in prison.

“For many years," according to explanatory information appended to the text of the bill, "Israel has witnessed a worrisome phenomenon in which IDF soldiers are being documented.

"Via video, stills and audio recordings by anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian groups such as B’Tselem, the women of Machsom Watch, Breaking the Silence and various BDS groups. In many instances, these organizations spend entire days near IDF soldiers waiting with baited breath for some action they can document in a biased way in order to slander the IDF," according to the addendum.

"Such documentation generally interferes with ongoing and operational IDF duties, sometimes accompanied by accusations and insults being hurled in their faces.”

Defense Minister Lieberman hailed the bill in a tweet. “I congratulate the Ministerial Committee for Legislation for approving the Yisrael Beiteinu bill that bans taking pictures of of our security forces with the purpose of delegitimizing them,” he wrote.

“Israeli soldiers are under attack from groups of people who want to destroy Israel and support terror who want to discredit, humiliate and harm them. Let’s put an end to this!,” he concluded.

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