Background information for citizen journalists in the West Bank

B’Tselem now has several years of experience with citizen journalism, photography and documentation in the West Bank. By sharing that experience with you on this page, we hope to aid human rights activists and photographers working there, and elsewhere. 

The importance of the camera in human rights and social change activism has become self-evident. A camera – or cellphone – plus YouTube (or Ustream, for the advanced user) are now basic tools in nearly every social struggle on earth.

Good documentation is obviously essential, both to support effective information dissemination via social networks and the media, and to serve as evidence when human rights – yours’ or others’ – are violated. The very presence of a camera often drives significant change, pushing everyone involved to think twice about resorting to violence.

Here are some guiding principles we share with B’Tselem volunteers:

  • Know the law. See below for some basic legal principles for photographing in the West Bank and in Israel. Get the phone number of a human rights lawyer and keep it handy.
  • Concentrate on filming. Stay out of what is happening. Stepping back a little can produce a better overview. If you commit to photograph something, do that. Let others do the rest.
  • Protect your documentation, long term. Know the basic principles for handling and conserving video. 
  • Learn about filming. The American organization “Witness” offers online instructional clips for new videographers (in five languages).
  • Use a camera, rather than a cell phone when possible. It helps you concentrate on the task of documentation and produces better quality results.
  • Open a YouTube channel. Apart from the obvious benefits for publicizing your clips, YouTube is a marvelous tool for rapid sharing with fellow activists. Make sure to designate as “unlisted” a clip that is not for publication, so that only colleagues to whom you send the link can view it.

Click here for more tips written for Occupy Wall Street activists, most of which are also relevant for local activists.


Filming in the West Bank: Basic legal principles

* Bear in mind that these are only the basic principles. When something substantial is involved, consult an attorney. 

The right to film in the West Bank 

In a letter from a Public Inquiries Officer, the IDF Central Command, states:

“In general, filming in Judea and Samaria is permitted, including filming of IDF soldiers, so long as nothing about the filming interferes with the forces’ operations or serves to collect classified information.”

What is prohibited from being filmed?

  • Army facilities
  • Court proceedings
  • General Security Services (“shabak”) personnel.

Filming at checkpoints

Although the definition above permits the filming of demonstrations, arrests, operations pursuant to military orders, and confrontations with soldiers, one can argue that filming at checkpoints is intended to collect information about security checking methods and hence could be considered “information of military value.” Also bear in mind that police regulations prohibit filming at police checkpoints.

Confiscation of filmed material

The police are allowed to confiscate filmed material, even without an order, if there is a suspicion that it documents a crime being committed. Army forces have no such authority, but can detain the citizen journalist until the arrival of police.

Injury to citizen journalists

If the behavior of police or soldiers is contrary to these regulations and interferes with filming, a complaint against them may be filed. For more information, see "A Demonstrator’s Rights in the Occupied Territories, published by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.

 

If you encounter a problem not covered on this page, please contact yoav@btselem.org

Good luck! 

In January 2007, B'Tselem launched its camera distribution project, a video advocacy project. We provide Palestinians living in high-conflict areas with video cameras, with the goal of bringing the reality of their lives under occupation to the attention of the Israeli and international public.

B’Tselem and the Guardian gave six Palestinians and Israelis cameras to create video diaries of their lives in occupied East Jerusalem, under the shadow of the settlement enterprise.