As the Israeli military gears up for a likely ground war with the Palestinian military organization Hamas, the nation’s brass is hoping a new plan could deflect possible war-crimes charges. The solution: Bringing cameras into the warzone.
Under a new proposal, each infantry division within the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) would be provided with a trained cameraperson. According to IDF spokesperson Barak Raz, the army would train soldiers in combat photography and filming under fire rather than following the American method of embedding professional journalists with troops.
The intent of the plan would be to show that Israeli soldiers were behaving according to accepted rules of 21st-century war and to provide video footage to counteract any allegations of war crimes or immoral conduct.
The general public would not have access to raw footage; under the plan, the IDF would have final say over dissemination and distribution of all combat footage.
Soldiers participating in the program would be sent to a two-week training course where they would be schooled in the basics of combat videography and be given background on various media organizations around the world.
Critics of the program claim that the move will endanger soldiers’ lives by diverting precious military resources into quasi-journalism; others claim that the general public will have no way of knowing footage was not altered.
One critic, Ofer Shelah of Israeli daily Yedioth Aahronoth, was cited by the Associated Press as saying the project was destined for failure:
There will always be those who will say we edited the material or that we are just showing what is convenient for us […] So long as we are the strong side and we are facing a bunch of gangs, it will be very difficult to portray ourselves to the world the way we see ourselves–as victims.
The IDF already has an extensive presence on YouTube and a long history of engaging in public diplomacy via video content. Palestinian rocket fire into Israel is routinely filmed by air and placed online by the IDF; the Israeli military also routinely releases footage of weapons intercepted on their way to the Gaza Strip.
The best known use of video content by the IDF was in an incident where Israeli troops boarded a blockade-running boat on its way to Gaza in international waters. Nine Turkish activists were killed and three Israeli soldiers seriously injured in the melee that followed. The Israeli military released footage that it claims proved the activists on-ship violently attacked the soldiers; both pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian groups quickly created competing narratives out of video from the ship that was subsequently released.
As for the soldiers-turned-cameramen, they are just one part of an extensive package of reforms the Israeli military is attempting in hopes of avoiding war-crimes allegations of the type that followed the 2009 conflict in the Gaza Strip. These reforms include the appointment of humanitarian liaison officers to work with Palestinian populations in battlezones, the attachment of trained media officers to combat units, and changes in battle doctrine, including modification of urban warfare practices.
The transformation of the battlefield into another area of media-content creation also has parallels worldwide. Here in the United States, a new DARPA initiative is testing whether augmented reality googles can help stop friendly fire.
[Image via Flickr user Jelle Drok]