The Israel Defense Forces has trained 24 soldiers to work as “combat cameramen,” a special division of the IDF Spokesperson’s unit, that was created two years ago, to document IDF operations from the inside, generating the visual evidence to combat false accusations that make their way into reports based on second or third-party propaganda.
In a feature on the unit, Israel’s Globes wrote on Wednesday:
“Years later than it should have, the IDF has come to understand that stealth fighters and smart bombs are not enough to win the battle for public opinion, and that one good picture can save commissions of enquiry and a few other international headaches. En route to this victory, the IDF decided to forego one or two guns on the battlefield, and to replace them with still or video cameras that will make it possible to tell the same story to the world, in an entirely different way.”
The IDF said the decision to create the division was made during the tenure of the previous IDF Spokesperson, Brigadier General Yoav Mordechai, since promoted to the rank of Major General, as Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. The current IDF spokesperson, Brig. Gen. Motti Almoz, adopted the strategy and continued its development.
The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit is planning to further develop the program to train cameramen to join the complex operations of the IDF’s Squadron 13 and other elite units. “It will happen. No one has any doubt of that,” an IDF Spokesperson told Globes. “Today, we can only imagine how the Muhammad al-Durrah incident (during the Second Intifada) would have unfolded had we had a combat documenter at the scene.”
In that pivotal case, a French reporter’s edited footage was used to accuse the IDF of shooting a child at the scene, but, upon later review, the forensic evidence showed the trajectory of the bullet was coming from the opposite direction and the full reel of the film showed the child moving after he was supposedly dead.
Binyamin Regional Brigade officer, Col. Yossi Pinto, told Globes, “Today, any military operation performed by forces in the field without a combat documenter would be lacking. The documenting of an incident or operation allows me to incriminate the people involved after the event. When I have the appropriate documentation, I send forces at night to arrest the perpetrator that I recorded earlier, and to imprison him. ”
“For example, it happened not long ago in an event where a rioter was photographed throwing a Molotov cocktail. The photo that the combat documenter provided allowed us to take action against him and was the basis for his conviction. Dozens of convictions have been made this way. That is why, in the vast majority of operations, I insist that a documenter join the operation. Because their output serves not only communications needs, but also all manner of operational purposes, or for debriefing. ”
Globes profiled IDF First Sergeant Naor Blanco, who studied cinematography as a communications major at the Rothberg High School in Ramat Hasharon, before serving in the Israeli Army. He described a Netzah Yehuda battalion (Kfir brigade) nighttime operation to arrest a wanted man suspected of terrorist activity in the Jenin refugee camp.
“Shortly after we went in, they started shooting at us from different directions,” Blanco told Globes. “We acted according to regulations, and our forces returned fire when they had identified the sources of the shooting. While advancing in one of the alleyways, a large brick hurtled towards me and fell a short distance from me. That whole time, I held the camera and documented the battle and the exchanges of fire. I turned towards the direction from which the brick was thrown at me, and I identified a terrorist standing on a nearby rooftop. He was about to throw another brick at me. I realized I was in a life-threatening situation.”
Blanco didn’t hesitate: “I had no doubt about what I needed to do in the situation, and I acted swiftly. I put the camera in my vest, and I raised-my rifle. The clip was already loaded. The terrorist was about 30 or 40 meters away from me. I aimed, pulled the trigger, and shot a single bullet, which hit him precisely, below his knee. He was injured, and neutralized, and no longer a threat to me or my fellow force members.”
The operation ended with the suspect killed, and two Arabs injured in the confrontation with IDF forces.
But even after the forces left Jenin, Blanco’s work continued, he said: “When we finished at the refugee camp, I immediately made contact with the chief IDF Spokesperson representative in Central Command Major Ran Baroz and brigade representatives in Judea and Samaria. I understood from them that according to reports that had already been released by Palestinian sources, the IDF had purportedly perpetrated crimes in the nighttime operation, and a 14 year old youth had been injured. I took out my playback equipment, and sent the video documenting the development of the event. The material had been through preliminary editing, the images were distributed to all the communications networks, and within a short time, the tone of the reports cooled down.”
“The visual material proved that it was a planned operation to capture a terrorist, and there was clear documentation of the fact that it was the terrorists who opened fire on us. The footage left no doubt that the forces that operated in the field acted with restraint, and the soldiers only fired when a life-threatening situation arose. The footage included cries of ‘Kill the Jews,’ which could be heard constantly in the background. There is nothing better than seeing something with your own eyes, so headlines saying ‘The IDF invaded Jenin’ were switched within minutes and updated to say ‘The IDF carried out an anti-terrorist operation in Jenin.'”
“This is the pinnacle, from every perspective, on every level,” Blanco said. “I know that the communication networks hate to retract reports they have published. And here, my footage from the field changed the entire thrust of the event’s coverage. ”