A Role for Pallywood?
Some responded to the footage from Gaza by asking themselves, “Is this Pallywood?” One colleague said she did not see the tape first, but her husband, who’s not working on these issues, commented, “Boy this looks faked.” Numerous people have contacted both Second Draft and the Augean Stables noting the familiar elements. And my first view of the evidence certainly gave me that impression. Subsequent comments raise further ones.
And of course, if this is Pallywood, it’s something we need to be able to spot fairly quickly, and explore in detail. Indeed, I would argue that any media outlet (especially big ones like BBC, CNN, AP, AFP, Reuters) should have a procedure for reviewing all footage from the Middle East (and other places, perhaps) for evidence of staging. The Palestinians surely have earned a sufficient reputation that the expression “according to Palestinian sources” should inspire immediate suspicion.
So at this still early date (for considered opinion) and unfortunately late date (for having an impact on how the story gets told), let’s consider the data most ready to hand, ask further questions, and explore some hypotheses, even develop some working hypotheses.
It is obviously difficult to analyze material from another culture. Their mourning customs, father-daughter relations, family dynamics may not be the same as ours, and moments of immense shock and tragedy like this can either bring out universal responses or sharply divergeant ones. And from there to considering the shocking possibility that the event may either be entirely or significantly staged, that the behavior is meant to simulate what one might do at such a time, explores terrain that is virtually taboo. Such an exercise creates serious levels of cognitive dissonance as one shifts back and forth between seeing the behavior as “real” or “fake,” running the risk of violating someone’s genuine grief and mourning, of becoming unbearably callous.
That said, spotting Pallywood footage is one of the most important tasks that stand before our media if we are to “see” the world with any semblance of accuracy. Given the massive damage that misreading Pallywood has already wrought on our sorry and possibly now-chastened world, it’s not something we can ignore. So what follows is a first run at analysis, trying to remain open to alternative readings, but nonetheless exploring likely avenues of speculation.
First, note that the situation here differs in one major way from the al Durah case. There, the greatest likelihood is that Muhammad al Durah (as well as the ambulance driver) were not even shot in the footage that we see (he moving in last scene, there are no shots of a dead ambulance driver), and that Pallywood was the beginning and end of the footage that we saw. Here we seem to be dealing with a genuine tragedy — real people killed by real explosions — in which the blame must at all costs be fixed on the Israelis. Pallywood here, if it is involved, would play the dual role of arousing immense compassion and distress for the victims, and thereby diverting attention from the perpetrators, a magicians sleight of hand. Pictures of children suffering and grief stricken fill the air, arousing at once compassion and indignation, and forbidding the terrible thought — at least among cognitive egocentrists in the West — of self-inflicted wounds. Who, what group, would inflict those kinds of wounds upon one’s own people?
On the other hand, a feature unites both the al Durah and the Ghalia families. Their tragedy came at a most important time. In both cases, the Palestinian leadership was on the defensive world-wide (Arafat for his Camp-David no, Hamas for their unwillingness to even mouth conciliatory formulas in English), they were under direct pressure to do something (in this case by Abbas’ referendum which struck horror in the hearts of good Jihadis everywhere), but especially of Hamas, and on the eve of a visit by the Israelis to Europe where this incident would deeply embarrass them (for Barak it was the October 4th humiliation at the hands of Chirac; here it was Olmert “under a cloud“).
Finally, the most important similarity that emerged in the aftermath of both the al Durah and Ghalia family tragedies is that, whatever actually happened, the greatest likelihood (by far) seems to be that the Israelis did not cause the damage in question.
- There is no evidence of a blast, no crater, not even a disturbance of the sand which has the characteristic patterns of wind-wrought waviness uninterrupted either by a blast or cleaning up from the blast.
- The bodies are evacuated from an area where various items one would have expected to have been blown away by an explosion — flip-flops, beach chairs, clothing — are strewn around.
- Very little blood is visible anywhere. The child’s body is dark and may be charred, but there are no other signs of burning on the material on either side of him. The disposition of bodies does not seem to accord with an explosion. Perhaps they are in a secondary arrangement, ready for loading on the ambulances.
Analysis of Houda Ghalia footage
The iconic footage from this incident concerns Houda Ghalia, whose family was wiped out in the attack.
Houda’s image rapidly became a new icon in both the Palestinian/Arabic press and acknowledged by the Western media.
BEIT LAHIYA, Gaza Strip, June 11 — Huda Ghaliya, the sixth-grade student whose horrified screams on Friday as she knelt by her dead family on a Gaza beach were televised around the world, has quickly become an icon of the Palestinian struggle against Israeli might.
This image of Huda hovering over the bloody bodies of 13 dead or wounded members of her family was televised around the world.
Eleven-year-old Huda unwittingly became a symbol of Palestinian pain and loss during an afternoon picnic with her family on a hot day when a cameraman captured her shrieking “Father, Father, Father!” as she hovered over the bloody bodies of 13 dead or wounded members of her family, hit by what was apparently an errant Israeli artillery shell.
Note, in the space of a few sentences, several assertions by the Times not necessarily warranted by the material.
- She is not hovering.
- It is not over the thirteen members of her family but near her father.
- It is not clear this footage was unwitting in its aim to create symbols.
- It is not clear that her grief symbolizes the stuggle against Israeli might so much as Hamas madness.
This footage, as affecting as it might be, leaves a most bizarre impression. As a number of commenters at this site have noted, there are strange anomalies. First, it appears that we are dealing with more than one camera angle; hence more than one cameraman, possibly three. So far no one that I know of, has identified the cameramen. This of course raises questions about how rapidly they got to the beach. One scenario — the event was planned — suggests that they were there from the beginning. Another — that it was accidental — suggests that they came upon hearing the explosion(s) or news of the deaths. In the latter case, it raises the question of whether some of the action was staged once the cameras arrived. It would be nice to have a chronology of arrivals: in what order do we get Hamas operatives looking for something, journalists and cameramen, ambulances, PA police?
Houna’s behavior is also strange, although who can judge how someone reacts under the shock and horror of seeing her family killed before her eyes. The wildness of her grief seems entirely understandable and deeply touching. But the footage from PATV (now available at PMW), shows her standing around (possibly in shock, but not agitated) as the bodies are evacuated. As soon as the last one is evacuated, she turns around and rushes, distraught away from the scene, towards some sand dunes where a body lies, already “tended to” since the bottom part of his body is covered with a blanket. The cameramen accompany her, so she cannot be unaware of their presence, and we get pictures of the dead father (no signs of blood or injury) lying on the sand with his right hand pointing over his head. She throws herself on the sand several yards away and shrieks her sorrow.
The father himself shows no signs of injury, and it’s not clear how he got so far away from the rest of his family. In the first two shots of him, his right hand is raised behind his head. But in the last scene visible on PATV’s footage, his hand has moved and his face seems to be turned more towards his left. Staging? Possibly. Certainly one must engage in elaborate explanations to sustain a “realistic” narrative — he was killed by the shock wave not direct shrapnel, he walked away from the family seeking help (even though all the bodies are evacuated in the other direction), he collapsed subsequently. Where did the blanket come from? How did his arm move? What does Houda know about her father’s condition?
Given her wild grief, one would presume she had just been told he was dead. But Houda tells us he was still alive: ““I saw him breathe, but he could not hang on and died,” she said, even though no footage shows her looking closely at her father. (This kind of heart-rending testimony is also characteristic of Jamal al Durah describing how his boy spoke to him, when the footage shows no interaction between the two once Muhammad was “hit.”) Again, it seems cruel to question her sincerity, especially since her family is dead before her eyes, and we cannot possibly know what she felt about her father.
We do know that she has models in her culture of extravagant mourning (it’s a profession), and we cannot know whether or not her grief — real as it must have been — was not exploited by a media eager for footage for the world audience. Imagine, if you will, a cameraman saying to her, “Your grief is needed by your people to strike the conscience of the world. You must do this for the cameras.”
The striking shift from standing around to wailing before she knows what’s happening, (and while her father is still alive) seems strange, as is her throwing herself into the sand about five meters away from the body and shrieking, rather than going to her father to see how he was… especially if he were alive. Indeed, she, like Jamal al Durah, never actually interact directly with the body of a stricken family member. And again like Houna’s father, his body position moves between “takes.”
Certainly, Houda’s aunt understood the value of the footage:
Huda’s aunt, Umm el-Abad, says as she holds her niece “I say to all the countries in the world, not just the Arab countries, and also to Israel and the Jews: Does this picture not affect you? Does it not bother you that an entire family has been eradicated? Can anything be done to stop this killing? I pray and beg that Huda and her family will be the last victims.”
So did those who came to “comfort” the mourners:
In the village on Sunday, in the courtyard here where the Ghaliya family held the wake, hundreds of women from across Gaza came to offer condolences. “We will seek justice for your murderers,” one woman sang, and others chanted, “We swear to God, to Muhammad, in the name of Hamas — we will seek justice in your name, oh glorious martyrs.”
That Israel is responsible is something the aunt assumes, as does the Western media, but that seems in grave doubt at this point. Can anything be done to stop this killing? Well given what you knew about Hamas’ contempt for your own children’s lives before the election, why did you elect them?
That Houda’s grief is real, doubtless.
Later, in the rather gnarly embrace of Mahmoud Abbas, she seems to have recovered somewhat:
Working Hypothesis: Beach Scene is Pallywood at Secondary Location
Is it possible that the evacuation scene of real bodies was staged in a different place for the sake of the cameras? Such a hypothesis might explain a great deal of the anomalies already noted, including the strange placement of the bodies and beachware.
It is certainly not beyond the reach of Palestinian cameramen and the “street.” And like so often, the quality of the performance is shoddy at best.
This picture of an evacuation of a very young child:
reminds me of this:
We find the same combination of carrying the wounded upside down, and the lack of signs of injury on the face of the alleged wounded, who seem more concerned with the evacuation than the alleged injuriess that occasioned it. Shouldn’t this baby be crying? Or at least in shock?
And of course, this hypothesis explains why the Palestinians have refused to help with any of the investigation and may have destroyed evidence.
All in all, we have highly suspicious footage suggesting that, in order to turn a scandalous error into a PR coup (at best — who wants to think about a real Hamas conspiracy to kill their own innocents?), by blaming Israel, the footage was staged using real bodies at a different spot at the beach. As with Pallywood at Netzarim Junction, Pallywood producers don’t sweat the obvious details (at Netzarim the evacuations take place in front of the Israeli guns; here the reconstruction takes place where the original explosion(s) did not happen), because they can count on the media — Arab, Western, Israeli! — to react to the emotional drama they play out. Like magicians with a sleight of hand, they have us focus on the wrong details. And like the classic shell game, they keep winning.
Fortunately, this time, at least some Israelis responded with an awareness of past error, and have engaged in a sober and careful investigation, partly inspired by learning the lessons of Al Durah. One hopes this incident will inspire greater caution in future media coverage of events “according to Palestinian sources.”
Next: Snapping at Poisoned Red Meat: The Media Respond to the Images Offered