ASEERA AL-QIBLIYA, West Bank (Reuters) - Amateur video of Israeli soldiers appearing to watch idly as settlers opened fire on Palestinians throwing stones has emphasized the growing power of “citizen journalism” in the occupied West Bank.
Shaky footage, captured on Saturday from two angles by residents of Aseera al-Qibliya village, shows bearded residents from the nearby settlement of Yitzhar aiming a hand gun and assault rifle at the crowd, followed by sounds of gunfire.
A bloodied youth shot in the face was shown being carried away on the shoulders of fellow villagers. The video was soon posted on the Internet.
Teacher Ibrahim Makhlouf, who filmed the incident, lives by the brush scorched in the clashes on the village’s edge, beneath the gaze of the prefabricated suburbs of Yitzhar, which lie outside the official settlement boundary.
“We want the whole world to see what Israel and the settlers do to us. They steal our land and they attack us, and the world said we were the terrorists and criminals,” he said.
“Now we can make it clear who’s the aggressor and who’s attacking whom. The truth contradicts their claims about our situation.”
The Israeli Defence Force has ordered an investigation and confirmed that live fire was used during the confrontation. “That said, it appears that the video in question does not reflect the incident in its entirety,” it said in a statement.
A spokesman for the settlers said the violence flared when they were pelted with stones as they tried to put out a scrub fire allegedly started by the Palestinians.
B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, provided the cameras used to document the event, as part of a program started in 2007 whereby it has distributed around 150 camcorders to “citizen journalists” throughout the West Bank.
The group aims to use social media to bring alleged violations by settlers and the military into public view.
“The importance of our work is that we show what is being done in (Israel’s) name in the West Bank by our soldiers and by organs of our government,” said Sarit Michaeli, B’Tselem’s spokesperson.
“The media might just show one minute, but anyone who’s interested can watch this whole playlist and make up their own mind,” she said, referring to numerous videos showing the shootings uploaded to YouTube.
The incident was the latest in a series of images captured by activists and other people in the West Bank which are attracting fierce scrutiny by the international and Israeli media on practices in territory seized in the 1967 war.
Some 340,000 Jewish settlers live in the West Bank, which most refer to by the Biblical names of Judea and Samaria. Many claim an ancestral right to the land and reject the fact that the United Nations deems the settlements illegal.
A senior Israeli officer was suspended after being filmed striking a young Danish activist in the face with the butt of his rifle during a pro-Palestinian rally last month.
Lieutenant-Colonel Shalom Eisner argued that the initial video was deliberately fragmentary and concealed the violent nature of their gathering. Other clips released subsequently showed Eisner striking other people.
Circulated among army personnel, an internal memorandum obtained by Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth in the wake of the Eisner affair underscored mounting concern by the Israeli leadership over the influence of video on the media narrative.
“Remember it takes only 10 seconds out of hours of video footage to cause irreparable damage to the image of the soldiers, the army and the state,” the memo said.
“The media does not reflect reality as a mirror, but rather shapes and influences it. The Palestinians make good use of this tool. It’s important to be the one leading and not the one being led,” it continued, reflecting the fact that Israeli soldiers now often film incidents of unrest in order to advance their version of events.
IDF officers say their primary task in the West Bank is to defend settlers from Palestinian attacks.
In villages and at demonstrations throughout the West Bank, cameras now accompany stones and tear gas as an increasingly permanent fixture.
“Our impact is excellent if you consider that Nabi Saleh is a village of less than 600 people,” said Bilal Tamimi, an activist and wielder of a B’Tselem camera from a flashpoint area near an Israeli settlement and military base in the West Bank.
“People from around the world have learned what happens here through this distinct medium,” he said.
Editing by Crispian Balmer and Ralph Boulton