In an unusual move, the IDF spokesperson has publicly criticized the leftist B’Tselem group for what it called the “ongoing efforts to defame IDF soldiers.” In a social media post, IDF General Motti Elgaz, who heads the Spokesperson’s Office, said that “you continue to produce there materials in the name of freedom of speech, even though that concept has nothing to do with your actions. We will continue to defend Israelis, despite this.”
Elgaz was responding to a social media post by B’Tselem, which promoted a production by the organization which purports to show the “true face of the occupation,” but which Elgaz said was “produced” for the sole purpose of making soldiers look bad. In footage taken by a B’Tselem film crew, soldiers who are trying to break up an Arab riot outside the Shomron town of Yitzhar are seen trying to chase a camera crew away, with one soldier pointing his weapon at a member of the crew and trying to grab his camera – an ostensible violation of freedom of the press, and attributable to the “corruption of the occupation,” B’Tselem said.
Displaying the post next to a photo of a soldier on patrol in Shomron, B’Tselem said “to the parents of the soldier with the dimples and the smile in this photo: If you wish to really take pride in your brave son’s work on active duty, come to see our production in Tel Aviv. There you will see how he and the soldiers on patrol with him shout out orders in broken Arabic, calling in to his commander that ‘there are three people filming me here, not that it bothers me.'”
But Elgaz said that such incidents were designed for just the opposite effect – to publicly demonstrate how badly soldiers behaved, even if the incident in question was incited. Elgaz said that the entire incident took place solely so that footage of “soldiers behaving badly” could be taken. “There is a profound difference between the filming of an incident in progress and the creation of circumstances involving incidents such as the one seen in the B’Tselem footage,” Elgaz wrote. “You in B’Tselem usually choose the second alternative and cause tensions that did not exist previously. The soldier in the footage you highlighted acted properly, with full backing of his commanders. You keep producing these ‘freedom of the press’ items, and we will continue with our work of defending Israelis without politicizing the work of IDF soldiers.”
In response, B’Tselem said that “we must make it clear to the IDF Spokesperson that Palestinians do not just “show up with a camera” but rather that they are living on their land. Regrettably, the social media post by the IDF Spokesperson demonstrates once again that Israel is engaged in promoting land-theft and the unlawful settlement enterprise, using the military to trample Palestinians’ human rights. It is this very use of the military for dispossession and settlement that involves the Israeli military in politics. An end to the occupation will end this too.”