Palestinian videos of Israeli brutality turns viewers into witnesses

With the development of technologies and the popularity of social media comes the rise of pedestrian surveillance of police and state brutality on an international level. Many people have witnessed injustices and took it upon themselves to document them with their phones and post the footage online or send them to various media outlets. In turn, these videos instigate actions and promote changes among communities who believe that their oppressors are silencing and sweeping under the rug the voices and experiences of the oppressed. We have seen the documentation of police brutality across the United States as police officers felt entitled to take the lives of Eric Garner and a countless number of Black lives. We have also seen state violence against Syrians in Syria and in European countries as they protested against state violence or sought refuge. Such documentation is widely used across Palestine as well, for Palestinians use their phones and cameras to record the various forms of colonial and state violence that they experience on a daily basis. So why do Palestinians feel the need to document such forms of brutality and what does this insinuate?

The increasingly dreadful situation in Palestine

Every day that Israel continues to exist, the more that Palestinians are suffering from an illegal and relentless occupation that has left them in dire living conditions both inside and outside of Palestine. The decades of Israel’s colonial, military, and economic oppression has forced Palestinians to desperately fight for freedom and justice as such two notions are nonexistent in their communities. Early October of last year marks what many refer to as “The Third Intifada,” “Al-Quds Intifada,” and “The Intifada of the Knife,” which initiated after a surge of Israeli violence against Palestinians, particularly against Palestinian women who sought to protect Masjid Al-Aqsa and protest against Israel’s constant invasions and blockades of the compound. Since then, there has been a rise in both violent and non-violent resistance across the country which has led to Israel executing many heartbreaking forms of punishment: Israel has killed more than 130 lives, imprisoned over 500 men, women, and children, invaded hospitals to abduct injured Palestinians seeking treatment, framed Palestinians to offer a justification to the many racially charged settler attacks against them and demolished the homes of those who have a family member that took part in resisting the occupation.

This is not the first time that such uprisings have taken place. The First Intifada (1987-1993) began after an Israeli in an IDF car killed 4 Palestinians who were working in Tel Aviv, and resulted with Israel killing over 1,150 lives and injuring over 120,000 Palestinians.  The Second Intifada (2000-2005), ignited by Ariel Sharon’s entrance of Masjid Al-Aqsa, resulted with the death toll reaching 3,000. Unlike the former two, this current uprising takes place with a new generation of people who are accustomed to some of the technological developments that this world has seen, and they are putting it to good by using their phones and cameras to document and record Israel’s acts of violence towards Palestinians.

The nature of these videos

There are many types of videos that people and news outlets have circulated. However, in this intifada most of videos present instances of Israeli violence. One form of violence that has been documented on camera involves IDF soldiers and Israeli settlers shooting at Palestinians with live ammunition and rubber-coated steel bullets that have both injured and killed many Palestinians. An example of this was uploaded online and reveals Isra Abed who was shot multiple times at a bus station in Jerusalem for allegedly trying to stab an IDF soldier. Another video was uploaded online showing a young Palestinian schoolgirl at a Bethlehem checkpoint being cornered by IDF soldiers who dropped a knife on the floor and forced her to pick it up and afterwards taking her away as she wept. Another type of video that was circulating involves Israeli soldiers dressed as Palestinians attending protests, and attacking two protestors from Birzeit University, leaving one with serious injuries and the other handicapped.

Other videos show Palestinians of all genders and ages attending protests nationwide in order to encourage mobilization among the people, such as in Beit El, where young men and women, many of whom study at Birzeit University, participated in protests against the occupation which resulted with IDF soldiers injuring and arresting the protestors. Some videos also show funeral processions for martyrs, which hundreds to thousands of Palestinians attended to show their respect and send their condolences.

Palestinian voice is unparalleled to that of an Israeli  

There is a common practice amongst most criminal justice systems in the world that one is innocent until proven guilty. However, the fact that Palestinians feel the need to provide video footage of maltreatment indicates that the narratives of victims who lack political power or adequate evidence is not given value when set against those who do have such power. The overpowering value of the Israeli narrative comes as a result of Israel’s strong political authority, and, therefore, the ability to cast aside the narratives of the other; as well as their tendency to dehumanize Palestinians in order to promote violence against them.  By recording these events, Palestinians are showing their understanding of this imbalance, and how proof, undeniable evidence, is needed to ensure one people’s innocence and another people’s guilt among the national and international community, as well as in Israeli courts. Israeli brutality has a long and dark history and these videos should make it evident to those who view it that Israel has time and again infringed upon the basic rights of Palestinians.

However, despite the clarity of these videos, Israelis and members of the international community cast those aside as being untrue or as being justified acts by claiming that the settlers or IDF soldiers are simply defending themselves. The reason that this is the case can be explained by Marita Sturken and Lisa Cartwright’s understanding of how the meaning of images is negotiated. They believe that the way in which images affect those who look upon it depends on the socio-political and cultural context of those individuals, and that the meaning of images is derived by how they are “consumed, viewed, and interpreted.” Essentially, the way in which things are understood is subjective and comes as a result of the consumer’s experiences or beliefs. With that in mind, when some Israelis and internationals watch these videos, what they see is violent, backwards, anti-Semitic and uncultured Arabs or Muslims, and that the Israeli government and its “defense forces” are doing what they see fit to ensure the safety and security of its innocent people. That is what they have been conditioned to believe. Whereas other members of those same communities who watch these videos understand that they are watching unjust acts against an oppressed community and its people saying that they have had enough of neocolonialism and its ruthless nature. They also understand that Palestinians do not protest and resist as a result of their alleged “hatred and anti-Semitic nature.” Rather they do what the feel is necessary as a result of the malformed way in which Israel treats, oppresses, persecutes, imprisons, rapes, and colonizes them. The unfortunate truth, however, is that the former group is the one with the most political power and it is that narrative that has the overruling voice.   

The rise of Palestinian self-determination

Palestinians are starting to rely on themselves and the power of the people to instigate change. After decades of Israel’s illegal occupation, Palestinians have come to learn that the Palestinian Authority and other international governments, and the many non-governmental organizations have prolonged the existence of the occupation instead of putting an end to it. They understand that the Palestinian Authority has no power against Israel and are too caught up in negotiations using propositions that in no way reflect or represent the wants and needs of Palestinians. They are also aware that the PA is too caught up in their attempts to oppress its people and calm down the uprising by banning protests across the country instead of supporting or at least tolerating such forms of resistance. Some countries, like the US, are profiting from Israel economically and militarily and are, therefore, constantly showing their everlasting support to it and its violent ways. International governments and non-governmental organizations constantly fail to take the source of the occupation and violence, Israel, by its roots and put an end to their countless crimes against humanity; they have focused instead on promoting coexistence while Israeli aggression against Palestinians is not only continuing but is getting stronger and more vicious as time passes. With this understanding of the current situation in mind, Palestinians are becoming increasingly less dependent on these different organizations while being more critical of their activities.

The documentation of real events through video makes its viewers witnesses, and it can help prove the innocence or guilt of particular parties and social activists and the like. These videos also provide evidence supporting the claim that Israel takes part in racially motivated crimes against Palestinians. But more importantly, what these videos do is encourage and motivate other Palestinians to partake in a movement whose main goal is the liberation of Palestine, and, therefore, the end of an illegal occupation that has oftentimes made living unbearable.  The rise of technology and the ability for anyone with a smartphone to record events of police and state brutality means that video advocacy will continue to exist and it will continue to be used as a tool by the oppressed in their pursuit of freedom and justice.   

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