Early in the morning of March 24, 2016, a 45-year-old Palestinian shoemaker named Imad Abu Shamsiyeh was having coffee with his wife, Fayzia, at their home in the West Bank city of Hebron.
They heard shots being fired outside. Instead of seeking cover, they grabbed Abi Shamsiyeh’s video camera and ran to the roof of their house.
He immediately started filming, zooming on the street below.
“I saw someone lying on the ground,” Abu Shamsiyeh says. “I wasn’t sure if he was Israeli or Palestinian. Blood was gushing from him.”
The man was Abed Fatah al-Sharif, a 21-year-old Palestinian who had been shot and badly wounded after he stabbed an Israeli soldier.
Sharif lay nearly motionless. Then a soldier shot him in the head from close range.
Abu Shamsiyeh sent his video to B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, which verified and published the video on its website.
“One of the aspects of the video that is quite shocking is seeing how apathetic the other soldiers are, like nothing has happened,” says B’Tselem spokesman Amit Gilutz. “Like a very casual thing to take place, shooting a Palestinian who is laying on the floor motionless in the head.”
The video went viral. It was shown during the trial of Sgt. Elor Azaria, the Israeli soldier who shot Sharif. A military court convicted Azaria of manslaughter earlier this month. The court will hear arguments on sentencing Tuesday.
The case deeply divided Israelis. Polls show most want Azaria pardoned.
Abu Shamsiyeh, a father of seven, says he’s been filming violence in Hebron for five years, spurred by what’s happened to his own family.
“My daughter was injured by settlers, my two sons and wife were attacked and put in jail, I was attacked and put in jail,” he says. “We’ve been the target of a lot of violence by the sheer fact that we live here.”
They live practically adjacent to an enclave of Jewish settlers near the center of Hebron, a sprawling city of more than 200,000, the largest in the West Bank.
The proximity breeds conflict between the two sides, but Abu Shamsiyeh tells young Palestinians that cameras are much more powerful weapons than stones, knives or fists.
“We want to change that in our children,” he says. “We tell them, use your camera to show what’s happening here. Do not use violence.”
Abu Shamsiyeh uses a video camera donated by American activists and volunteers with a Palestinian group called Human Rights Defenders. He used to volunteer with B’Tselem, which he admires for archiving the work of volunteer videographers like himself.
At a recent training session at his home, Abu Shamsiyeh shows two young girls how to film a steady video using their phones.
Nida Abu Haikal, an 11-year-old in a glittery red sweater, lives near a military checkpoint. She says she had a revelation after she got into a fight with a settler boy a couple of years older than her.
“[He] said bad words to me,” she says. “I got mad and hit him. But what did that do? Nothing. He actually hit me back and pulled my hair. I should have just taken a picture.”
But the videography now works both ways. Just down the street, Israeli settler Tzipi Schlissel is also taking video.
She’s zooming in on a Palestinian man arguing with an Israel soldier who’s asking for his ID.
“This Arab man getting close to the soldiers, it could be some provocation,” she says. The Palestinians “come and try to yell at the soldiers and doing some provocation, so I’m prepared. Sometimes it’s nothing, sometimes it’s really things that are not good.”
Schlissel’s father, a prominent rabbi, was stabbed to death in 1998 by a Palestinian.
“I see what they’re doing, taking pictures and videos of us, taking things out of connections,” or context, she says.
Schlissel posts her own videos on YouTube. She says she wants more settlers here to document violence, especially after Abu Shamsiyeh’s video of the soldier got so much attention.
“I can’t do it all the time and I can’t be everyplace always, but I think this is part of the war now,” she says.
Abu Shamsiyeh says he’s received death threats because of his video but will keep on filming. In the coming weeks, he’s also training students at four schools in the Hebron area to use cameras to document conflict.
You want to know what is really going on these days, especially in Colorado. We can help you keep up. The Lookout is a free, daily email newsletter with news and happenings from all over Colorado. Sign up here and we will see you in the morning!