January/February 2012, Pages 45-46
Visual Impact: B'tselem's Camera Distribution Project
The Israeli-based human rights organization B'Tselem held a Nov. 7 special event at Busboys and Poets in Washington, DC featuring two Palestinian filmmakers and some clips that they and other Palestinians have taken in the West Bank and Gaza to document and expose Israeli human rights violations.
Moderator Uri Zaki, the Israeli director of B'Tselem USA, began by explaining that B'Tselem works to expose the Israeli public to human rights violations committed against the Palestinian people. One of its strategies is to give hundreds of cameras to Palestinians to record these human rights violations—thereby creating citizen journalists. Palestinians often use these cameras to film protests, military checkpoints, or other situations where they might come in contact with Israeli soldiers or settlers.
Panelist Arafat Kanaan, 18, who is from the West Bank town of Ni'lin, described the camera as "a good tool to resist the occupation." His sister filmed the notorious incident when Lt. Col. Omri Borberg held a handcuffed and blindfolded Palestinian while another Israeli soldier shot the detainee in the foot. It was this documentation, which led to the prosecution of an Israeli soldier, which persuaded Arafat to use a camera himself. Since then, he has been arrested twice for filming protests in which he himself was not participating.
Yoav Gross, director of B'Tselem's video department, explained that it's necessary to show the films to the Israeli public in order to get them to pay attention to the Palestinian situation. As someone who grew up in West Jerusalem and served in the Israeli army intelligence unit for the mandatory three-year military service, Gross said he had never met Palestinians before, much less understood them as a people. This lack of knowledge, he explained, is common among Jewish Israelis and is what convinced him to work with B'Tselem. In addition to using their cameras to document human rights violations, Palestinians have also used them to express their narratives.
Awatif Aljadili, a filmmaker from Gaza, explained that her goal is to show a different aspect of Gaza: the humanity of the people there. She does this, Aljadili said, by showing the "part of life never seen," which to her is "the daily life of the people in Gaza"—something most people, specifically Israelis, never see. In her opinion, a camera is more powerful than a rocket because it shows Israelis who the people in Gaza really are—ordinary civilians, not just fighters, as has been typically assumed. Aljadili compared the struggle of the people of Gaza as shifting from a Che Guevara mindset to one more similar to Mohandas Gandhi.
According to moderator Zaki, when it comes to the Israel-Palestine issue, "human rights dialogue here in the U.S. is absent from the political debate." In Israel, on the other hand, their program is working to foster a stronger culture of human rights and social justice by making Israelis aware of the realities of occupation in the Palestinian territories.