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Israel Defence Forces deploy 'selfie squad' to boost image
Israel Defence Forces deploy 'selfie squad' to boost image
Palestinian protester Mustafa Tamimi lies fatally injured after IDF troops fired a teargas canister at him in 2011. Photograph: Haim Schwarczenberg/AP
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The Guardian - Having suffered a PR battering from viral video clips showing its soldiers in an unflattering light, the Israel Defence Forces are firing back with a combat camera unit trained to show their version of the story.

The first round of graduates – all combat soldiers – have completed a seven-month training programme before joining frontline units. Private Ido  H, one of the new "selfie squaddies", has trained for more than a year as a combat soldier and videographer. He can film, edit and broadcast from the battlefield.

"My main mission is to film. I think the job of anyone recording what happens is much more important than any fighter," he told the Guardian. "There are lots of cameras on the other side. They show us apparently acting in an unfair way to civilians, to our enemies. We are here to explain and to document for the entire world that we don't use force for bad."

In recent years, cameras wielded by human rights groups have focused unwelcome attention on the IDF. The Israeli human rights group B'Tselem has distributed cameras to Palestinians and collected hours of footage documenting life under occupation. Palestinians say cameras are sometimes the only effective weapon against an army equipped with tanks and fighter jets.

Last April, Lt Col Shalom Eisner was suspended after he was filmed striking a Danish protester in the face with his M16 rifle. Video showing Mustafa Tamimi apparently dying after being hit by a teargas canister during a West Bank demonstration in December 2011 has helped sustain pressure for an inquiry.

The IDF says videos can be tendentious. In July, human rights groups assailed the army over film of a five-year-old boy and his father being arrested and blindfolded after he threw stones at Israeli cars in Hebron. The army argued the editing failed to show its effort over a long time to return the boy safely to his family via the Palestinian police.

Major Micha Ohana, the special unit's commander, denied his soldiers were being trained in disinformation. "If there are errors or other things we will present them and if necessary we will apologise or explain. But of course we won't blur, or lie or say they didn't happen," Ohana said.

B'Tselem welcomed the new unit. "More documentation is a very positive thing," said a B'Tselem spokeswoman, Sarit Michaeli. "There are a lot of arguments about the facts of various incidents. The problem is that the army doesn't release this footage and when it does, it releases very heavily edited sequences."

Haitham Katib, a Palestinian who has spent eight years filming protests against attempts to build Israel's security barrier through the middle of his village farmland in Bil'in, said cameras helped everyone.

"I feel that my camera can stop some of the violence," said Haitham Katib.

"If the soldiers see you filming, they stop their violence. Sometimes they broke my camera. They stopped me filming many times. They shoot me sometimes with rubber bullets. But 70% I believe my camera has stopped the violence."

Katib said Israeli soldiers had started to film him while he was filming them.

"It's like we're fighting with cameras," he said. "I would like everyone to use a camera. It means we are searching for the truth."