Last Friday in Bil’in, a Border Guard force arrested Emad Mohammed Barnat, a photographer with Reuters, after he filmed the weekly demonstration against the separation wall. Eyewitnesses said that Emad, a resident of Bil’in, was beaten by Border Guard soldiers while he was handcuffed.
Emad reached the Givat Zeev police station with severe bruising on his face. Border Guard soldiers said he was injured after a communications device in the patrol car fell on him. He was taken to the Hadassah Hospital in Har Hatzofim; after treatment, he was returned to the Givat Zeev police station.
During questioning, Emad asked the police to watch the footage he had filmed, which he said would refute allegations against him. After being questioned, he was charged with throwing stones and assaulting a Border Guard soldier.
Emad, who works as an independent press photographer, has been documenting the situation in his village and others for several years. His footage has been broadcast worldwide, including his documentation of demonstrations against the separation wall in Bil’in.
On Tuesday, Emad appeared before a military judge, Shlomo Katz, on the Ofer base. The bruising on his face was still visible. Although a soldier testified that Emad held the camera with one hand while throwing stones with the other, the judge ruled that the Border Guard evidence was weak and he ordered Emad’s release. The prosecution asked that his release be delayed so that they could file an appeal or an indictment; the judge subsequently renewed his remand for 24 hours, rather than the 72 hours requested by the prosecution. The judge also said that the circumstances in which Emad was injured should be investigated since it was unclear how the injury occurred.
Attorney, Gabi Lasky, who represents Emad, denied the allegations and said that the footage of the incident will clear her client.
This is not the first time that a military judge has reprimanded Border Guard soldiers for the use of excessive violence.
During this morning’s hearing – during which Emad was officially charged with attacking a policeman and throwing stones – the judge agreed to detain Emad until the end of the legal proceedings.
With the exception of a short article on the Haaretz website, the Israeli media did not discuss Emad’s arrest. Foreign networks covered and continue to cover the incident. But when the defendant has leftist tendencies, the Israeli media always remains silent. We can only wonder why. This stands in contrast to the Israeli media’s coverage of violence against journalists and photographers in other places in the world. Emad’s arrest should be a warning about the status of journalists and photographers covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We must ask if there is an intentional tendency not to cover such incidents in the media.
Last Wednesday, director Shai Carmeli Pollack, the producer of Bil’in Habibati, sent a letter to the Defense Minister signed by dozens of intellectuals, media figures, and cinema artists, protesting Emad’s arrest. They say that the arrest was unjustified and was aimed at preventing media coverage of events in Bil’in.
“This incident is an alarming embodiment of the violence and disregard for the law that have become widespread among the Border Guard and army in Bil’in”, Pollack wrote. “Military judges have previously blamed Border Guard soldiers for false testimony against demonstrators who were arrested, but apparently there has been no real change.”
He added, “Clearly the army and the police have an interest in preventing film coverage, and clearly the charges against him are false. The thing that is unclear is how this can happen in the only democracy in the Middle East? We demand the immediate release of Emad Barnat and the withdrawal of all charges against him.”
The letter was also signed by Reuters employees in the West Bank, who have been in contact with various parties since Emad’s arrest and who expressed concern for his safety.
Shai Carmeli Pollack has known and worked with Emad for more than two years, using some of the latter’s footage in his own film. “The charges against him are ridiculous,” Pollack said. “Everyone who knows Emad knows he has nothing to do with such charges. Emad is a man who strives for peace and opposes throwing stones and any type of violence.”