Accuracy in Media

On June 9 in Gaza, eight people were killed on a beach, and the initial claims were that Israeli rockets caused the deaths. The symbol in this case was a 10-year-old grieving girl, rushing up to her dead father. Israel, like the U.S., is willing to take responsibility if its citizens or troops commit atrocities. Facing inevitable criticism in this case, Israel said that it was possible that Israeli forces were responsible. But the Israelis investigated and determined that in this case, based on timing and the nature of the shrapnel found in the bodies, they did not die from an Israeli missile. They believe that what exploded were buried military ordnance.

Israel acknowledged firing missiles at Qassam missile launchers. After all, since Israel pulled out of Gaza last summer, it has been used as a launching area for about 800 missiles into Israel, more than two a day. The Palestinians did what they have been doing for years. They fire missiles at Israel from behind human shields, looking for the opportunity to make the world believe that Israel is targeting innocent civilians.

The Western media eagerly accepted the Palestinian version of the story, and trumpeted the charges. The New York Times ran a front-page photo of the young grieving girl, said to have lost five siblings, her step-mother and her father. The Times said that it was caused “apparently by an errant Israeli shell,” and that this marked the end of a 16-month truce. CNN said that Hamas was attacking Israel with rockets, in retaliation for a series of Israeli attacks, including “an artillery shell blast that killed at least seven Palestinians picnicking on a Northern Gaza beach?” CBS News made similar charges. The media couldn’t contain their outrage, even before they really knew what had happened. Rather than wait for the facts, they blamed Israel.

The story, however, is suspect for a number of reasons. People should view for themselves the 92-second video allegedly showing the aftermath of the people being killed on the beach. It can be viewed at ogrish.com, a website known for showing very graphic videos. In an excellent analysis of the content of the video on his website Media Cleansing (scroll down to the June 19th entry and read from there), journalist and author Peter Brock points out a number of serious questions about the video.

First, it was shot by a group called Ramattan Studio. They also provided the still photo of the girl on the beach. That photo carried a credit to Ramattan Studio/Associated Press. So who is Ramattan and what is their relationship with AP? Ramattan is a video production company that shoots video, takes pictures, and provides them to various news agencies, including AP, CNN, NPR and virtually every major broadcast media organization in the world. But Ramattan is also admittedly the eyes and ears for the Palestinian cause. The founder of the company is Qassem Ali, who had been detained by the Israelis for three years for his support of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

According to Brock, whose view is consistent with mine after viewing the footage, the young girl’s “mother or stepmother [is] being lugged off to a pair of waiting ambulances. Although parked in the sand they ran their sirens throughout the entire video, making it almost impossible to hear the excited words being shouted by over-acting ‘rescuers.’ No identifiable medical personnel or any police are at the scene. One of the smaller children appears to be fatally burned, arms dangling loosely as it is carried off, attesting to the recentness of some kind of fatal explosion. The Ramattan cameraman peculiarly delays shooting the scene until running up to begin filming just a few feet away from the scattered bodies and other scattered items. One man gestures for him to get closer.”

A German newspaper examined the footage and expressed doubt that this was caused by Israel firing a rocket, and said that it was possible that the event was staged.

Even U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan seems to be questioning the tendency to blame Israel in this case. According to Peter Brock of Media Cleansing, Annan said that he “considered the IDF’s findings almost a week after the fatal beach explosion ‘strange.’ But Annan’s spokesman was quick to point out that Annan had no plans to mobilize an international investigation urged by Human Rights Watch.” Brock says that Annan “was well-experienced in practicing patience before condemning perpetrators of high-profile crimes that eventually proved to be orchestrated by Muslims against Muslim victims, strategizing for gullible media during crucial military or diplomatic maneuvers.” He was referring to the May 1992 “breadline massacre” in the Bosnian capital along with the back-to-back Sarajevo marketplace slaughters in 1994, which were initially blamed on the Serbs but were determined to have been engineered by Muslim Bosnian troops.

Marc Garlasco, who was trotted out to condemn Israel in the Gaza case, is said to be a “battle damage expert” with Human Rights Watch. But he has a bias and seems to have some doubts about who is really to blame. Garlasco said that it was “impossible to rule out the possibility that militants had rigged an Israeli shell into an improvised bomb?” That possibility looks increasingly likely.

On Iraq, however, Garlasco has already made up his mind about alleged human rights violations committed by U.S. troops. He said, for example, that “What happened at Haditha [Iraq] appears to be outright murder,” referring to the incident still under investigation in which 24 Iraqis were killed following an IED explosion that brutally killed a U.S. Marine. “The Haditha massacre will go down as Iraq’s My Lai,” he said,  referring to the atrocity in the Vietnam War in which Vietnamese civilians were killed.

Regarding the Gaza deaths, this is far from the first time the media have been quick to assume Israel’s guilt before knowing the facts. It happened in Jenin, the site of an alleged massacre by Israel of more than 5,000 Palestinians, which later turned out to be more like 50, again in a situation where Israel was forced to defend its people. In another incident, a young man named Mohammad Dura was said to have been shot by the Israeli military, but it was later proven that he was shot by another Palestinian.

There is a “Blame Israel First” crowd, in addition to the “Blame America First” crowd. Both groups have members in the media.




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