by Judith Bergman
In his book "Catch the Jew!" Tuvia Tenenbom becomes a witness to how these staged "protests" -- meant for the consumption of an international Western TV audience -- are produced.
Images of an Israeli soldier reacting to a violent attack on himself by women and children while trying to detain a boy in the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh went viral and made it into the international mainstream news on Saturday. Unsurprisingly, the general drift of the reporting was one of "shock" and firmly blaming the entire incident on the Israel Defense Forces and the soldier.
Then, however, something unusual happened. One British media outlet placed a big question mark over the authenticity of the entire incident.
"Questions have been raised over the authenticity of shocking images of a boy with a broken arm being held at gunpoint by an Israeli soldier after a 13-year-old girl seen biting his attacker is said to be a prolific 'Pallywood star,'" wrote the British newspaper Daily Mail Online. "The remarkable images which surfaced online on Friday appeared to show an IDF soldier armed with a machine gun grappling with the little boy as two women make desperate attempts to pull him off following protests in the West Bank. A young girl is seen ambushing the balaclava-clad soldier by forcing the weapon from his hands and biting him before he flees the scene."
Then comes this highly extraordinary piece of reporting:
"But it is thought the young girl in the photographs is Ahed Tamimi, whose parents Bassem and Nariman -- also pictured -- are well-known Palestinian activists in their village of Nabi Saleh. The teenager has appeared in a string of similar videos where she challenges Israeli security forces and rose to prominence after she was filmed confronting one who arrested her brother, which resulted in her being presented with a bravery award. ... Online blogs have dubbed her 'Shirley Temper' and accused her of being a 'Pallywood' star -- a term coined by author Richard Landes, describing the alleged media manipulation by Palestinians to win public relations war against Israel. ... Her father, Bassem al-Tamimi, was convicted by an Israeli military court in 2011 for 'sending people to throw stones, and holding a march without a permit' -- a charge his lawyers deny. He has been jailed eight times, while his wife has been detained five times. Other family members, including their son Waed, has also been arrested. Bassem organizes weekly protests and it was reportedly at one of these demonstrations that the shocking images are said to have been taken."
Sadly, it is only extraordinary because it happens to do the most basic thing in journalism, namely question the alleged "facts" that one is presented with, something that rarely happens, when it comes to mainstream media reporting about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The false accusation of the infamous "Jenin massacre" in April 2002 would never have caught on in the way that it did, had the international media lived up to the ethical standards of journalism that they supposedly set for themselves. The BBC, in fact, played a substantial role in spreading this falsehood by claiming repeatedly that it was a massacre. When this turned out to be a falsehood, the BBC did nothing to acknowledge this fact. Falsehoods once uttered and repeated ad nauseam tend to stick, whereas the truth rarely does.
Even more sadly, this kind of reporting only happened because readers, who saw the images as they went viral on Daily Mail Online and elsewhere on the web, accompanied by the usual anti-Israel "narrative" about Israeli soldiers, inundated the Daily Mail with emails, as is clear from this post at the website Israellycool.
It is, however, wonderful that activism for Israel worked and it should prove to everyone -- once again -- that every single action, however small, has the potential of making a great difference.
The fact remains that the kind of images that went viral on Saturday are not unique and that these staged "protests" with the aim of provoking the IDF into reacting happen frequently.
In his book "Catch the Jew!" Tuvia Tenenbom becomes a witness to how these staged "protests" -- meant for the consumption of an international Western TV audience -- are produced. He goes to Bil'in where protests have been organized since 2005 against Israel's security fence. An audience has already arrived and NGO members from the U.S., France, Ireland, Norway and Germany are present. Tenenbom describes the setup as a regular show.
"The various actors take up their positions. First are the news people, journalists of European and Arab media. ... One of the news media I recognize easily is the British Sky News. I used to think news follows events, but I guess it's the other way around. As I can see here, journalists are actually the main players."
He also learns that the protest is a business in Bi'lin. Next to him, kids are selling nose covers -- from the tear gas that the IDF is expected to throw in their direction -- and keffiyehs, flags, onions (against the tear gas), etc.
"And these are the locations: Journalists are positioned in front with big 'Press' costumes on their bodies, next to them are the 'shabab,' Arab youth, and behind them are the tourists. ... Lefty whites on the right hold big banners against Jewish racism, at the same exact moment that the imam shouts juicy racist treasures in Arabic."
There are 10 Israeli soldiers down one of the hills nearby.
"The youngsters, shabab, start their sling shot show, throwing as many stones as they can at the soldiers. Nothing happens. Heavier stones are then hurled at the soldiers. ... No response yet from the Jews. ... The shabab throw firebombs at the soldiers. A soldier responds with a tear gas canister into the air. I guess this is a warning shot. ... TV cameras shoot pictures. Shabab continue with more shots and IDF soldiers respond with a barrage of tear gas canisters."
Tenenbom is not only a witness to the shameless provocation, the show that is staged for the benefit of the international audience, but also to the extremely patient and restrained Israeli response.
In the latest incident in Nabi Saleh, this patient and restrained response was likely the reason why the Israeli soldier was unable to deal with his attackers and was consequently beaten and bitten by them. The incident has already prompted calls by Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Lieberman for an emergency meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee to discuss the IDF's rules of engagement.
"We are talking about an incident which severely harms the deterrent capacity of the IDF," Lieberman said. "The pictures -- which show an IDF soldier being hit by Palestinian women and children, and in the end giving up on [arresting] the rock-thrower who started the whole incident -- broadcasts weakness and helplessness on the part of the IDF and Israel."
One thing that would contribute toward the ending of such incidents would be the emergence of some semblance of ethics on the part of the international media, which help manufacture these scenes, as is abundantly clear from Tenenbom's description of events at Bi'lin. It is an outrage that the media, which are supposed to be independent and critical, are such an active player in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, literally creating the news. And it is a disgrace that the general public continues to devour, uncritically, the skewed and shameful outpourings in newspapers and on TV as a result of this scandalous kind of "reporting."
Judith Bergman is a writer and political analyst living in Israel.
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.