Israeli Police Arrest Art Student for Photographing Security Cameras in Jerusalem’s Old City

12:00 Jul 20 2023 Jerusalem's Old City ( البلدة القديمة הָעִיר הָעַתִּיקָה)

Israeli Police Arrest Art Student for Photographing Security Cameras in Jerusalem’s Old City Israeli Police Arrest Art Student for Photographing Security Cameras in Jerusalem’s Old City
Surveillance cameras in Jerusalem's Old City
Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg Published by Haaretz

Jerusalem's Old City, earlier this year. Credit: Noam Revkin-Fenton Published by Haaretz

by Nir Hasson
Jul 20, 2023

A photography student was arrested and banned from entering the Old City in Jerusalem for 15 days for documenting police security cameras as part of a final student project.

Along with the student, Yasmine Hilwani from the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design’s department of photography, a graduate of that academy was also arrested for helping her with her photo shots. The two were taken for questioning, which lasted eight hours. Even after their release, the police refused to return their cameras and cellphones.

Hilwani, who is in her fourth year at Bezalel, photographed a camera located near her parents’ home in the Old City as part of her final project. Her project deals, among other topics, with the network of security cameras installed in the Old City, which is considered to be one of the biggest and more sophisticated such networks in the world. In fact, almost every corner in the Old City is documented and monitored by hundreds of such cameras, by computers and by human monitors. Hilwani took a picture of a camera that is pointed directly into her parents’ home, violating their privacy.

Last Sunday, she shot a video near her mother’s house, together with a photographer who has been helping her with her final assignment. After they finished, they were approached by policemen. “They weren’t interested in what I had photographed that day, but they saw that my phone had two pictures of a surveillance camera that I took a year ago and had sent to a friend. One of them took my phone and told us to follow him to the station,” she told Haaretz.

The two were taken to a police station and interrogated. “They told me I was aiding a terror organization and asked who had requested the photo and who I had sent it to,” related Hilwani. “They didn’t let me talk to my father, and no one knew I was there.” At the end of their eight-hour interrogation, Hilwani and her helper were released without their equipment, and on condition that they stay away from the city. “They told me that if I entered the Old City in the next 15 days I would go to jail and pay a fine of 5,000 shekels ($1,400), with my father having to pay an additional 5,000 shekels,” she said.

On Wednesday morning, attorney Nasser Odeh filed an appeal at the city’s Magistrate’s Court with regard to the conditions of their release. The appeal was accompanied by a letter from Prof. Adi Stern, the president of the Bezalel Academy, who urged the police to release the cameras and phones, which are essential for the completion of Hilwani’s project.

“The detention for over seven hours was in contravention of the law and of court rulings, and the decision of the officer in charge to predicate their release on their removal from the Old City was patently disproportionate,” wrote attorney Odeh, adding that “the officer’s decision to ban Hiwani from the city without any legal basis harms her basic rights to freedom of movement, freedom of expression and to academic freedom, and will prevent her from submitting her project on time.”

The police response was that this was “an arrest of two suspects who photographed security cameras installed in the Old City. The police are investigating the circumstances of these acts. We should note that after their questioning, the suspects were released with restrictions, and the investigation continues.”
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