When filming a protest ‘endangers state security’

Anti-occupation activists say that two soldiers threatened them, and when they called police, the cops detained them instead — on suspicion of endangering state security.

By Michael Salisbury-Corech

Like every week the past 26 years, a group called “Women in Black” held a demonstration against the occupation in Jerusalem’s Paris Square last Friday. Across the street, around five people held a counter protest, which two Israeli soldiers eventually joined.

At some point, the soldiers decided to cross the street, and according to Women in Black activists threatened them and demanded that they stop filming — because they are soldiers.

Feeling threatened, the protesters called police. Some 15 minutes later, several officers arrived. The officers also threatened the Women in Black protesters that if they didn’t stop filming and delete their video that they would be detained on suspicion of “harming state security.”

Watch the video in Hebrew:

There is no law in Israel that forbids photographing or filming in a public space, even of soldiers. There is no small amount of case law upholding that principle. The activists tried to explain that to the officers — to no avail.

When the activists refused to stop filming and delete their footage, two of them were indeed detained and taken to a police station at which point police confiscated their cameras.

The activists were not ever questioned about any suspected crime and were released about 30 minutes after arriving at the police station. Officers refused to return their camera equipment and memory cards. Only after an attorney intervened did officers return the cameras and memory cards.

+972’s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call, sent the video to a police spokesperson along with a number of questions: Does Israel Police believe that it is illegal to film or photograph soldiers on a public street? Do such photographs or footage constitute harm to state security in its view? And did police transfer the activists complaints about being threatened by the soldiers’ to military police.

The only response we received was that “the film shows only part of the full picture, in which after a call to police, [officers] conducted an normal examination, during which the complaint was checked comprehensively, including with the appropriate professional ranks within the police, at the end of which nobody was arrested and nothing was seized.”

The police spokesperson also added that “attempts to create provocations will not make police any less diligent in carrying out their duty on behalf of the public.” It was unclear to which provocation they referred: the activists, the soldiers or the police officers.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.