By Lubaba Thouqan
Draft legislation that would criminalize the photographing of Israeli forces while engaged in military operations -- a first reading of which was already approved by the Knesset -- has sparked controversy.
If passed, the legislation would leave photojournalists covering conflict in the Palestinian territories vulnerable to arrest by Israeli military personnel.
Alaa Freijat, a lawyer for the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, says the bill is specifically aimed at stopping Palestinian journalists from covering critical events.
“The law was drawn up to serve the occupation,” he said. “It violates all international agreements.”
Freijat went on to describe the legislation as “unprecedented”, noting that, even during the world wars of the last century, journalists had the right to cover events.
According to Israeli legislative procedure, three separate readings of a bill must be approved by the Knesset before it is passed into law.
The bill was introduced by three MPs from the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party, which is led by Israel’s hardline defense minister, Avigdor Liberman.
According to the bill’s provisions, taking photos or film of active Israeli military personnel would become punishable with between five and 10 years behind bars.
Hisham Abu Shakra, a Palestinian photojournalist, said the bill “directly targets Palestinian reporters”.
Nevertheless, he expressed defiance.
“Even if it is passed, this law will not stop us from doing our work,” Abu Shakra told Anadolu Agency.
According to Abdul Rahim Quseini, a Palestinian photographer for the Reuters news agency, the bill -- if passed into law -- “will deprive the Palestinians of their most important weapon: photographic evidence of Israel’s crimes”.
The bill was first proposed in April after video footage released online -- showing jubilant Israeli soldiers gunning down Palestinian protesters -- sparked international outrage.
For almost four months, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have been holding almost daily demonstrations near the Gaza-Israel buffer zone.
Since the demonstrations began on Mar. 30, more than 140 Palestinian protesters have been martyred -- and thousands more injured -- by Israeli army gunfire.
Protesters demand the “right of return” to their homes and villages in historical Palestine from which they were driven in 1948 to make way for the new state of Israel.