Soundings

Nidra Poller
Blame Israel Always
Why are Western journalists so credulous of Palestinian sources?
Summer 2006

No one knows exactly how seven members of the Ghalia family died June 9 on a Gaza Strip beach. There are no impartial observers in the area. Since last year’s Israeli withdrawal and Hamas’s recent electoral victory, Western media rely almost entirely—and with surprising gullibility—on Palestinian sources for information.

Here’s how the Palestinian version of the story goes. Unsuspecting Palestinian families were picnicking on al-Sudaniya beach on a Friday afternoon, the Muslim Sabbath. Suddenly, an Israeli gunboat started shelling the beach. Before the panic-stricken victims could escape, a shell landed right in the middle of the Ghalia family picnic, instantly killing the father, one of his wives, and five of his children, including a baby and a toddler, and injuring others present.

Eleven-year-old Huda Ghalia was in the water when the shell hit. A camera captured her as she ran across the sand and found the carnage. Her tears rent the heart, and her message was surprisingly articulate: she called for the world in general, and Muslims especially, to witness the evil that Israelis had done.

While Hamas shouted that the Israeli gunboat had deliberately aimed at the hapless family, Western media outlets toned the charges down a notch: it was an accident, but a vicious one that never would have happened if the evil Israelis were not blasting at a public beach.

Hamas announced that it would break a 16-month “truce” and launch an all-out offensive against the Zionist enemy. Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas joined in, and UN secretary general Kofi Annan added his outrage to the flood of hatred whipped up in the wake of Huda’s tears.

Two days after the incident, though, ample information, leaked to and posted on reputable websites, suggested that the Palestinian-supplied video “proving” Israel’s responsibility for the deaths and injuries had been manipulated—a shot of an Israeli Defense Forces gunboat, filmed earlier that day, spliced in to give the impression that it was firing directly at the beach, the scene of Huda finding her father’s body apparently staged. Data on the six shells fired from an Israeli gunboat that afternoon showed that the soldiers had aimed at a Qassam rocket-launching site at least 800 feet from the sunbathers. And so on.

But even after the IDF made the results of its investigation public at a press conference at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, Western journalists maintained a climate of artificial doubt—balancing, even overshadowing, the government report with a reiteration of the Hamas narrative, now dressed up in pseudoscientific trappings supplied by a Human Rights Watch “expert,” Mark Garlasco.

Why is a lone investigator, working for a nongovernmental organization, more reliable than General Meir Kalifi’s investigating commission? What impartial agency has verified the data presented by Human Rights Watch and its self-designated expert? Hamas has an agenda. HRW has an agenda. But what is the agenda of the free press in our own democratic countries?

Rational examination of the evidence shifts the burden of doubt to the Hamas (and HRW) version of the incident. Israeli officials have now released ample details to support their conclusions. Hospital reports testify that one of the wounded had shrapnel removed by Palestinian doctors before her transfer to an Israeli hospital—medically inexplicable treatment that might have been about getting rid of any proof that Palestinian ordnance had caused the explosion. Close scrutiny of outtakes from the original video reveals a mixture of staging and real-time filming. Interviewed by Süddeutsche Zeitung, the Palestinian cameraman who filmed the explosion delivers a garbled story that unravels under questioning.

All of this recalls the al-Dura affair. On September 30, 2000, the Jerusalem correspondent of the France 2 public television network, Charles Enderlin, reported the shooting of 12-year-old Mohamed al-Dura at Netzarim Crossing in the Gaza Strip, the “target of gunfire coming from the Israeli positions.” The accusation triggered a wave of attacks on Jews in Israel and worldwide. The 55-second al-Dura video, “proving” Israeli guilt in that incident and featured in an Osama bin Laden recruiting tape, was also doctored, with an archived image of an Israeli soldier spliced into the Arab-Muslim version, making it look as though he was firing point-blank at the boy. Here, too, the Western media treated Palestinian sources credulously. (Fittingly, correspondent Enderlin has weighed in on the Gaza beach video, too, applying to it an absurd “two sides to every story” logic: no one can know what really happened; it’s up to public opinion to decide.)

Do Western journalists think that Israel is always guilty in principle, if not in fact? If so, perhaps they should openly join ranks with the “militants” they portray as national liberators.

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