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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Do B'Tselem's cameras cause terror?

In recent weeks there has been an increase in reported attacks in Judea and Samaria, both from Jews who live there as well as from Arabs. A perfect case in point is last week's attack by an Arab in Yitzhar, where a nine-year old boy was injured and the Jews responded with violence against the village that sheltered the attacker.

Why are these attacks increasing now?

There are certainly a number of possible reasons: the tearing down of some checkpoints and the defeatist statements made by the Israeli government as it tries to come up with more and more concessions to please President Bush and Condoleeza Rice by the end of the year can surely be considered contributing factors.

But something else might also be a more direct reason.

In 2007, Palestinian Arab rights group B'Tselem started distributing cameras to PalArabs in the territories in order to enable them to take pictures and videos of any Israeli abuses they could find. This year some of the footage got a degree of publicity and the program has expanded.

Last week, Yochanan Visser of Efrat wrote a letter where he decried the attack on IDF soldiers by some settlers. But in that same letter came some details about the Jewish/Arab attacksthat were not publicized anywhere else:
This Shabbat a Palestinian stabbed a 9-year old boy in Yitzhar in his home, after which Jewish inhabitants of Yitzhar went on a rampage in the neighboring Arab village in which 8 Palestinians were wounded.

It is obvious that the situation in some areas in the West Bank is deteriorating. On the website of Israel -Facts Dutch monitor group we have been monitoring events in the West Bank for some time now. From the data we are collecting there evolves a picture of some very problematic areas, one of them Yitzhar. From these data we also learn that most of the reported incidents do not make it to mainstream media. In fact only the incidents like the one this Shabbat are reported. From our data we also learn that there are more Palestinian incidents against Jews than the other way around.

The same one-sided reporting accounts for the so-called "camera" incidents. From our own investigations we learn that these incidents are filmed at the moment of response to the original provocation. Like the incident on Shabbat also, some six weeks ago in Har Hebron the media reported that "settlers" set on fire a Palestinian field and also abused an arrested Palestinian in the presence of IDF soldiers. From further investigation we learned that it was the Palestinians who set the Jewish orchard on fire (not surprisingly for us because all the Jews living there are observant and would never make a fire on Shabbat) after which the Jews living there took revenge - this part was filmed.

We also learned that activists from leftist organizations like B'Tselem and Peace Now are fanning the flames in the West Bank. Their goal seems to be to provoke as many possible incidents in very sensitive areas like Hebron and Ni'ilin. They also publish mostly biased reports about events in the West Bank, apparently with the goal of further de-legitimating Jewish settlements there. The focus seems to have shifted from demonstrations to violent acts against IDF forces and Jews living in the West Bank.
I cannot say with certainty that the leftists are provoking these Arab attacks in order to video the responses, but it certainly seems that the Arabs themselves have started to do so.

Not that random rampages through Arab villages are justified, but there are great political gains to be made by provoking Jewish settlers into violence where cameras are waiting to catch them in the act. And while sometimes the Israelis have photographic evidence to show that attacks originated by Arabs (as in this weekend, when a 15-year old Palestinian Arab was caught on video lighting a Molotov cocktail outside Yitzhar) the grainy thermal security-camera video is not as dramatic as color video of enraged settlers attacking. (And even the clear evidence that the boy was lighting an incendiary device doesn't stop the Arab media from saying that the IDF murdered him "in cold blood.")

So we have a situation where the world media is seeing an apparent increase of Jewish violence towards Arabs, fanned by the existence of video, while in fact it is the other way around - and the number of unreported incidents of Arab violence are increasing dramatically.

(Even the Israeli media ignores much of the Arab violence. Early last year when I visited Israel I was doubly shocked by the desecration of a synagogue at a major Jewish shrine and theft of at least one Torah - and the fact that this incident was almost ignored even in the right-wing Israeli newspapers. One of my commenters mentioned that this is simply a "dog bites man" story and incidents like that happen with alarming frequency. So part of the fault has to lie with the Israeli media for ignoring stories that might bore some Israeli readers but open the eyes of the world.)