Emad Abu Shamsiyah first started receiving death threats in March, after a video he filmed for Israeli rights group B’Tselem, which captured Israeli soldier Elor Azaria shooting dead Abed al-Fattah al-Sharif, 21, was released to the public. The video sparked a media frenzy surrounding the incident, and directly led to the initial indictment of Azaria. Shamsiyah has not had a good night’s rest since.
Shamsiyah lives in the city-center of Hebron — arguably the most contentious city in all of the occupied West Bank — and the only city-center where Palestinians and Israeli settlers live side-by-side.
During the case, Shamsiyah was frequently accosted by Israeli settlers near his home, who demanded he change his testimony. After last week’s ruling, which found Azaria guilty of manslaughter, the threats against Shamsiyah have reached a new level, as 67 percent of the general Israeli population supports a full pardon for Azaria.
The lack of support for the manslaughter ruling has translated into anger among Israeli settlers, who have a neighbor directly responsible for the main evidence in the case. As a result, Shamsiyah cannot walk the streets of his neighborhood without fearing for his life.
“It was already bad before, but after the court ruling, all these threats started to come in through my Facebook, telling me I will die and that people want to murder me,” Shamsiyah told Mondoweiss on Thursday.
“There are memes on Facebook with my picture on them calling for my death,” he said. “My son’s can’t sleep at home because it’s so dangerous for them. The area around my house has been declared a closed military zone.”
Shamsiyah is one of more than 200 Palestinians that have been equipped with cameras and training by B’Tselem, which started the program in 2009 in the hopes that documentation would “expose the Israeli and the international publics to the reality of life under occupation.
Talal Idries, a tour guide in Hebron told Mondoweiss that he supports Shamsiyah’s work, but he is skeptical that documentation does any good, when the entire Israeli justice system “works against Palestinians.”
“Yes the court’s found Azaria guilty, but it is all a show for the international stage, so that Israel looks like it has justice — but watch, he will be pardoned,” Idries said.
“The settlers who attack Shamsiyah are not punished, just as the soldier who killed [Sharif] will not be punished. There is no judging an Israeli when the action he took was against a Palestinian. Palestinians don’t get justice here, Israel is happy for violence against Palestinians.”
An Israeli soldier guards a checkpoint, a few hundred feet from another checkpoint, in the old city of Hebron, very near to where Elor Azaria shot dead Abed al-Fattah Sharif. (Photo: Sheren Khalel/Mondoweiss)
Ayman Samir, a young man from Hebron, frequently hangs out around his uncle’s shop in front of the Ibrahimi Mosque near the site of the shooting. Samir told Mondoweiss that he believes the settler attacks against Shamsiyah are not just allowed by the Israeli forces patrolling the area, but encouraged.
“Of course the Israeli settlers target him,” Samir said. “The people who are activists, or the people who try to document Israeli violations, are being targeted by the Israelis all the time, because they don’t want to allow people to see the reality of how life is here.”
“They are trying to put a lot of pressure and harassment on Palestinians who use the camera as a tool to document Israeli attacks on Palestinians. By attacking someone like Shamsiyah, they are trying to kill Palestinian non-violent resistance” he said, sitting in his uncle’s shop, directly across from Israeli soldiers on the other side of the road. “All of it is used to scare the Palestinian people — it’s a deliberate policy that aims to end Palestinian resistance — the basic goal is to stop anyone from documenting any Israeli attacks or violations.”
In the 13 months following the start of an uptick in violence in October 2015, 236 Palestinians like Sharif were killed by Israeli forces and civilians. During the same period 34 Israelis — many of which were soldiers — were killed in Palestinian attacks, according to Ma’an News Agency’s documentation.
Hebron has been the epicenter of the violence, as 31 percent of all Palestinians killed were shot dead in the district.
Due to the circumstances of the killings, groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have deeply criticized Israel’s rules of engagement, with both groups calling on Israel to end its practice of “extrajudicial killings,” citing the Azaria’s case specifically.
While Amnesty International said in a report that the manslaughter ruling against Azaria “offers a small glimmer of hope amid the rampant impunity for unlawful killings” in the occupied Palestinian territory, Palestinians seem skeptical, as most of the population expects calls for a complete pardon by Israeli officials and the general public to come to fruition.