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From the field

Security forces threaten owner of cameras that captured killing of two teens in Bitunya

Shortly after 4:00 P.M. on Tuesday, 17 June 2014, soldiers showed up at a carpentry workshop not far from Bitunya Crossing. The workshop is owned by Fakhr Abu Zayed, 47, whose security cameras captured the killing of Nadim Nuwara, 17, and Muhammad Salameh, 16, by live fire on 15 May 2014. When the soldiers arrived, Abu Zayed’s employee ‘Ali a-Rimawi was in the shop alone. A-Rimawi told B’Tselem field researcher Iyad Hadad that a man in civilian clothes who was with the soldiers – apparently a member of the ISA (Israel Security Agency) – introduced himself as ‘Captain Sabri’ and asked for the whereabouts of Abu Zayed. According to a-Rimawi, when he replied that his employer was at a business meeting away from the workshop, “he told me to call Fakhr and tell him to get back to the workshop within five minutes, or he’d burn the place down. I called Fakhr on speakerphone, as Captain Sabri told me to do. Fakhr answered. I told him that the ISA was there with me and that he must get back within five minutes or they’d burn the place down. Captain Sabri took the phone from my hand and told Fakhr the same thing himself”.

Fakhr Abu Zayed hurried back to the workshop, arriving within minutes. In his testimony to B’Tselem, he said that the soldiers frisked him, took his mobile phones and ID card, and then took him into his own shop, where he met Captain Sabri: “He told me that he had a lot of things to discuss with me and that I had to go with them to Ofer [military base]. I asked him whether I was under arrest and he said I wasn’t. He said they wanted to talk to me and then I’d be released”.

Abu Zayed was taken in a military vehicle to the nearby Ofer Camp. After a short wait, he was taken into a room. Captain Sabri and about seven officers were already there. This is his account of what happened next:

“When I saw all the officers seated in the room, I got really scared. They were looking daggers at me, like they wanted to kill me. I could barely keep standing. They were seated around a T-shaped table, each with a notebook, a pen and a computer. One officer turned to me and said they would talk to me in Hebrew because I know the language. They passed around my ID card and wrote down my details. No one introduced himself.

One officer said to me: ‘Do you own the house with the cameras on it, the ones said to have recorded the killing of Nadim Nuwara? You’re responsible for that video, which is a fake and was altered.’ He accused me of lying to the media, to civilian bodies and to human rights organizations that operate in the Occupied Territories. He said I’d be charged under the martial law that applies in the West Bank. He claimed that I installed the cameras outside the workshop in order to track the military’s movements and said I was responsible for damaging the Israeli army’s reputation. I didn’t answer. Then the officer stopped talking to me and all the officers started whispering amongst themselves.

A few minutes later, he turned back to me and said that my cameras were illegal and that I had to take them down within 24 hours. I said nothing. They went back to whispering among themselves. After a few minutes, Captain Sabri took me out of the room. He said: 'Who do you think you are? This is the State of Israel, we're strong and we don't answer to anyone. I'll step on your head in front of everyone in the middle of Bitunya and I'll set dogs on your family'. His threat was clear. I fear for my life and for my family. I knew they were trying to get me to say that the footage of the killings, captured by chance on the cameras, wasn't genuine.

The officers stayed in the room for another hour or so. I waited outside the room with soldiers guarding me. When the officers came out of the room, Captain Sabri gave me back my ID card and told me to get out of there. I walked home, about a kilometer and a half distant. Then I went to the Palestinian police and filed a complaint".

Israeli security forces had already harassed Abu Zayed in connection with the killings of Nuwara and Salameh. On 30 May 2014, nearly two weeks after the killings, soldiers showed up at Abu Zayed’s home at approximately 2:00 A.M. They woke his family up and demanded to see the computers in the house and the recording device connected to the security cameras. A Civil Administration officer who was with the soldiers told Abu Zayed that he had tried to coordinate this search with the Palestinian DCO but its representatives had refused to cooperate. The troops left the house after approximately 40 minutes. They took the recording device with them, confiscating it on the grounds that it needed to undergo expert analysis as part of the investigation.

The actions of the Israeli security establishment in this case were unlawful. The footage inadvertently captured on Abu Zayed's security cameras proved that the two minors killed were not endangering lives and raised grave suspicion that they were shot intentionally. The explicit threats to Abu Zayed could undermine the criminal procedure. The law enforcement establishment would do better to focus efforts on investigating the fatal shootings, rather than resorting to scare tactics against a person who provided evidence of human rights violations. Moreover, the demand made of Abu Zayed that he remove the security cameras is also unlawful. Its aim is apparently to prevent documentation of future human rights violations at that spot, which sees frequent clashes between security forces and Palestinian youths.