Two broken cameras: photography as a protective tool

By former EAs Chris and Judith

Watching B’Tselem’s ongoing video camera project brought to mind Five Broken Cameras, the award-winning film released in 2011. Co-directed by Palestinian Emad Burnat and Israeli Guy Davidi, it follows the daily lives of an extended family living on the West Bank, and illustrates how profoundly life is affected by the separation barrier. The B’Tselem project, which has been running since 2007, provides video cameras and training to Palestinians who live in areas of the West Bank where tensions are high and clashes frequent. It aims to document daily life under occupation and capture everything from routine intimidation (from soldiers and settlers) to human rights violations that, under normal circumstances, are kept hidden. The use of the cameras has been described by some of their users as providing a protective presence deferring and curtailing violence.

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Nasser Nawaje with his camera. Photo: EAPPI

Nasser Nawaje, from Susiya in the South Hebron Hills, is the coordinator for the project in this area. 25 cameras have been distributed to villagers and the training, provided with the cameras, gives the users an understanding of the impact of the footage – when it is legal and illegal to film, and how to provide evidence to support cases of illegal arrests or house intrusions. Nasser keeps his camera in the car with him at all times.

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A bulldozer being used by the Israeli army to destroy a water cistern in a village in the South Hebron Hills. Photo: EAPPI

Though it can provide a protective presence, the video camera can also be provocative. Nasser is now using his third camera. The first was seized by the army while he was filming and the second was broken by a settler from the adjacent Susiya settlement.

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Abu Tariq out with his sheep, carrying his camera, ready to film any threats to him and his sheep from the neighbouring settlement of Nof Nesher. Photo: EAPPI

Further north in the Bethlehem region, the head of a local senior boys’ school has recognised the potential use of cameras. He is in touch with the local B’Tselem representative to see if they can assist the school with cameras and the training. The school was recently the target of an incursion by the Israeli army, which forced entry into the school on the day of a commemoration for a 17-year-old pupil who was shot dead by Israeli forces in January. During the incident, three teachers were injured by tear gas and pepper spray. The school day was disrupted for all its 500 pupils.

Other communities across the West Bank are benefitting from the use of cameras. The YMCA is also providing training in the use of cameras, for example for their Resilience Livelihood Project. Working with marginalised communities, staff empower local communities to come together in ‘protection committees’. These committees then use the photographs and videos as powerful, contemporaneous, evidence of human rights abuses and violations. These keep the national press, local authorities and social media informed of events as they happen.

The Lajee Center of the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem has also developed the use of cameras and smartphones as effective tools for recording incidents of incursions by the Israeli army into the camp and its surrounding areas. The children and young people are taught how to take photographs and videos and also how to post the pictures on social media sites. These bear powerful witness to the struggles they experience in their daily lives.

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Watch Five Broken Cameras.