Title: How to Build a Fence in Hebron

Video by B’Tselem

This case study was prepared by Julie Fischer, Research Assistant to the Video for Change Impact Research and Intern at the MIT Open Documentary Lab. This was based on the interview she conducted with Yoav Gross, Director of the the B’Tselem Video Department.

Background: B’Tselem’s Approach to Distribution
As a part of the interview detailed in the B’Tselem Report, Yoav Gross discussed the dual goals and audiences which B’Tselem aims for with its videos:

  1. to use video as legal evidence or a tool for lobbying and educating authorities (i.e. the Isreli army, police force) in order to effect legal or policy change surrounding human rights abuse;
  2.  to raise awareness of human rights violations within the Israeli public by spreading videos through traditional mass media and new media.

Yoav notes, “The classic route our video will take is to go at the same time to the authorities and to the media – knowing that [these two channels] strengthen one another. … Many times the only reason an investigation will be opened is because a video got very large amounts of press, and that created a conversation and pressure on the authorities.”

The description of these intertwined goals speaks to the specific nature of what B’Tselem understands as impact: awareness alone is not enough, it is the awareness of the public and the authorities to human rights violations which then lead to pressures to reverse abusive practices, policies or legal structures.

Yoav provided a particular case as an example of a successful B’Tselem video that achieved measurable or trackable impact: a video in which two Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint in Hebron refuse access to a Palestinian (a B’Tselem field researcher) to enter a main street.

Defining Impact in the Hebron Video Case

In the case of this video, there was not an official investigation into the incident recorded, because the denial of access to the road for Palestinians was a part of the officially sanctioned policies of the government. “This was not about a proper investigation, but a policy issue,” Yoav notes. However, “after this video was released, and raised questions, the army reacted by changing the policy around this specific checkpoint.”

The B’Tselem webpage featuring this video also notes, “Since the video footage was aired, Border Police officers at the checkpoint allow Palestinian pedestrians to walk on either side of the road.” [1]

For B’Tselem, this video provides a successful example of impact, using the content of the video to leverage a particular behavior change on the part of authorities that alleviated the discriminatory practices that were documented. However it draws the distinction between behavior and broader policy change. As Yoav notes, “the more classic [trajectory for a successful B’Tselem video] would be, for example, if a police officer beat up a kid, no one heard of it, then the video comes out, and he is sent to trial.”

While there is no official legal / policy change (in this case, the broader policies of discriminatory access to roads in Hebron), the shift at this particular checkpoint signals a successful use of B’Tselem video and a moment of impact that is tangible and traceable.

Video Data for Assessing Trends

As suggested above, for B’Tselem, the meaning of impact is tailored to each particular video. This is in part due to the fact that each video makes up a larger network of B’Tselem content that is tracked and described in a database of their work. B’Tselem is then able to configure the impact their organization is having through multiple angles, depending on what trends they assess via that collected data. Parameters that are tracked with videos include ‘sent to army’, then ‘investigation opened’, then ‘used by media’, etc. Database queries might include ‘all investigations opened this year with video’ or, ‘video volunteers from hebron filmed’ as a way to “assess a certain paradigm or phenomenon”.

The B’Tselem Database as Organizational Approach to Impact Measurement

While each particular case lends insight to B’Tselem’s impact measurement practices for what data points are assembled, their organizational approach to measuring impact relies more on the greater trends in information that can be drawn from tracking the data from each video.

Yoav notes that the database is central to the work of B’Tselem. He also sees the method as closely aligned with the human rights field more broadly, noting “this is one of the benefits of classic human rights work – meticulous and obsessive data collection.”

In particular, he connects the notion of outcomes for each video to the overarching statistics that can be viewed as trends and locations of B’Tselem’s impact: We collect the outcomes as stats – it’s catalogued and we can pull it in the end of the year, for example.

While it was more difficult for Yoav to identify many particular cases of B’Tselem video that stand out as exemplary cases, the B’Tselem database and their approach to it’s creation and updating serves as a useful example and model for other Video for Change organizations.

Key Findings:

  • For maximum impact, B’Tselem pursues a dual goal / distribution model for the videos created by their volunteers: providing legal evidence to aid in court cases or material that educates and shifts minds of key authorities, and providing content to raise awareness of human rights abuses within the Israeli public through the mass media.    
  • For B’Tselem, while one of the main indicators for impact is policy shift resulting from video distribution, that concept includes not just legal or official policy changes but behavior change on behalf of certain authorities
  • Impact measurement is being done at B’Tselem on a case-by-case basis, but mostly with the goal of acquiring data for each video which will then – in aggregate – serve to indicate B’Tselem’s broader successes and useful trends


[1] http://www.btselem.org/hebron/20130304_new_fence_in_hebron