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Photo by: REUTERS
Grumpy old man: Way out of focus
By LAWRENCE RIFKIN
05/08/2014
The IDF has inexplicably left visual documentation of the public battlefield to the enemy.
 
A street video filmed on April 27 shows an IDF soldier in Hebron cocking his Tavor assault rifle at Arab youths. The soldier, wearing the chartreuse beret of the Nahal Brigade, which has been assigned to the Hebron theater of operations for the past several months, was later identified as David Admov.

The footage is watermarked with the name Youth Against Settlements, an organization that describes itself on its website as a “national Palestinian non-partisan activist group which seeks to end Israeli colonization activities in Palestine (building and expanding settlements) through non-violent popular struggle and civil disobedience,” adding that it is based in Hebron.

It begins with 15-year-old Sohaib Abu Nijmeh, who moves in close to Admov and tells him to “call the police,” as if this was something the soldier had threatened to do prior to the beginning of the footage.

Admov begins to push him away, but Nijmeh brushes him off. The soldier looks down, moves closer to Nijmeh and says, “It won’t be worth your while to do that again.” The teen moves in even closer, literally sticking his face into Admov’s, and says, “What?” Admov repeats himself and moves even closer, at which point he shoves the youth away. Nijmeh, though, does not back off, and Admov raises his weapon and loudly sends a round into the chamber.

At precisely this moment another Palestinian male, 20-year-old Saddam Abu Sonieneh, darts from the side, perhaps a meter behind Admov, who quickly turns and aims his weapon at the intruder.

Sonieneh exchanges a few heated words with the soldier before Nijmeh grabs him and pulls him away.

As the two Palestinians walk off camera, Admov’s words go beyond what can be published in a family newspaper, but it’s clear that he’s way beyond peeved, so he turns toward a second local cameraman who appears to have been filming the incident from behind the one from Youth Against Settlements. “Turn off the camera!” Admov tells him, angrily walking in his direction.

“Turn off the camera,” he shouts, “or I’ll give you a bullet in the head!” At this point Admov yanks a walkie- talkie from his belt and calls for backup amid onlookers who have pulled out their smartphones and begun recording. The footage ends with what appears to be another soldier hauling Nijmeh off toward either an army or police post, and young settlers holding their hands up to the cameras, telling the photographers to stop filming.

Street theater, Hebron-style.

THE VIDEO was quickly distributed, mostly via social media websites, and just as quickly it was reported that Admov had been relieved of his duties and even kicked out of the brigade. This in turn led to an immediate backlash by what seemed like thousands of IDF soldiers from all types of units and backgrounds who felt that once again it was the sentry being left to twist in the wind for lack of proper policy and backing by the higher-ups. They had one message: “Gam ani im hanahlawi” – I, too, am with the Nahal soldier. (Few, though, seemed to ask the simple question: Why was this guy on guard all alone in a wild place like Hebron?) Quickly, IDF sources attempted to clarify things by saying that Admov had been punished for having earlier attacked fellow soldiers, and not for what transpired on camera. A military source later told me that the soldier had been court-martialed for assaulting his platoon commander and a sergeant, and on April 27 was waiting to start his prison sentence. The source added, however, that Admov’s immediate commanders had agreed that he acted correctly in seeking to maintain a physical distance from Nijmeh and, when feeling he was under threat, cocking his weapon.

Finally, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz made it more than clear that social media sites were not the venue for soldiers’ reactions to IDF policy.

“It’s important that we remember and tell our subordinates in a clear manner that Facebook is not a command tool,” he was quoted as saying. “It [Facebook] is here, and that’s a fact, but it is not a replacement or even a parallel channel for dialogue between commanders and their soldiers.”

All of this, however, is a red herring. The real story goes well beyond Admov’s behavior while in uniform, whether toward the enemy or people on his own side. And it’s not really whether the army totally supports its soldiers or just sends them out to do an impossible job and then blames the privates when things go wrong. It’s the fact that the IDF has inexplicably left visual documentation of the public battlefield to the enemy.

THE RIGHTS group B’Tselem was one of the first (if not the very first) to distribute simple video cameras to Palestinians so that they could make a record of what goes on in the territories. (In speaking with me, though, the NGO was adamant that it maintained no ties with Youth Against Settlements and had not supplied the camera used to document the Admov incident.) The footage recorded with these cameras might not hold up in a military court, but it certainly can show another side of the conflict to anyone willing to look. In fact, you might call these cameras the Palestinians’ weapon of choice in their daily dealings with life under occupation.

The military now seems to be coming around to the need for documentation, as the economic newspaper Globes reported on April 6.

“Years later than it should have, the IDF has come to understand that stealth fighters and smart bombs are not enough to win the battle for public opinion, and that one good picture can save commissions of inquiry and a few other international headaches,” reporter Yuval Azulai wrote. “En route to this victory, the IDF decided to forgo one or two guns on the battlefield, and to replace them with still or video cameras that will make it possible to tell the same story to the world, in an entirely different way.”

But the army seems to have missed the mark. According to the report, the IDF has trained only 24 “combat cameramen” who apparently will be embedded in regular units.

“When the forces advance toward their target with their fingers on their triggers,” the Globes story continued, “the combat cameraman points a loaded, battle-adapted camera, so the IDF can guarantee itself victory in the next battle – the one that will follow the moment the soldiers have left the heat of the battlefield: the battle of how the operation is perceived.”

Huh? In an age of the ubiquitous micro-cam, whether mounted on a traffic cop’s dashboard, the purse handle of an undercover reporter or the helmet of some wired snowboarder, skydiver or motocross nut, we are now privy to anything that unfolds before a couple of convex pieces of plastic capping a pixelated chip of your basic, garden-variety silicon. There’s not even a need for wires.

Considering the grunts and cops all over the world who now seem to be wearing them, why on earth are our own soldiers – especially those tasked with the next-to-impossible assignment of trying to maintain peace in the West Bank – not similarly equipped? They are given weapons and equipment that cost thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars, but for some reason the IDF cannot lay out 50 bucks for a 2-megapixel head-mounted video camera from Deal Extreme (shipping included).

Something here is way out of focus.
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