Media Comment: To film or not to film?

Israel is on the receiving end of too many negative portrayals.

Elor Azaria, July 29 2017. (photo credit: MAARIV)
Elor Azaria, July 29 2017.
(photo credit: MAARIV)
An important part of the media scene in Israel is the weekend brochures distributed freely in the synagogues. Originally, they were supposed to be a source of commentary on the weekly Torah portion, but rapidly became a money-making machine, attracting advertising as well as providing political news to synagogue goers. Various organizations use this medium to give their viewpoint on current events.
One of these leaflets is titled “Yesha Shelanu” (“Our Judea, Samaria and Gaza”). It is funded and distributed by the Yesha Council. This past week’s brochure was dedicated in part to the issue of social media and the immediate broadcasting of terrorist attacks.
There had been a meeting of the Yesha Council with the IDF Brig.-Gen. Eran Niv, commander of the IDF’s Judea and Samaria Division, and leaks of security camera footage of terrorist attacks on social media were discussed. According to the report, Niv claimed such clips harm the families of the victim, who are exposed to them before the tragic information can be provided through official channels. Moreover, he said, the clips are a source of inspiration and even instruction for potential terrorists. The recommendation the council accepted was to call for a halt in spreading these clips.
But there is another side to this issue.
As we well know, Israel is on the receiving end of too many negative portrayals. Our enemies do not hesitate to providing negative pictures of events as soon as they happen. Sometimes their clips are fabricated, in the best “Pallywood” tradition, sometimes they are truthful – but only ever half truthful. Rarely do they provide reasonably objective documentation of events. When such clips go viral, Israel is immediately attacked and our armed forces more often than not blamed for wanton murder of innocents. The world is not sufficiently aware of what our enemies really carry out.
Partly in response to the fake news emanating from Israel, Amotz Eyal founded TPS, Tazpit News Services, which has been providing news in real time to major media outlets about what’s really happening in the field. This has not stopped the flow of fake news but at least it has given our friends and supporters a basis on which to refute the false allegations of our enemies.
But this is not enough. Too often, the IDF itself has reacted too slowly to events, allowing the foreign media much leeway to give Israel a black eye. By the time the IDF gives its official version, it is too late. Lately, the IDF has seemingly understood the potential for damage and is making efforts to provide real-time coverage. The case of the downing of the Iranian drone a few weeks ago is one example.
It is true that often, the information in amateur video footage can be harmful and terribly hurtful to the loved ones of the victim. We also accept that some terrorists might be inspired by or learn from these clips, though especially in the case of the murder of Rabbi Ben-Gal there is not much to learn. We also note that many clips from the period of car-ramming terrorist attacks in Jerusalem were released to the public by the police relatively shortly after the events happened.
But one should also think about the victim and potential future victims. One may guess that if anything, the victim would want his or her tragedy to be the last and so would do everything possible to use it to defend others against the terrorists. Such defense is also part of these clips. For example, the very fact that these clips exist carries with it a lesson that not only should one always be alert to one’s surroundings, but also serves as a warning to terrorists – you are being observed. Such videos could be crucial in preventing a future tragedy. Additionally, by showing the world what actually happened, one undermines the very effect that these terrorists seek to achieve.
Indeed, such clips also lead to negative situations, such as in the Elor Azaria case, where video footage showed the death of a terrorist after he had been arrested by IDF forces. On the other hand, if a crime is committed by a soldier, that fact should emerge – a crime is a crime, and should not be left unpunished.
If Brig.-Gen. Niv is correct, that video clips can motivate future acts of terrorism, one might question why there were no copycat extra-judicial killings of wounded Arabs after the Azaria footage was aired. Is it possible that it’s not the videos that are the problem, but the mindset of our enemies?
In most cases it is the IDF which is on the receiving end. Organizations such as B’Tselem have provided the media with clips that they edited, manipulating thereby IDF actions, showing them in the worst possible light.
The cellphone and its built-in camera is a weapon. It can be – and is – used for offensive purposes by interested parties who wish us ill. It should also be used as a defensive weapon.
Yes, people do get hurt, but that always happens in war. The defense of Israel is more important than the harm along the way. We urge everyone: always have your cellphones ready. Use them – if you don’t, someone else, seeking our harm, will. Use them responsibly, of course. You, the person on the spot, are all too often our best defense.
The authors are members of Israel’s Media Watch (