An amateur video showing a young Palestinian man collapse after being shot in the back by an Israeli soldier has been circulating since March 30 on social media. Facing outrage over this incident, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) tried to defend its troops on Twitter by posting another video, which supposedly showed the same Palestinian man threatening its soldiers.
The event took place just a few metres from the border that separates the Gaza Strip from Israel, to the east of a town called Jaballiya. On March 30, tens of thousands of protesters gathered along the fence for a protest movement dubbed the Great March of Return. This protest, which organisers say will last until May 15, commemorates the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians during the creation of the state of Israel.
The footage shows a young man dressed in black running along the border fence between Gaza and Israel. He is carrying a car tyre and is joined by two other men. At 0:20, you can hear gunfire. The young man collapses to the ground and is quickly surrounded by protesters.
A few hours later, the young man was named by the committee that organised the Great March of Return. His name was Abdel-Fatah Abd El Nabi and he was 18. According to Israel’s daily newspaper Haaretz, he was one of 16 Palestinians killed since the protests began last Friday.
The video of the incident was shared tens of thousands of times on social media.
How the IDF uses Twitter to defend its actions
Faced with criticism from international organisations, the IDF responded by accusing Hamas of doctoring the footage, despite the fact that other videos captured the same scene from different angles.
One example is this video published by Haaretz:
With these videos being shared across social media like wildfire and condemnations piling up, the IDF started mounting a defence on Twitter.
The night of the march, the IDF had claimed that the man killed was an agent trained by Hamas, the Islamist movement that is the de facto governing body of the Gaza Strip. In a statement, Hamas said that the man was not a member of its forces.
The young man’s family has demanded an investigation into his killing, stating that the video showed that he posed no danger and that his killing was thus arbitrary.
Moreover, according to a report from the Washington Post, there was no indication at his funeral that the young man was a militant: “Unlike at funeral tents for dead militants, there were no signs indicating he had an allegiance to any group. Posters bearing his photo in the funeral tent showed him wearing a black bow tie rather than the military garb typical of fighters.”
A few hours after its first tweet accusing the man of being a Hamas agent, the IDF tweeted footage supposedly taken the night before the march.
The footage shows Israeli soldiers seemingly carrying out an operation before an explosion rings out (0:30). In the tweet, the IDF wrote: “Moments ago, IDF troops thwarted an infiltration attempt by three terrorists in the northern Gaza Strip. The terrorists approached the security fence and attempted to infiltrate Israeli territory. In response, IDF troops targeted the terrorists with tank fire.”
Then, on March 31, the IDF tweeted a montage of screengrabs showing people throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails. It’s impossible to tell whether these images show the protesters who were seen in the initial video.
“To avoid blame, the government is taking part in an image war”
For Amit Gilutz, the spokesperson for B’Tselem, a human rights NGO based in Jerusalem, this isn’t the first time that the Israeli army has played the “counter-propaganda” game.
The response of the Israeli army and government isn’t a surprise. The night before the march, the government gave warning in a statement that the fallout from a protest along the border could be fatal for participants. The day after the march, the government and the armed forces attacked the videos that had been posted online, calling them doctored. It’s a classic method to counter anyone who accuses them of arbitrary repression.
But if you follow international law, shooting an unarmed protester – which can be proved using these images and videos – is illegal.
To avoid blame, the government is launching an image war. Instead of keeping quiet, they respond to each video, posting their own videos to send opposite messages.
A few days ago, they published an instructional video explaining how they make the decision to open fire during protests.
They run a well-oiled machine and the Israeli government invests a lot of money in maintaining it.
The day after the incident, on March 31, the Israeli army confirmed, with a tweet, that its forces had fired during the protests. The tweet was deleted a few hours after being published but activists from B’Tselem took screengrabs.
At the last count, the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza said that 17 people had died and 1,400 were wounded during the march. The United Nations called for a “transparent” investigation to shed light on the circumstances around the death of the young Palestinian.