Monthly Archives: May 2013

Haaretz to the world: “Us? Make an Error? The Day of Resurrection will come first!”

In his mea culpa, Shmuel Rosner talks about how he was one of the people I described as “attacking ferociously” the investigation set up by Yom Tov Samia and run by Nachum Shahaf. Now he regrets it, and in his honesty, raises many significant issues. On the other side, there are Arabs capable of appreciating the value for civil society of acknowledging the Al Durah icon of hatred, that injected a death cult into the culture, as a way to wake up from the nightmare they are now undergoing. He reports that in his talk with Gazans, many really wish their leaders would make peace with Israel, the Jewish state, so they live decent lives.

Haaretz, apparently, is still in scorn, smear and ridicule mode, as they were the first time round.

It’s a bit ironic on the part of Israelis to spit on good news about themselves, a trait I learned painfully to identify over ten years working on Al Durah with government spokesmen: Israelis – and especially those who had to speak on her behalf to outsiders – were completely psyched out by this story. And the people psyching them out were Charles – “I cut the horrible death throes, so don’t ask for the tapes” Enderlin, and his crowd of journalists at places like Haaretz and the Guardian who set the lethal tone.

If one considers the Al Durah “lethal narrative” as a version of the Emperor’s New Clothes, with Abu Rahma as the tailor, Enderlin as the Chamberlain, and the news media as the court, and, small but significant variant, instead of a silly and vain, naked emperor, this procession bears aloft an icon of hatred that’s a major recruiting device for global Jihad and the branding of Israel as Nazi.

Israel and Israelis, for 13 years, willy nilly, have participated in this lethal procession that targeted her. Finally after a decade of consensus building, a government committee breaks free of this suicidal madness with a report that states the obvious, and reporters from Haaretz heap their co-citizens with scorn for doing so. In the history of suicidal cultures, early 21st-century Haaretz will hold a special place.

Wonders never cease

Oudeh Basharat Haaretz | 04:34 26.05.13 |  1

There’s, of course, an interesting problem here. Oudeh is an Israeli Arab, indeed a prominent member of the Hadash (Communist) party. In the framework of the alliance (marriage?) of pre-modern sadism – “you (the other as enemy) are horrible” – and post-modern masochism – “you (the other to be embraced) are right,” – it’s important to ask if his voice represents the commitment to not being partisan that we hear, for example, in Shmuel Rosner’s reflections, or the voice of a lethal narrator?

Here, it seems quite clear that Haaretz has given the microphone to someone who defends his lethal narrative with unrelenting sarcasm.

Dear committee members, as you wish, Mohammed al-Dura wasn’t killed; he’s safe and sound and hiding somewhere. But what about the 951 children that human rights group B’Tselem says were killed during the second intifada?

There hasn’t been anything like it since Jesus resurrected Lazurus at Bethany. It turns out it’s not only God who can “give life to rotten bones,” as the Koran puts it. Israeli investigative committees have taken this task upon themselves.

The only reason that Oudeh can play this card is because journalists were stupid enough to be fooled by a cheap fake in the first place and now don’t want to admit they were taken for fools. So now, given this overwhelming consensus of fools, he can pretend that calling this stupidity/malignity into question, is the equivalent of raising the dead.

The Place of Journalism in Palestinian Cognitive Warfare (Talk at AIS, Haifa, June 2012)

[I thought I had posted this last year when I gave it, but find I haven’t. So here it is, particularly relevant in light of the latest Al Durah developments.]

The Place of Journalism in Palestinian Cognitive Warfare
Paper delivered at Association of Israel Studies, Haifa, Israel, June 2012

Everyone knows that the news media constitute a key battleground in the conflict between Israel and its neighbors, that both sides try to influence the manner in which the news depicts what’s going on. Indeed, both sides of the conflict and their ideological allies in the West have produced prodigious efforts to depict the “other” side as cheating.

Those inclined to even-handedness find such formulations as above attractive. There’s something balanced and fair about them, something approximating such prized journalistic values as objectivity and openness to “all sides.”

And yet, I argue, and I think that the historians of the next generation who look back on the Middle East journalism of the early 21st century will agree with me, that those very people who so valued these principles, systematically failed to either exercise or defend them against a systematic assault. Those journalists who could not distinguish reliable testimony from lethal narrative, who could not tell the difference from the arsonist and the firemen, who even as they sought to be “even-handed” played into the stratagems of one side, and the wrong side, these people failed to play their role as professional journalists, indeed, ended up often enough, willy-nilly, playing the role of arsonist. To paraphrase Pascale, more they more they sought to put out the fires of conflict, the more they fed those fires.

Al Durah (Lethal) Journalism Thrives at Open Zion: Al Durah Incited Hatred? Absurd!

One of the more interesting spectacles that has arisen since the Kuperwasser Report has been the range of reaction, which pretty much separates the lethal journalists holding on to Al Durah as a dog does a bone on the one hand (most of whom have not examined the evidence), and those who, in terms of what “intellectual” first came to mean during the Dreyfus Affair, are willing to reconsider based on the evidence.

In this case we’re dealing with a senior editor at Open Zion, so not some raving lunatic who managed to slip a piece by the editors, but someone involved in shaping the message readers get from this blog. The language and the reasoning are perfect examples of lethal journalism on the defensive.

Press Advocates: Israeli Report On Al-Dura Affair ‘Absurd and Unacceptable’
by Ali Gharib May 23, 2013 12:00 PM EDT

A September 30, 2000, file combo of TV grabs from France 2 footage taken during Israeli-Palestinian clashes in Netzarim in the Gaza Strip shows Jamal al-Dura and his son Mohammed, 12, hiding behind a barrel from Israeli-Palestinian cross fire. (AFP / Getty Images)

This week, the Israeli government released a report aimed at discrediting the story of a shooting death amid riots in the Gaza Strip in 2000 (yes: 13 years ago). In the incident, 12-year-old Muhammad Al-Dura was reportedly shot and killed by Israeli forces while cowering behind his father. The incident gained prominence after the French television channel France 2 ran a report showing footage of Al-Dura’s apparent shooting. The young boy became a symbol of the Second Intifada. The new document from the Israeli government sought to undermine the original French report and the reporter who produced it, the French-Israeli journalist Charles Enderlin. The Israelis initially said its military’s gunfire caused the death [sic], but within weeks blamed Palestinian gunfire instead. By 2007, the Israeli government already declared the boy’s death at Israel’s hands a “myth.” Now, a respected press advocacy organization is coming to Enderlin’s defense in his battle with the Israel’s Ministry of International Affairs and Strategy.

Reporters Without Borders Comes to Enderlin’s Aid: The Smear Defense

Among the defenses of Enderlin’s Al Durah story comes from an organization that considers itself “Reporters without Borders,” a variant of “Doctors without Borders,” and a “Human Rights” NGO that shares much of the agenda of the other global, progressive organizations of this kind. (When Reporters without Borders first launched it’s annual report on press freedom, it gave Israel a lower rating than the West Bank, a rating that would send most Palestinians into either fits or laughter or tears (depending on whether they wanted a decent society or not). Here note the lack of substance from an organization that considers itself a voice for the profession.

UNSUPPORTED ACCUSATIONS AGAINST FRENCH TV CORRESPONDENT OVER COVERAGE OF PALESTINIAN TEENAGER’S SHOOTING

PUBLISHED ON WEDNESDAY 22 MAY 2013.

Charles Enderlin

Read in Arabic (بالعربية)

The Israeli government has just published a report of its investigation into French TV station France 2’s controversial coverage of 12-year-old Palestinian Muhammad al-Durrah’s death during rioting in the Gaza Strip on 30 September 2000 and the disputed claim that he was killed by a shot fired from Israeli positions.

The report’s release came three days ahead today’s announcement by a Paris appeal court that it will finally issue its ruling on 26 June in the defamation case between France 2’s Jerusalem correspondent, Charles Enderlin, and Media Rating founder Philippe Karsenty, who suggested that the teenager’s death was staged.

The Israeli report, which is very critical of France 2’s staff, was produced by a committee consisting of representatives of various ministries, the police and the Israel Defence Forces. It was appointed by Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu last September.

“While the Israeli government has the right to respond publicly to a media report it regards as damaging, the nature and substance of this report are questionable and give the impression of a smear operation,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.

Not clear whether Deloire has read the report, and if so, that he did more than realize that it was strongly critical of Enderlin. But unlike real smear tactics, all the criticism is considered, documented and reasoned. So what, in Deloire’s mind distinguishes “smear” from “criticism”?

Lethal Journalism at Work: Omar Mishrawi’s Death and the Press

Background: During Operation Pillar of Defense (Amud Anan) in November of 2012, one photo of the BBC’s operative in Gaza, Jihad Mishrawi crying to the heavens as he held his dead 5-month old son in his arms became iconic of the combat. TV News gave it ample space, newspaper headlines screamed “Israeli killed the infant.”

[For reasons beyond both Eli Stone’s control and mine, this piece was held up for a while and forgotten. I post it now because of it’s relevance to the theme of lethal journalism. Some of the links are broken, and we’ll try and find them if they’re still avaialable.]

The only problem was, not only did not evidence support the story of an Israeli rocket, the pictorial evidence suggested just the opposite: the rocket that killed the boy and several others, was a Hamas rocket that targeted Israeli civilians, but fell short and hit Gazans instead.

Several alert bloggers noted the anomalous evidence, but the mainstream news media clung to its narrative. Now, months later even the UNHRC reports that:

On 14 November, a woman, her 11-month-old infant [Omar Mishrawi], and an 18-year-old adult in Al-Zaitoun were killed by what appeared to be a Palestinian rocket that fell short of Israel.

This classic “lethal journalism,” in which the news media, following the lethal narratives produced by the Palestinians and their “friends” (“Human Rights” NGOs on the scene) rather than examining the evidence, presents (often) dishonest accusations as news. As a result, the world is exposed to the image of Israelis as (at best) indiscriminate killers of women, children and other innocent civilians, rather than the onus falling on the real indiscriminate killers of innocents – both among their sworn enemies but also among their own people – the Palestinian “militants” “resisting” Israeli aggression.

Below is an exchange between Eli Stone, one of the non-professional observers, who sent his criticism of the Washington Post’s coverage to their Ombudsman, Patrick Pexton. As you review it, you can see the way in which those allegedly responsible for the accuracy and ethical standards of the mainstream news media, run interference for the misbehavior of their own journalists. (Pexton was also extensively criticized by Scott Johnson at PowerLine.) The arguments Pexton uses to justify the Post’s actions also illustrate the way in which “lethal narratives” have the current “liberal” imagination in their talons: the alternative (Hamas kills its own indiscriminately if not intentionally) is literally unthinkable.

How Dare You Deprive us of our Icon of Hatred? A Saudi Writer on Al Durah

The Kuperwasser Committee Report on Al Durah has elicited fascinating and revealing responses. This one from Saudi Arabia permits us to appreciate just how important a role that icon of hatred plays in the consciousness of the Palestinian/Arab/Muslim world.

Muhammad Al-Dura lives

For the general public, the picture of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza usually conjures up confrontations between Palestinian boys throwing stones at armed Israeli soldiers. But in the one image which more than any other epitomizes the character of the conflict in the territories, a Palestinian boy is not throwing stones, but all the same is shot and killed.

In other words, no possible excuse, this is the deliberate murder of a totally innocent boy.

The boy is Muhammad Al-Dura and the TV image of his father shielding the screaming 12 year old when they were caught in a heated exchange of fire between Israeli troops and Palestinian fighters [sic] became the enduring symbol of the second Palestinian uprising, or Intifada.

Thirteen years after the death [sic] of Al-Dura, the controversy behind the pictures is still alive. It is not really controversial except in Israel’s eyes.

This is actually interesting. The international press is angry at Karsenty for saying everyone in France agrees with him, because there are many who don’t. Here is the opposite position. In both cases the speaker imagines everyone agreeing with him because it’s true (i.e., he’s right). The only distinction is one has examined the evidence, and the other has not.

An Israeli government committee recently concluded in a report that Al-Dura’s death, which was broadcast by France 2 on Sept. 30, 2000, cannot be substantiated by the pictures. States the report: “There is no evidence that the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) was in any way responsible for causing any of the alleged injuries to Jamal (the father) or the boy.”

The 44-page report of the investigation, ordered last year, said there was no evidence the boy was killed at all, claiming there were no blood marks on the scene or bullet wounds in the alleged victims. It said the boy was shown alive toward the end of raw video it obtained from France 2, but that was not included in the edited TV report.

Not even killed? The IDF apologized at the time. Why apologize unless you did something wrong?

Nothing better illustrates the problem of cultural expectations in this affair than this remark. As a non-Jewish reader remarked to me: “You don’t seem to understand. Where I come from, you don’t apologize for anything. So if you even sort-of apologize for something, it’s assumed you did ten times more than you’re admitting to. I don’t think many people understand how readily Israelis (even government figures) are inclined to apologize for things like this, partly because, if they have killed children, they do regret it.

But of course, that’s not the narrative our Saudi writer has in mind. For him the “if… then” apology from Israel is proof they killed the kid.

How can the committee be so sure about what happened to Al-Dura? No autopsy was conducted, and the Israeli investigation was based primarily on expert interviews and analysis of the raw film. That’s not good enough. The circumstances of Al-Dura’s death raise questions that definitely required a quick response at the time – not 13 years later. No Israeli institution bothered to set up an independent, expert investigation when this was possible.

Actually, they did, but Israeli journalists trashed it before anyone else had to deal with their findings. Bob Simon, in his “60 Minutes” episode on this incident didn’t even go into the evidence the investigation turned up.

The fact that an organized body like the IDF, one of Israeli society’s most prominent institutions, with its vast resources, undertook such an amateurish investigation on such a sensitive issue is very odd. Is this the best Israel’s main fighting force can do? Since Israel is forever worried about its image in front of the world, why didn’t the political echelons demand that a proper investigation be conducted?

Now it is clear that the chance of Israel proving that it is not guilty of shooting the youth is over, and with it, the belief in an independent IDF investigation has also been lost. As it has done in previous crimes, notably in the MV Mavi Marmara debacle, Israel appointed itself judge and jury and, without fail, proclaimed itself innocent.

Interesting choice. Even the BBC, so ill-inclined towards Israel that it spends hundreds of thousands of pounds to keep the Beilin report on their anti-Israel bias out of the press, has taken Israel’s side in the Mavi Marmara. Indeed they’re both part of the sequence of lethal journalist outbreaks that occurred in the thirteen years since Al Durah.

Like Yasser Arafat, whose body was exhumed last year to determine whether he had been poisoned, Jamal Al-Dura is prepared to have his son’s remains exhumed to demonstrate that he was killed by Israeli bullets. That should settle the issue. Not surprisingly, Israel has not commented.

Israel would be fine with an exhumation. Apparently the Arafat exhumation did not bring about the kind of news the exhumers were hoping for, and of course, were the boy in the tomb dug up, it would be still more embarrassing. The father can make this claim all he wants, but no one on the other side will support him.

Israel claims Al-Dura is alive.

They don’t. Just alive at the end of the footage shot by Abu Rahma.

In a way, he is. He lives in spirit, an important symbol in the Palestinian struggle for statehood. Al-Dura is a powerful rallying cry. He has been immortalized in stamps and posters bearing his image and a children’s hospital, schools and streets are named after him. He lives on in everyone who supports justice and opposes oppression.

Actually, he lives on in everyone who wants war and vengeance, and needs to oppress his neighbors in order to feel like a man.

Israel has taken much from the Palestinians, but it will never take away Muhammad Al-Dura’s final moments.

What a magnificently ironic statement. What the Israelis have done is add the final moments of Al Durah’s life on video, and shown that he’s neither dead, nor, it would seem, dying.  But apparently, Al Durah dead is much more valuable than Al Durah alive.

How dare you deprive me and my people of our icon of hatred!

Derfner’s Brand of Kool-Aid: You Gonna Believe me or your Lying Eyes?

Really didn’t want to do this. Have responded thrice in the Spring of 2008 to Dernfer’s rattling his cage about Al Durah – here, here, and here – and I probably should leave him to rattle in peace. But there’s something about his tone which I think is particularly revealing, and that readers should be aware of when they hear it. It’s the sound of a lethal journalist being denied his foundational myth.

And the irony is that, at the end of the article, he concedes major terrain in the argument, even as he maintains his tone of contempt… a little like the naked emperor who, realizing everyone knows he’s naked, continues his charade showing even more disdain for the crowd.

In the following article there is not one substantive argument, only one case where Derfner grapples (unsuccessfully) with the empirical evidence (which I’m beginning to think he hasn’t watched – or watched peremptorily). It’s all about name-calling (when it happens to them, people like Derfner like to use the word “smear,” as in the critics are “Desperately smearing Goldstone“), and circuitous arguments all drawn directly from Charles Enderlin. In some senses, the best parallel to Derfner’s prose is the Vultures, except that Derfner does it in public.

Warning in advance. This is long. I will extract the key issues for an article next week, but each of the elements of Derfner’s article deserve analysis, if only because so many people, especially journalists, share his attitude.

On the al-Dura affair: Israel officially drank the Kool Aid

A look at the right-wing conspiracy-nut thinking that informed this week’s blue-ribbon report on the infamous 2000 killing of a Palestinian boy in Gaza. 

In the 13 years since Muhammad al-Dura was killed in an Israeli-Palestinian shootout in Gaza while cowering behind his father, masses of right-wing Jews have eagerly embraced a conspiracy theory of the 12-year-oid boy’s killing – that it was staged, a hoax perpetrated by Palestinians to blacken Israel’s name. This theory, promoted most avidly by Boston University Prof. Richard Landes and French media analyst Philippe Karsenty, depends on a view of Palestinians being superhumanly clever and fiendish, and a view of reality that comes from the movies.

As I noted at your site: The difference between you and me is you think the journos are too sharp to be fooled by anything unless it’s a major conspiracy, whereas I, looking at the evidence, sadly come to the conclusion that the Palestinians can put out the shoddiest crap (Talal’s pathetic 60 seconds) and our journos (led by the lethal journalists who pass on anything the Palestinians cook up) will gobble it up. Given your long career as one who regularly feeds these Palestinian lethal narratives to your readers as news, it’s probably no surprise that you need to believe in the necessity of conspiracies that can’t exist, in order to keep on trucking.

The mentality here is essentially the same one that drives the 9/11 “truthers,” the anti-Obama “birthers,” those who say the Shin Bet assassinated Rabin, or those who say ultra-rightists assassinated JFK – a fevered imagination activated by political antagonism that knows no bounds. In the right-wing conspiracy theories of the al-Dura shooting, the boundless antagonism goes out to the Palestinians and their supporters.

Aside from comparing the Al Durah scam, where at most a couple of dozen people were necessary to pull it off, with schemes that took massive levels of participants (9-11, Kennedy Assassination), there’s a fascinating reversal embedded in this comment: the boundless antagonism in this conflict comes from the Palestinians, it not only drove the creation of the Al Durah story, but its systematic deployment as an icon of hatred in order to inject a death cult into Palestinian culture. Of course people like me are hostile to this kind of appalling behavior and hostile to people, like you, who, instead of condemning it roundly, constantly run interference for, and encourage it. As often in conspiracy theories, the person accusing the other of secretly evil intentions projects his own behavior and attitudes.

This week, the State of Israel officially joined the movement. Its report on the al-Dura affair adopts the conspiracy theory in full. (To be precise, it adopts the relatively “restrained” conspiracy theory – that the al-Duras were never shot. The other, wholly unrestrained conspiracy theory in circulation holds that the Palestinians killed the boy deliberately to create a martyr.)

Welcome, Refugee from rekaB Street: Shmuel Rosner’s Mea Culpa

In the flood of commentary and analysis of the Al Durah controversy, I’ve tried to fisk the most important typical responses. And of course, I have a backlog of articles to fisk. But this one by Shmuel Rosner jumped to the top of the pile because of its honest reappraisal. It helps to understand some of the factors that played at the time the story broke, and answer Vic Rosenthal’s question:

Why didn’t then Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and then Prime Minister Ehud Barak demand that all the footage shot by France 2 on that day be placed at Israel’s disposal to do a proper investigation?
Before adding my commentary to Rosner’s mea culpa, I’d like to acknowledge the courage involved in this piece, and the remarkable fact that the New York Times published it. As someone laboring in the wilderness for a decade, all I can say is, this is unexpected.
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The Skeptic’s Curse

By SHMUEL ROSNER
On Oct. 6, 2000, Palestinian boys in the Gaza strip walked past graffiti representing Muhammad al-Dura as he was shown in a television report.Ahmed Jadallah/ReutersOn Oct. 6, 2000, Palestinian boys in the Gaza strip walked past graffiti representing Muhammad al-Dura as he was shown in a television report.

TEL AVIV — In late September 2000, at the beginning of the second Palestinian intifada, the French TV station France 2 aired some 60 seconds of footage allegedly showing the killing of a Palestinian boy in the Gaza Strip.

Muhammad al-Dura, who was 12 at the time, and his father are shown caught in an exchange of fire between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian fighters. The boy cowers behind his father, with what sounds like gunshots crackling in the background. Smoke then blocks our view. When it lifts the boy is flattened, listless, and his father is lying against the wall, apparently in serious physical distress. The footage soon became one of the most memorable and heart-wrenching of the bloody Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

No one knows what happened exactly at the Netzarim Junction that day. The French broadcast claimed that gunfire from Israeli soldiers killed the boy. That version of the facts immediately became the official Palestinian account. Israel did not accept responsibility, nor did it deny being involved. And so the French-Palestinian narrative stuck.

But this Sunday, the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs released a report undermining that account. The document concludes there is “strong evidence” that Muhammad and his father “were not hit by bullets at all in the scenes filmed.” It also details many errors, omissions and open questions in the widely accepted narrative of the event.

I first heard that there might be a problem with the al-Dura story soon after the incident. I was the head of the news division at Haaretz at the time, and a young reporter approached me to say that a high-ranking official at the Israel Defense Force would be staging, in front of a crew from “60 Minutes,” a re-enactment of the shooting to prove the French and Palestinian chroniclers wrong.

I believed the initial story about al-Dura, and I was highly suspicious of the motivations of anyone attempting to disprove it.
Note a few things here. “I believed the initial story about al-Durah.” This readiness to believe the worst of the Israeli army – that they’d target a father and child and rain down bullets upon them, was pervasive, particularly among the journalists who were most proud of their self-critical attitude. As Bet Michael said to me in November of 2003 (after I had studied with Shahaf and seen the France2 raw footage with Enderlin),

BM: 100%. The israelis killed the boy.
RL: Really? Are you aware of the investigation and its findings?
BM: The investigator was a nut… some engineer with the army who argued a conspiracy theory that he kid committed suicide.
RL: Suicide?
MS: (to me while BM waxed eloquent to NB)
NB) He’s being sarcastic.
RL: Were you being sarcastic?
BM: Not at all. I meant every word.
RL: Suicide?
BM: Oh, that was sarcastic, but since then the IDF has killed over 200 palestinian children, you can check with B’tselem.

Here’s a close-up view of the world of aggressive lethal journalism, backed by their “researchers” who systematically compile the lethal narratives. At the time I did not realize it, but I should have after Jenin in 2002, that the lethal journalists – in the case of many, probably not even knowingly – were now dominant in the journalistic scene in Israel.

Enderlin: “What would they say in Gaza if I didn’t report that the Israelis killed him?”

enderlin schwartz quote

One of the more scandalous episodes of the Al Durah Affair came about after the judges saw the rushes and Karsenty won his appeal, much to the astonishment of the journalistic community who, under the aegis of Jean Daniel of Le Nouvel Observateur, put together a petition in his support. Below is a discussion of this development from an earlier post on Public Secrets (“they stage stuff all the time”) and Journalism.

In it I quote a remarkable response to Ha-aretz reporter Adi Schwartz’ question to Enderlin, “Why say ‘target of fire from the Israeli position” [when you didn’t at the time have any evidence], to which Enderlin responded, “what would they say in Gaza if I didn’t report that the Israelis killed him?” This is an astonishing quote, whose discussion I’ll delay to after the discussion of the “Nouvel Obs Petition.”

But then the “friends of Charles” did something remarkable and remarkably foolish. They put up a letter of support for their colleague that bemoaned the “campaign of hatred and vilification” that had dogged his steps for lo! these seven years… accusing him of a hoax when he told the world that the boy was killed by fire coming from the Israeli position. The court’s decision, they declared, surprised and worried them: surprised, because the court “granted the same credibility to Karsenty,” a mere civilian, as it had to Enderlin, the veteran reporter “known for the seriousness and rigor of his work, who exercises his profession in sometimes difficult conditions”; worried, because the court’s decision “gives a ‘permission to defame’ journalists, which would permit anyone, in the name of ‘good faith’ and ‘the right of free criticism,’ to strike with impunity at the ‘honor and reputation of information professionals.’” This, they concluded, coming “at a time when the freedom of action of journalists is the object of repeated attacks,” would undermine “this fundamental principle, pillar of democracy” and therefore they “renew our support and solidarity with Charles Enderlin.”

The text of this petition, signed by many, is as revealing as the Cristiano letter both in its complete indifference to the public secret that the Cristiano letter revealed about the systematic intimidation of the correspondents in the field. Perhaps that’s what the petition meant by “difficult circumstances” that their “veteran reporter” sometimes operated in. But somehow (unless one posits deliberate deceit), it could not occur to them that their friend was systematically misrepresenting the “terrain” he knows so well, that he would misreport events because “what would they say in Gaza if I didn’t report that the Israelis killed him?

On the contrary, the petition was written and signed by people who showed no interest in the evidence, who believe that their colleague should be given superior credibility because he is their colleague. And they clearly think that freedom from criticism by their readers guarantees their freedom of speech. It would be hard to imagine a more blatant expression of a privileged corporatist mentality redolent of the ancien régime. Ben Dror Yemini compares them to the “anti-Dreyfusards, who also stubbornly clung to the first version.”

And they just reared their ugly head again, the usual lethal suspects – journalists, photographers, and “Human Rights” NGOs, who call themselves the Vultures on Facebook, in response to the Kuperwasser Commission’s threat to their axiomatic belief: Al Durah is true. On rekaB Street.

And all this operates within the Augean Stables, whose parameters are

  • Palestinian intimidation (part of a larger context of the willingness of the “weak” in asymmetrical warfare to resort to violence)
  • journalistic self-esteem/honor-shame concerns about being “looking honorable”
  • advocacy for the underdog to the point of underdogma as a resolution to the dilemma.

Here Enderlin reveals that in the journalist’s daily and constant struggle navigating between loyalty to his sources, and loyalty to his audience, professional scruples of the most elemental sort – heavy accusations need heavy corroborating evidence – answered to the people of Gaza and neither to Israel, nor even to his professional standards. And the ease with which both he expresses it and Adi Schwartz accepts it, illustrates just how encrusted these bad attitudes had become.

Apparently, the Haaretz translators of this article understood that this comment was too revealing for the rest of the world, and cut the key phrase in its English version:

A.S.: In hindsight, is it possible that you were too hasty that evening?

C.E.: I don’t think so. Besides, the moment I saw that nobody was asking me anything officially, I started feeling more strongly that the story was true.

Daniel Leconte was quite indignant about the public secret of the staging: “You [France2] may know it [that staging happens all the time], but the public doesn’t. But then, reportedly, Jacques Attali told him to stand down and both he and Denis Jeambar used the excuse of Juffa’s leaked report of their encounter to bow out. Two more Zolas that never happened.

Lethal Journalists React to the Al Durah Report: Insights into the NGO-Journo Matrix

It’s well known here in Israel that the journalists, the NGOs and the UN folk party together, that within a few weeks of coming to the Middle East, even fair-minded journalists get “turned” into partisans of a particularly weaponized version of the Human Rights Complex. The senior journalists (like Charles Enderlin), UN employees, and the NGO folk form the “honor group” which, above all, new journalists need to please in order to get along, and they, in turn, of course, are all  concerned with pleasing the folks on the Palestinian side who can be either very generous friends or very unpleasant foes).

So it’s not hard to imagine what goes into the kind of pack mentality that produced consensus around the Al Durah story. As Pierre André Taguieff wrote over a decade ago, in the midst of the initial madness that opened the 21st century, “When all the fish swim in the same direction, it’s that they’re dead.” And yet, our journalist-NGO-UN peer group are quite alive, indeed they represent the matrix of the lethal journalism that has been dumping Palestinian narrative sewage in our public sphere for over a decade now. What goes through their minds that they can convince themselves that they’re “real” journalists, an indispensable part of a “reality-based” community?

I have, in the past speculated on a kind of cowardly narcissism, in which they can’t admit to their readers that they’re intimidated because they’d lose their credibility, and they can’t admit to themselves that they’re doing that because they admire themselves too much, so they become advocates for the “weak,” they adhere to Underdogma

What the Facebook exchange, prompted by the release of the Kuperwasser Report on the Al Durah incident, captured below clarifies, is how some of them handle a cognitive challenge. While some of us look at the evidentiary basis of the Al Durah story and shake our heads at the how impossibly sloppy and shoddy the whole thing was, unable to imagine how anyone could have fallen for it, they look at the evidence and live on a different planet. Call it Planet rekaB… or maybe, Planet Al Durah.

At the level of cognitive anthropology, this is fascinating stuff. In a sense, the report is like a rock thrown in a hive of lethal journalists, who didn’t know we got a glimpse at their private response to having one of their most iconic figures taken away.

Vultures

AP, AFP reporters trash Israel in secret Facebook group
Israeli Defense Forces / AP Israeli Defense Forces / AP

BY:  A “secret” Facebook group of foreign correspondents and human rights activists quickly devolved into an anti-Israel hate-fest on Tuesday following the release of a new Israeli government report that cleared the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) of wrongdoing in the 2000 death of a Palestinian boy. The Israeli government report contests the claim that the IDF killed a Palestinian boy, Muhammad al-Durrah, in a famous 2000 incident in Gaza that helped ignite the Second Intifada.

Journalists and activists mocked the report, attacked the IDF, and claimed pro-Israel lobbyists were influencing the media coverage, in a private Facebook group for foreign correspondents known as the “Vulture Club.”

This is a classic trope in the anti-Zionist camp. Unless the Zionists are impotent, they are exercising a sinister influence. It was prominent in the reaction to the removal of Joseph Massad’s piece from Al Jazeera, leaving it up only at Stormfront (Nazi site).  In other words, any success in marginalizing even the most vicious rants is a sign of the “Jewish Lobby.” This is what we, in the scholarly community call a Protocols analog” – in other words a theme (meme) from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion that has been stripped of its original context and redeployed in less obviously forged form.

Peter Bouckaert, a senior official at Human Rights Watch, dismissed the report as “typical IDF lies.” “As usual, it takes them a long time to really build up the falsehood,” wrote Bouckaert. Bouckaert also blasted the New York Times for its coverage of the report. “It really isn’t good journalism to write this up as if these are credible allegations when it is a pack of lies,” he wrote.

Bouckaert is a major player in the NGO world of global “human rights” (the “progressive global left”), among those who hijacked it in the 1990s and who was implementing the Durban Strategy when he wrote his reports on the Lebanon War 2006, where HRW’s work, double-checked, looks very weak on accuracy and very high on lethal narratives.

Correspondents from numerous outlets, including the Associated Press and the Agence France-Presse, also piled on. “[T]he lobby uses all its strength and is able to push anything in majors [sic] English newspapers or in the NYT[imes],” wrote El Mundo reporter Javier Espinosa.

Protocols analog as shorthand. Anything favorable to Israel immediately dismissed as the influence of the lobby. The logic here runs: the Jewish lobby’s impact will be effectively eliminated when the Israeli narrative has been eliminated.

“Israeli embassies call their contacts in all those newspapers and they agree to publish that information.”

This is precisely what other players do with a great deal more success… take, for example, the Al Durah story.

“That reinforces lack of media credibility and conspiracy theories as we are being used as mouthpieces for propaganda,” Espinosa added.

Yes, it does. And that’s precisely what should happens as long as you reporters believe that freedom of the press means freedom to say whatever you want (e.g., lethal narratives of the most destructive kind) without having to answer to pesky citizen critics like Karsenty.

Associated Press photojournalist Jerome Delay wrote, “The IDF thinks the earth is flat, btw.”

This sophomoric attempt at humor is a nice piece of projection. These people live on a flat planet where a boy who “dies” on film, when the film corroborates none of the key claims – that he died, that he was shot by Israelis, that they shot him on purpose or recklessly – is so unquestionably a child killed by Israelis that anyone who doesn’t think so must be ridiculed. Not a healthy intellectual atmosphere.

The journalists also took shots at Philippe Karsenty, a French media analyst who was sued by France 2 television after he accused the network of airing staged footage of the al-Durrah incident. “And fuck no, it’s not true that ‘Everyone in France knows the footage is a hoax,’ as Karsenty says,” wrote AFP reporter Marc Bastian. “Everyone here knows that [France 2 journalist Charles] Enderlin is an honest man, and Karsenty is an extremist.” “

This is cute. It’s true that Philippe, like so many of the earlier bearers of the “Al Durah staged” torch, has a tendency to overestimate the persuasiveness of their argument. (I remember walking with Gerard Huber in Paris and he’d point to someone and say darkly,

GH: He knows, he just won’t admit it.
RL: How do you know that?
GH: I sent him my book.
RL: But Gerard, that’s assuming three things that are not clear: 1) that he read the book, 2) that he understood it (it’s in a typical French allusive style), and 3) that your arguments convinced him.

So on one level, Bastian is right, not everyone agrees with Karsenty. Just more and more honest intellectuals (defined in the Dreyfus Affair as someone who can change his mind when confronted by empirical evidence) changing their mind, one by one, all the time. (Karsenty is nothing if not tireless.)

But on another, he’s given us the key to how they talk on Planet Al Durah: Enderlin honest, Karsenty extremist. And if Enderlin is not honest – au contraire! – and Karsenty is right? Inconceivable!

That’s about the kindest way to describe Karsenty,” replied Bouckaert. “I would add a few descriptive words after extremist.” “I know, I’m always too polite,” responded Bastian.

This kind of verbal abuse is widespread among the left, and just led to a major scandal in Paris because a Judges Syndicat had a “Wall of Imbeciles” (Mur des cons) in which right wing figures (really anyone not on the left) were posted, ridiculed and smeared as fascists and neo-Nazis. (It’s presence was revealed by a journalist who has been involved in exposing the Al Durah hoax, Clement Weill-Raynal.) Of course these same folks will scream “smearing” and “chill wind of McCarthyism” at the drop of criticism of one of them. If this seems like an intense “us-them,” tribal mentality, it is. Amira Hass revels in her belonging to the hamoulah [clan] of global progressive left.

Andrew Ford Lyons, an activist with the International Solidarity Movement, which has supported anti-Israel terrorists, called the al-Durrah report “a feeble attempt at historical revision, at best.”

ISM is one of the major promoters of the most extreme Palestinian factions even as they claim to be a peace movement. They ran interference in the West for the Hamas-driven suicide bombing campaign that targeted Israeli civilians on both sides of the Green Line that took off in the wake of Al Durah (December 31, 2000-) with the oxymoronic slogan, “Resistance is not Terrorism.”

Bouckaert, who is currently the emergencies director at Human Rights Watch, declined to discuss his comments to the Vulture Club on the record when contacted by the Washington Free Beacon. “The group is a secret FB group, and our discussions are confidential,” Bouckaert said. Human Rights Watch’s founder, Robert Bernstein, publicly broke with the group in 2009 and said the group’s anti-Israel activism was distorting the issue. Human Rights Watch did not comment. The Vulture Club has around 3,500 members. Espinosa also declined to explain his comments when contacted over Twitter. “[Y]ou have some personal examples at the facebook page that you have read,” he wrote. The Associated Press did not respond to requests for comment.

In other words, “This is part of our public secret. Back off.”

Who said sunlight was the best disinfectant?

vultures

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Answer to Vic Rosenthal’s Good Question about Al Durah

Subtitle to

Why was the IDF (and Karsenty) Abandoned in the Al Dura Affair?

Why didn’t then Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and then Prime Minister Ehud Barak demand that all the footage shot by France 2 on that day be placed at Israel’s disposal to do a proper investigation?

Because back then, it was unthinkable. I had to do Pallywood before Al Durah (2005-6) because people literally couldn’t believe that “staged” was even a possibility.

Even if they did believe, Enderlin had told everyone that he had more material he didn’t publish because it was “too horrible to see” – the famous “death throes.” In one move, he explained why he edited the original footage and, by invoking the “public’s sensibilities” he was able to implicitly blackmail me. The Israelis were afraid of what was on the tapes, and afraid that if they asked for it, he’d release the rest of the world.

What shocked and outraged Esther Schapira into her second movie was seeing the rushes in Paris in 2007, and realizing that there were only 60 seconds of the Al Durah sequence. She confronted Enderlin outside the court, and he just shrugged her off. I argued with the Israelis from the moment I saw them that there was nothing to afraid of in the tapes, but by then the attitude of fear of a reprisal had become pervasive.

Miri Eisen asked me if I thought it was staged. When I said yes, she said, “end of conversation.” When I asked her if she would like a crack forensic team to examine any future footage of Israeli carnage before she had to face the cameras in case it were clearly a fake (this was after Lebanon and Kafr Qana), and she said, “no.”

As you can imagine, we didn’t have lots to say to each other.

Answer to Herb Keinon: Whose interests are served by resurrecting the potent image of Muhammad al-Dura?

Herb Keinon, veteran Israeli reporter, and hardly someone who can be accused of timidity or post-modern masochism, is troubled by the appearance of the Kuperwasser Report. He raises perfectly legitimate concerns which I will try and answer.

Analysis: Words vs. pictures in al-Dura affair

By HERB KEINON

05/21/2013 02:08

It is not entirely clear whose interests are served by resurrecting the potent image of Muhammad al-Dura.

Palestinian boys carrying Hamas flags in the Gaza Strip walk past graffiti showing Muhammad al-Dura.

Photo: REUTERS

CBS News correspondent Lesley Stahl, the tale is told, put together an unflattering piece on former US president Ronald Reagan in 1984, during the heat of that year’s election campaign, trying to show the contradictions between what Reagan had promised during his first years in office, and what he delivered.

Stahl, who wrote about the incident in her 1999 book Reporting Live, said she knew the nearly six-minute segment would have an impact, and thought that the White House would be furious.

After the piece – which showed favorable footage of Reagan over negative commentary – aired, Stahl did indeed receive a call from White House advisor Dick Darman. But he called to praise, not berate, her.

“Way to go, kiddo. What a great piece. We love it,” he told the correspondent.

Stahl, confused because her piece was highly critical, asked, “Didn’t you hear what I said?” To which Darman replied, “Nobody heard what you said. You guys in Televisionland haven’t figured it out, have you? When the pictures are powerful and emotional, they override if not completely drown out the sound. I mean it, Lesley. Nobody heard you.”

The same might be said of the government panel that on Sunday issued its conclusions that the IDF did not kill 12-year-old Muhammad al-Dura in 2000. Were Palestinian leaders to phone the members of the panel, they probably would say that the al-Dura image is so powerful, it is drowning out all the committee’s words.

Here’s the irony. It’s not the pictures, it’s Charles Enderlin’s voiceover with Talal Abu Rahma’s lethal narrative that made these pictures so powerful. Those who look closely tend to come away convinced that they are not looking at a dead (or even injured) boy. But to do that they have to unlearn the suggestion that they are watching a boy die before their eyes.

You can easily answer it doesn’t matter. But it does. No democracy can afford to have a public so stupid that it can be swayed by stupid fakes, especially ones as explosive as this one. Your comparison with the American political scene is superficially plausible, but in that case, what caught Stahl up short was that she showed real footage of Reagan in which he looked good. Imagine what would have happened if she had tampered with footage to make Reagan look evil. She would have set off a huge row, and her career would have been over.

In this case, the Abu Rahma and his colleagues created an explosive narrative – a weapon of cognitive warfare – and used Enderlin as his delivery system. Enderlin’s role gave the explosive global impact that went far beyond the local conflict. It juiced up the forces of global Jihad the world over, it set in motion a perilous and oxymoronic alliance between the most (allegedly) progressive and most (clearly) regressive forces on the planet, it gave dominance to a school of lethal journalism that has continued to whip up that dynamic for the last thirteen years. Although it was not itself an apocalyptic image, it gave wings to the most terrifying form of apocalyptic belief – death cults that believe that one must destroy the world in order to save it. In terms of cognitive warfare, it was a nuclear bomb.

The Al Durah Affair: What makes journalists behave so badly?

The Israeli government finally came out with a report – thirteen years late – on the Muhammad al Durah affair. It’s thirteen years late. But not too late. It can never be too late to take on so nasty a tale, and particularly from the perspective of any journalists, this may be the biggest hoax in modern history – at once the longest and the most damaging to everyone but the war mongers.

The scandal today is not that the Palestinians faked it. We’ve seen them at work time and again, exploiting every occasion to paint the Israelis as child-killers, even when they themselves killed their children. The scandal today is, thirteen years later, the journalists themselves not only have not confronted their shocking initial failure – dupes of a cheap fake – but their continued refusal to reconsider even as they continue to fall dupe to subsequent hoaxes. On the contrary, the go on practicing the kind of “lethal journalism” that the Al Durah affair epitomizes – injecting the information circulation system with malevolent lethal narratives designed to incite hatred, vengeance and war.

How many of the journalists who have written about this report have even seen the evidence? I’m betting, although I’d be glad to be proven wrong, that the Daily Telegraph Middle East correspondent, Robert Tait hasn’t even seen the evidence that the Israeli report analyzes. If so he’d be like so many of the journalists who signed the petition protecting Charles Enderlin from criticism from – horrors – non-journalists.

In part this is the Israeli government’s fault. They should have held a press conference and forced the journalists to look at the damning evidence. But anyone who wants to examine it can consult the best (only) compendium of the evidence at The Al Durah Project. Once they’ve viewed the evidence, they can move on to the analysis.

Tait, however, prefers a different line, one taken by a number of journalists who do not want to confront the unhappy truth that the community of journalists – including many Israeli ones – has, willy nilly, carried on a devastatingly damaging fraud for over a decade, despite the overwhelming evidence that it’s not only staged, but very badly done.

On the contrary, to inform his readers what to think of this new report, he goes for Charles Enderlin’s “conspiracy theory.” And to do so, he interviews the director of one of the most far left media sites (the equivalent of FAIR or Media Matters in the USA), on whose board Charles Enderlin sits.

“I believe [italics mine] that what we saw on the France 2 news item was exactly what happened and the camera caught exactly what happened,” [Yizhar Be’er] told The Daily Telegraph. “It is mission impossible to fake such a huge event. Nobody, least of all the Palestinians, can create such a fabrication.”

Now despite Tait’s assuring his readers that Be’er and his organization “have extensively studied the case,” their site shows no evidence of such a study.

Be’er’s use of the word “believe” may give us a clue to his astonishing statement that the camera caught exactly what happened (by which presumably he means what Charles Enderlin says happened). As Jon Randall told Anne-Elisabeth Moutet:

Charles Enderlin is an excellent journalist! I don’t care if it’s the Virgin Birth affair, I would tend to believe him. Someone like Charles simply doesn’t make a story up.

Neither Randall, nor Be’er could have seen the evidence and made such professions of belief. Even if you don’t want to see it, even if you want to claim it’s not staged, it’s impossible to look at the footage Talal Abu Rahma shot and insist that it confirms Enderlin’s narrative, not the “targeted by fire from the Israeli position” nor the “the child is dead” when twenty seconds later he’s moving quite deliberately. Asked how he could proclaim the child dead two scenes earlier, Enderlin replies:

I’m very sorry, but the fact is the child died. Maybe not at the precise moment I showed. But this is the way I do a story. “The child is dead,” is a statement. What’s your problem with it?

Not looking at the evidence is bad enough. But using a conspiracy theory to excuse it just compounds the problem. Be’er’s comment illustrates exactly what’s wrong with the current media scene:

“It is mission impossible to fake such a huge event. Nobody, least of all the Palestinians, can create such a fabrication.”

Be’er (and Enderlin whom he’s channeling) assume that the Palestinians are too incompetent to fool them, and only a massive conspiracy – which they assume couldn’t happen – could have fooled them. Enderlin, confronted with the extensive staging visible in his own cameraman’s footage, responded, “Oh they do that all the time.” But dismissed the possibility they did it with Al Durah: “they’re not good enough” – a comment echoed in Be’er’s “least of all the Palestinians.”

The sad thing, the pathetic thing, is that it didn’t take much to fool them. If I were a professor of videography and a student came to me with this footage, I’d give him an F: get better focus, have the kid look wounded rather than stretched out, have him clutch his stomach rather than his eyes, give him some blood to spill, don’t break it up into short clips. It turns out it’s “mission easy” to put together a shoddy piece and, as long as it’s the kind of story for which too many Westerners and way too many journalists have an insatiable appetite – lethal narratives about Israel – they’ll bite at the poison meat no matter how rancid, no matter how ultimately self-destructive for their own profession and society that depends on them.

The conspiracy theory depends on the idea that the news media is full of sharp, skeptical professional journalists who can’t be fooled easily and it would take a massive and elaborate scheme to do so. The story, alas, is the opposite: no need for conspiracy, not even for high quality staging. Apparently the journalists, like Charles Enderlin, are so used to looking at this staged material that they no longer see it as anything but “reality.” As Enderlin put it to Esther Schapira of ARD:

This is not staging, it’s playing for the camera. When they threw stones and Molotov cocktails, it was in part for the camera. That doesn’t mean it’s not true. They wanted to be filmed throwing stones and being hit by rubber bullets. All of us — the ARD too — did reports on kids confronting the Israeli army, in order to be filmed in Ramallah, in Gaza. That’s not staging, that’s reality.

This comes from a man who’s “gone native.” Staging is reality in the Palestinian world, and apparently his too. Enderlin has the famous quote from Tom Friedman at the top of his blog: “In the Middle East, if you can’t explain something with a conspiracy theory, don’t bother.” For Charles, if your own incompetence has put you in a terribly embarrassing situation, cry conspiracy theory. And count on journalists like Jon Randall and Robert Tait, and all the people who work on blind faith, to give him support. And alas, just as the Palestinians are right that they can put anything (French: n’importe quoi) out and have the Western media snap it up, so Charles Enderlin can make the most outrageous comments (at least where professional journalism is concerned), and have his colleagues circle the wagons.

Alas for Western civilization. Democracy and a free and honest press were such a good idea.

On how not to do a story: Daily Telegraph’s Robert Tait fisked

When the Daily Torygraph goes after the Al Durah investigation, it’s clear we’re dealing with an ecumenical movement in Europe that won’t let go of it’s moral Schadenfreude. Heaven forbid the Israelis are not guilty of killing that symbol of their brutality. Below, the Daily Telegraph’s Middle East Correspondent fisked.

Symbolic intifada death of boy did not happen, says Israel

A 12-year-old boy caught up in a notorious gunfight between Israel’s forces and Palestinian militants during the 2000 intifada may not have died in the event and was not hit by Israeli fire, a government inquiry has claimed.

By Robert Tait, Jerusalem

3:27PM BST 20 May 2013

It was the searing image that came to define the Palestinian intifada; a 12-year-old boy cowering in terror next to his father in the middle of a gunfight just minutes before being killed by an Israeli soldier’s bullet.

Now Israel has labelled famous footage supposedly depicting Mohammad al-Durra’s last moments “a blood libel” after publishing an official report that says he may have not have died at all and that he was never hit by Israeli gunfire.

An investigation commissioned by Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, has concluded that the episode may even have been fabricated or staged for propaganda purposes.

Television coverage of Mohammad and his father, Jamal, desperately seeking cover behind a wall after being caught in the crossfire at Netzarim Junction in Gaza in the early phases of the second Palestinian uprising were beamed around the world in September 2000.

It was widely assumed that the boy had died after being wounded in the stomach, with Israeli officials initially accepting that one of their soldiers may have fired the fatal shots in the “fog of war”.

Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s strategic affairs minister, presenting the new report, reversed that verdict by calling news coverage of the incident “a blood libel against Israel, alongside other blood libels like the claims of an alleged massacre in Jenin [in 2002]”.

I would not have used blood libel, although I do think its defensible. They’re really both excellent examples of of a more generic phenomenon of “lethal narratives,” that is stories told with the intention of arousing hatred and a desire for revenge against the accused. The report harshly (and, in my mind, completely justifiably) criticizes Charles Enderlin for his report whose narrative – the boy and father targeted by the Israelis, the boy killed – was repeatedly contradicted by the very footage that he systematically altered in order to make his claims plausible. And then the report goes on to criticize the influence this kind of reporting has had on journalistic standards when covering the conflict between Israel and its neighbors.

Indeed, the lethal journalism that systematically feeds Palestinian lethal narratives into the information circulation system of the West as news, which had already made its presence known since Lebanon in 1982, become a dominant school after Enderlin’s report of September 30, 2000: the era of Al Durah Journalism.

Fisking Rachel Shabi: How Dare the Israelis Suggest Palestinians Lied!

When the Guardian came out with their first article on the Israeli report on Al Durah, I thought that even though it was done by Harriet Sherwood, it was fairly neutral. I should have known that CiF would deliver the goods. Below the reaction of Rachel Shabi, with fisking.

Muhammad al-Dura and Israel’s obsession with the propaganda war

A report suggesting the death of the boy may have been faked was all spin, disregarding Palestinian testimony


guardian.co.uk
Jump to comments (76)
Muhammad and Jamal al-Dura

Footage from the France 2 report showing Muhammad al-Dura and his father, Jamal. Photograph: EPA

If Israel’s government is to be believed, Palestinians have sunk so low as to be capable of faking their own deaths.

“So low?” Lots of people and lots of governments have faked deaths. It’s not a particularly heinous or rare phenomenon. But wait, the Palestinians have done much worse: they’ve killed their own children and then made a media circus of trying to blame Israel.

Or wait, maybe the Israeli accusation of fakery is itself the indication of a horrifying new nadir. An Israeli report has concluded that Muhammad al-Dura, the 12-year-old Palestinian whose death in 2000 in Gaza was captured by a French public TV channel, was not killed by Israelis – and may in fact not be dead at all.

Back then, a short film of Muhammad and his father, both caught in a shootout, trying helplessly to shelter against a barrage of gunfire, was narrated by French Channel 2 correspondent Charles Enderlin and relayed around the world, turning the boy into a symbol of the brutality of the second intifada and the Israeli occupation. Now, Israel says those same images are yet more proof of a global campaign to delegitimise Israel – and are, additionally, attempts to invoke the blood libel.

Not invoke… deploy. If you look at the particularly vigorous life of all kinds of blood libels in the wake of Al Durah, from the extensive TV Ramadan series (2005) to the new variants on the old European variety (Muslim blood for Purim Humantashen in addition to Passover matzah), the blood libel is in the cognitive bloodstream of the Arab world.

The Israeli Who Can’t Stand Good News: Is it a pomo honor reflex to shrivel at the mention of Al Durah?

In the wake of the official Israeli report on al Durah, Ha-artez, whose record in this case, from its reporters to its editorials has been consistently hostile to any Israeli effort to challenge the evidence, continues to beat the drums of cognitive war against Israel. This picks up just where Anat Cygielman left off: IDF keeps shooting itself in the foot. Were I an anti-Zionist, Ha-aretz would have an special place in my playbook. Below, a fisking of their latest, entirely predictable response to the latest Israeli report on the Al Durah Affair.

Report on IDF shooting of Palestinian boy during intifada may cause Israel more damage than good

Its publication and the accompanying international public relations campaign only threatens to awake sleeping dogs. If international press picks up on the report, it could lead to a renewed discussion around Palestinian children getting hurt during IDF operations. By Barak Ravid | May.20, 2013 | 2:28 AM |  2 The infamous image of Mohammed al-Dura (left) sheltering with his father Jamal. Photo by AP

Yes, it is the infamous picture. And yes, the boy and the father do look terrified. After all someone from “their own side” has been shooting bullets right over their head. Instead, people should be looking at this picture, taken later, and cut by Charles Enderlin in his effort to give the story of a dead child credibility:

take 6 large

“Take 6”: the “dead boy” (according to Enderlin’s voiceover), holding his hand over his eyes, raises his elbow and looks out.

By Barak Ravid | May.19,2013 | 8:40 PM |  24 The report of the committee investigating the “coverage by French TV station France 2 of the Mohammed al-Dura affair, its results and implications”, which was presented Sunday to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is probably one of the least relevant documents written by the Israeli government in recent years.

Is this Ravid’s version of “that’s so fifteen minutes ago?” Or does he not understand the historical meaning of this icon, and the importance in that story of the credibility and power that journalists gave it.

Another take: This is a long overdue response to what may be the longest-standing and most destructive news media hoax in the history of modern journalism.

The fact that 13 years have elapsed since the incidents addressed in the report took place turned the submission of the report into a surreal affair. Netanyahu recited slogans about “a campaign of de-legitimization directed against Israel” and Minister Yuval Steinitz, who had no part in preparing the report, muttered a few words about a ‘blood libel’, and everyone present felt very righteous. The person who advocated for setting up the committee and who chaired it was Yossi Kuperwasser, director general of the Ministry for strategic Affairs. Kuperwasser, who was the Intel Officer at Southern Command and later head of research and analysis for Israel Defense Forces intelligence , has been waging a 13-year long public relations campaign against the Palestinians. For better or worse, his attention to the al-Dura affair became an obsession, leading to a suspicion there might be a conflict of interest.

This is classic. The public relations campaign that matters is Israel’s against the Palestinians, as if they didn’t wage far more vicious PR campaigns against Israel. This is the cognitive war equivalent of “Israel bombed Gaza today, starting a new round of violence.”

The result of the committee’s work was a document for the extremely meticulous. It is doubtful whether even a hundred people in Israel or worldwide are sufficiently familiar with all the intricate details of the incident as to be able to follow the convoluted arguments by the authors of the report.

And heaven forbid, anyone should actually look into the evidence in this sordid affair that has caused so much damage.

Reflections on Al Durah Staged and Conspiracy Theory

One of Charles Enderlin’s favorite defenses is to accuse his critics of believing in “conspiracy theories.” Here is Larry Derfner, whom Charles cites approvingly in his book on the subject, dismissing Philippe Karsenty and me as “conspiracy nuts”:

No doubt about it – Phillippe Karsenty and his allies have a lot of evidence that the killing of Mohammed al-Dura was a hoax, that it was staged by France 2 TV in cahoots with the Palestinians. In fact, Karsenty, Richard Landes and the rest of the conspiracy theorists have so much evidence that it may even add up to .001% [Enderlin mistranslates as 100% – rl] of the evidence that the Mafia, or Castro, or the Pentagon killed JFK. They may have the merest, slightest fraction of the evidence there is that Shimon Peres masterminded the Rabin assassination, or that the Mossad was behind 9/11.

Now that the Israeli government has come out with a report on the al Durah affair which is at least as sharply critical of his work as the French Court of Appeals in 2008, we can expect Charles and his defenders to come out with both conspiracy barrels blazing.

There is, however, a fundamental difference between a “coup montée” (a planned sting) and a conspiracy.

In the former case, it’s a small group of people who coordinate their activities in order to violate rules without the knowledge of the wider public. In this case, we are dealing with a cognitive or narrative hoax, in which some group of players wants the public to believe even though it didn’t happen. These are common in the history of the modern press, and they play a key role in broader “propaganda” campaigns aimed at swaying public opinion.

The Al Durah coup was pulled off by a core of planners and actors, a larger circle of people who cooperated once the tale had been set in motion, and finally a broader circle of believers who were duped by the coup. In a basic sense, the issue is how many people need to know it’s a fake, and how many are duped? If it takes a really broad group of people who know it’s a fake and play along (including people at high public levels), then we’re dealing with a conspiracy. If it only takes a few who know and many more who are duped, it’s a sting.

Here are a survey of the minimum of planners of the hoax to pull this off the Al Durah hoax:

  • the crew at the site:
    • certainly: Talal abu Rahmah, the gang around his shouting and yelling “The boy is dead” when he’s still sitting up, the al Durahs, the people charged producing automatic gunfire, the “street” who watched this, as other staged scenes.
    • possibly: The two other cameramen (AP Reuters) who left when their jobs were done, a Palestinian marksman tasked with firing at the scene, starting with the jeep scene…
  • at the hospitals (Gazan and Jordanian):
    • certainly: Gazan doctors willing to identify the body of an older boy with a tattoo as that of Muhammad al Durah and to produce an official report; Jordanian doctors willing to continue the hoax of the father’s “wounds”.
    • possibly: a wider range of hospital officials and journalists.
  • at the funeral:
    • certainly: the people who had already prepared posters of the “dead boy.”
    • possibly: a larger group of people who knew this was a fake

The key to understanding how this is not a conspiracy theory is to understand that it did not have to be a conspiracy, that on the contrary, a small group of people could work together to launch the hoax and a much larger circle of people, for various reasons well worth considering, eagerly adopted the hoax.

The circle of dupes involves most of the people Enderlin cites when he mocks the notion of a conspiracy:

  • in the media
    • a Western chief correspondent willing to edit the material in a way to give it believability and a TV station ready to run with the story. Charles Enderlin may or may not have been part of the planning committee. My guess is, he’s a dupe, at least in part because of his arrogance. When he admitted to me that the Palestinians stage scenes all the time, I asked him if so, why not al Durah? To which he responded, “They’re not good enough to fool me.” Apparently not. As for his superiors in France2 who gave him the green light, they were almost certainly fooled by believing in their correspondent.
    • a compliant press ready to run with the story once it broke. Among these, most notably, were journalists like Suzanne Goldenberg and Robert Fisk who found proof of abu Rahma’s account at every turn, and fed the flames of a post-moden blood libel.
  • in the higher echelons of Arab culture
    • King Hussein of Jordan, who visited Jamal al Durah in the hospital and donated blood almost certainly did not know that he was being duped. He had no reason to question the fact that the bandages and blood on Jamals wounds might not be real.

The difference between a conspiracy theory and a scam/hoax/sting is that in order for a conspiracy to take place on a large scale (e.g., the US government planning the 9-11 attacks, or the Jews planning to take over the world), it would take thousands of people in very high places. In order for a hoax to take place it just takes a lot of dupes. And in the case of Muhammad al Durah, it was a lot of willing, even eager dupes.

When people think that claiming al Durah was staged necessitates a conspiracy, they assume that the mainstream news media could not be fooled across the board by a fake, that if there were serious evidence against the story as the media reported it, then surely investigative journalists would have spoken up.

Alas, no. The current state of the mainstream media, especially where coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict is concerned, is an Augean Stables of encrusted bad habits. As Charles Enderlin said, when confronted with evidence that his cameraman Talal abu Rahma had filmed multiple staged scenes, “Oh yes, they do it all the time.” And the journalists who should have put an end to such behavior, apparently had/have no problem with that.

The Moral Chasm and the Pursuit of Peace

UPDATE on the moral chasm: David Brog, “A Tale of Two Hearts

Recently an Israeli blogger translated a piece by a young Israeli journalist who participated in what was supposed to be a “peace initiative” with Palestinian young adults. She is a classic product of Israeli culture, engaged, open, desirous of peace even if that means painful compromises, Liberal Cognitive Egocentric. This recent encounter with her Palestinian counterparts brought her face-to-face with her LCE.

Her pained realizations reminded me of one of Golda Meir’s many profound reflections on the conflict.

We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.

There’s a moral chasm here so great that even contemplating it becomes unbearable. So what do outsiders do with this chasm? They invert it.

Peace? From the Palestinian Standpoint, There is a Past, No Future

by Lital Shemesh

I participated in the Dialogue for Peace Project for young Israelis and Palestinians who are politically involved in various frameworks. The project’s objective was to identify tomorrow’s leaders and bring them closer today, with the aim of bringing peace at some future time.

The project involved meetings every few weeks and a concluding seminar in Turkey.

On the third day of the seminar after we had become acquainted, had removed barriers, and split helpings of rachat Lukum [a halva-like almond Arab delicacy] as though there was never a partition wall between us, we began to touch upon many subjects which were painful for both sides. The Palestinians spoke of roadblocks and the IDF soldiers in the territories, while the Israeli side spoke of constant fear, murderous terrorist attacks, and rockets from Gaza.

The Israeli side, which included representatives from right and left, tried to understand the Palestinians’ vision of the end of the strife– “Let’s talk business.” The Israelis delved to understand how we can end the age-old, painful conflict. What red lines are they willing to be flexible on? What resolution will satisfy their aspirations? Where do they envision the future borders of the Palestinian State which they so crave?

We were shocked to discover that not a single one of them spoke of a Palestinian State, or to be more precise, of a two-state solution.

They spoke of one state – their state. They spoke of ruling Jaffa, Tel Aviv, Akko, Haifa, and the pain of the Nakba [lit. the tragedy – the establishment of the State of Israel]. There was no future for them. Only the past. “There is no legitimacy for Jews to live next to us” – this was their main message. “First, let them pay for what they perpetrated.”

The comparison that Palestinians like to make between the Shoah (which did not happen) and the Nakbah reminds me of Mel Brooks’ comment as the 2000 year old man: “Tragedy to me is if I cut my finger. I’ll cry a lot, go into Mount Sinai for a day and a half. Comedy is if you fall in an open manhole and die. What do I care.” Only, they care.

I’m not saying that the Nakba was not a tragedy, but in comparison with other tragedies that have befallen the Arabs in this area – “Black September 1970, Hama, 1982, Syria, 2010-13 – what happened in 1948 is not exactly of epic proportions. And, of course, who is responsible for this tragedy?

Empathy for the other is clearly not an element of this culture of blame and revenge. The injury must be paid for, and the injured (the Arabs) restored to their former honor (no autonomous Jews to deal with).

In the course of a dialogue which escalated to shouts, the Palestinians asked us not to refer to suicide bombers as “terrorists” because they don’t consider them so. “So how do you call someone who dons a vest and blows himself up in a Tel Aviv shopping mall with the stated purpose of killing innocent civilians,” I asked one of the participants.

Ah, but you don’t understand, my dear. You and your fellow Israelis – indeed your fellow infidels – are not innocent.

“I have a 4-year-old at home,” answered Samach from Abu Dis (near Jerusalem). “If G-d forbid something should happen to him, I will go and burn an entire Israeli city, if I can.” All the other Palestinian participants nodded their heads in agreement to his harsh words.

The significance here is less the vengeful attitude of the speaker than the assent he produced among his fellow Palestinians. In honor-shame cultures, where vengeance is an honorable deed, the ability of people to dissent from such desires is limited, to say the least.

“Three weeks ago, we gave birth to a son,” answered Amichai, a religious, Jewish student from Jerusalem. “If G-d forbid something should happen to him, I would find no comfort whatsoever in deaths of more people.”

Here’s the progressive, integrity-guilt attitude shared my most Israelis. This is not an isolated case; on the contrary, it’s a national ethos, that not only does not seek vengeance, but, wherever possible, to repair the rent in the body social created by earlier violence. Israel’s hospitals are models of fairness to Jew, Christian, Arab, Muslim. If anything, some might think that treating a terrorist in the same place and with the same care as his or her victims, is going too far.

Take just one example among many. The parents of Malki Roth, founded the Malki Foundation in response her “senseless” slaughter in a Palestinian suicide attack on a pizza parlor chosen specifically to kill as many children as possible. It is dedicated helping special needs children. 30% of the cases it treats are Arab children.

The shocking thing here, is that the “progressives,” in supporting the Palestinian cause, have essentially “gone native,” not so much in their own desire to take vengeance (?), but their radical inability to make even a dent in the tribal attitudes of those whom they support. After 13 years of “solidarity” with the Palestinians, Human Rights NGOs, journalists, UN agencies, have not only failed to communicate even the most elemental principles of a progressive attitude and the peace it can lead to, but have done precisely the opposite: they have infantilized, they have fed the resentments, they have played the picador.

In doing so, they have demonstrated the moral vacuity of a major post-modern meme. If Palestinians want to blow up Israeli civilians because it assuages their pain… “who are we to judge?” And when that kind of insane violence grows with this kind of malignant neglect, even spreads to other societies, then it must be because of something the Israelis did to those poor Palestinians.

Israelis from the full gamut of political parties participated in the seminar: Likud, Labor, Kadima, Meretz, and Hadash (combined Jewish/Arab socialist party). All of them reached the understanding that the beautiful scenarios of Israeli-Palestinian peace that they had formulated for themselves simply don’t correspond with reality. It’s just that most Israelis don’t have the opportunity to sit and really converse with Palestinians, to hear what they really think.

Our feed of information comes from Abu Mazen’s declarations to the international press, which he consistently contradicts when he is interviewed by Al Jazeera, where he paints a completely different picture.

Note that this material has been available to anyone online for decades. MEMRI and PalWatch provide precisely the translations needed. But somehow, people like Lital – i.e., an up and coming major journalist – seems unaware. Has she spent her time reading A.B. Yehoshua and dismissing them as the product of “right-wing” war-mongers?

I arrived at the seminar with high hopes, and I return home with difficult feelings and despair. Something about the narrative of the two sides is different from the core. How can we return to the negotiating table when the Israeli side speaks of two states and the Palestinian side speaks of liberating Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea? How can peace ever take root in a platform which grants legitimacy to terrorism?

Welcome to reality. There’s good news and there’s bad.

The bad news is that until the Palestinians grow up, there will be no peace, and that, at the moment, land concessions actually make things worse. And they won’t grow up as long as their “honor group” consists of other Arabs who live in fantasy worlds and they get support from “progressives” who think that they’re being brave and honorable by supporting their vengeful mentality.

The first Arab leader to wean his people from their scape-goating anti-Zionism will create the first productive, democratic Arab state. May it happen swiftly, in our days.

The good news is that if the West, and especially progressives in the West, would snap out of this “performance” of moral vanity in which we act as if we have no enemies in order to be “true to our values,” and begin to rebuke the Palestinians – and the Arabs, and the Muslims, for behavior that really is, by modern standards, shameful, we could make a lot of progress.

But alas! Palestinians made a cult of their suicide bombers, sanctifying their violence, commemorating it in every way. They even made a papier-mâché recreation of the Sbarro Pizza bombing at the moment of the bomb’s impact, so people could come and savor the Schadenfreude. That exhibit is father to the son who says, “If G-d forbid something should happen to my child, I will go and burn an entire Israeli city, if I can.” And what if his  child were killed by a Palestinian militia, as we can now document happens not infrequently? Will he burn a Palestinian city? This testifies to a complete failure of the international community to hold the Palestinians to even the most limited set of standards. They are not only the queen of welfare nations, they are the king of moral affirmative action.

Westerners need to contemplate the moral chasm that separates Israeli and the Palestinians culture, make up their minds who is on the side of the progressive values that they (say they) cherish, and say to the Palestinians, as it needs to say to Muslims: Where are the voices of moral outrage in your community? Where are the projects and programs you have to respond to such grotesque interpretation of morality? Where is your commitment to humanity and your willingness to outgrow your need for tribal revenge?

I’d like to believe that the vast majority of Muslims are moderate, really moderate. I think that could even happen with a shift in the honor-group. But right now, the world community supports the (near) worst a society can produce, people whose moral discourse we would not accept even in the most permissive community, a community that pressures members to kill their daughters. They embody everything upon whose rejection we have built the world that allows us to dream messianic dreams about a global civil society.

We need to stop feeding these folks with and look for the real moderates, those willing to accept that, in matters of faith there is no coercion, and build a community of tolerant faithful.

And one of the first things to do, is stop adopting a demonizing narrative about Israel that empowers the worst tendencies and actors in Palestinian/Arab/Muslim political culture. That’s actually doable. And it’s definitely in the interest of the West to say to Palestinians and Muslims, “you need to get along with the Israelis, with the Jews.” You can’t be so juvenile as to say, “I refuse to deal with these people.”

So that’s the good news: we Western liberals can start now contributing to peace, and we can actually lead the way. Prizes for the most important and successful delivery of progressive tochacha to Palestinians and Muslims. What a virgin field!

Nakbah Day: Commemorating the Greatest Humiliation in World History

Yesterday was Nakbah Day, and my email box is full of material from various pro-Palestinian groups about the tragedy, literally “the catastrophe,” that befell the Arabs in 1948, which they often like to compare with the Holocaust for gravity. Initially my response to this comparison was to dismiss it as a classic example of the rhetorical excess of the Arab world, compounded by their deep self-absorption: if it happened to them, it’s unimaginably painful; if they could have done it to the Jews it would have been glorious.

Obviously, death of several thousand people, the flight of half a million or so refugees is a tragedy, but compare that to 6 million civilians murdered and millions more driven from their homes? Indeed, this painful story pales even when compared to the kind of damage done in the Arab world of “Hama Rules,” from the 10-20,000 Palestinians killed in Black September 1970, to the more than hundred thousand civilian casualties in the Lebanese civil war (in which the PLO participated actively), to 10-20,000 Syrians obliterated in Hama in 1982, to the million killed by Saddam Hussein in his long career, to the current Syrian civil war in which over 70 thousand have been killed and nearly two million forced to flee their homes.

But rather than minimize the Nakbah, I’d like to take a different approach. I agree that the Nakbah was a unique event in the history of the Arab world, one who scale and whose staggering effect does compare with the Holocaust in terms of its impact on Arab memory and discourse. The catastrophe was not what happened to the refugees, who were a mere pawn and minor spinoff of the true tragedy. The real catastrophe was the humiliation of the Arab nations in the eyes of the entire world.

I challenge anyone to find an historical case that even approaches the magnitude of the calamitous failure of the Arabs in 1948, the greatest collective, global humiliation in World History. Japan and Germany may have been utterly defeated, but before that happened they had the whole world trembling at their military might. The Arab military, for reasons that have much to do with their passion for honor, was, after 1948, the joke of the world.

As anyone who studies honor and shame cultures knows, the “public” that sees the humiliation plays a key role. If a man is humiliated and no one sees it, then it didn’t happen. If the “public” thinks it happened and it didn’t, it happened. Daughters and sisters have been killed precisely because the rumor of their shameful behavior alone renders them guilty no matter what actually happened. So the Arab loss of 1948 was particularly devastating because it took place on a global stage in which virtually everyone who was anyone was watching.

Moreover, the global stage was further summoned to pay close attention by the Arabs themselves, who, fully confident of their coming victory, promised to show the world a historic massacre “like the Mongols or the Crusades.” William Miller makes a distinction between humiliation and shame in that humiliation occurs in response to a pretension. One is humiliated when one pretends to be capable of something one is not, when one tries to claim a status one does not deserve. In that sense, Arab pretensions to wipe out Israel in 1948 intensified the humiliation that ensued.

Finally, what made the humiliation particularly unbearable was the nature of the enemy. In the minds of Arabs, Jews were traditionally the weakest of the dhimmi (“protected”/subjected religious minorities), the most cowardly, the most despised. Their boasts of victory were informed by both their contempt for Jews and their outrage at the thought that this tiny group would have the nerve to defy their will. As the Athenians explained the the Melians:

One is not so much frightened of being conquered by a power which rules over others [i.e. other elites] as Sparta does, as one is frightened of what would happen if a ruling power is attacked and defeated by its own subjects.

To be defeated by Israel in 1948, and again repeatedly in subsequent decades was a catastrophe of literally cosmic proportions. It was not only a humiliation of the great Arab nation, but a blasphemy against Islam, understood as a religion of dominance. So when Arabs refer to the Nakba, take them seriously in terms of the magnitude of the damage done. But realize that it is not damage to the Palestinian refugees whom Arab leaders including “Palestinian” ones have continued to torment for almost two-thirds of a century now, but damage to their psyche, to their self-esteem, to their confidence. As Ahmed Sheikh, editor-in-chief of al Jazeera explained to a German journalist about why democracy has so far failed in the Arab world:

It’s because we always lose to Israel. It gnaws at the people in the Middle East that such a small country as Israel, with only about 7 million inhabitants, can defeat the Arab nation with its 350 million. That hurts our collective ego. The Palestinian problem is in the genes of every Arab. The West’s problem is that it does not understand this.

Now the lesson that Sheikh wants the West to learn from this is:

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the most important reasons why these crises and problems continue to simmer [i.e. failure of democratic reforms]. The day when Israel was founded created the basis for our problems. The West should finally come to understand this. Everything would be much calmer if the Palestinians were given their rights.

I would argue the opposite. Just because the Arabs engage in systematic scapegoating and imagine that if only they could eliminate Israel everything would be fine, is no reason for the West to reinforce their immature fantasies. On the contrary, what the West should learn from this is that the “Arab collective ego” is a force they must reckon with in understanding why a two-state solution is not in the cards from their point of view, and why throwing Israel into this maw of self-indulgent projection and infantile rage is not going to solve anything.

On the contrary, only when the Arabs get over this will anything decent happen to them. The first Arab or Muslim leader to wean his people of their anti-Zionism, to acknowledge the public secret that the Israeli government treats their Arabs better than Arabs political elites do, will create the first political system in that world that will take care of and empower, rather than exploit, its people.

Hawking, alas.