[News] Independent journalists dismantling Israel's hold on media narrative
news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Jun 15 19:54:06 EDT 2010
Independent journalists dismantling Israel's hold on media narrative
Abraham Greenhouse, Nora Barrows-Friedman, The
Electronic Intifada, 15 June 2010
"The systematic attempt and very deliberate first
priority for the Israeli soldiers as they came on
the ships was to shut down the story, to
confiscate all cameras, to shut down satellites,
to smash the CCTV cameras that were on the Mavi
Marmara, to make sure that nothing was going out.
They were hellbent on controlling the story,"
commented Australian journalist Paul McGeough,
one of the hundreds of activists and reporters
who witnessed the deadly morning attack on the
Gaza Freedom Flotilla on 31 May
the Narrative: Israeli Commandos Seize Videotape
and Equipment from Journalists After Deadly
Raid," Democracy Now, 9 June 2010). McGeough was
one of at least 60 journalists aboard the
flotilla who were detained and their footage confiscated.
Within hours of the Gaza-bound aid flotilla being
intercepted and besieged in international waters
by Israeli commandos, who killed at least nine --
some at point-blank range -- aboard the Mavi
Marmara, news of the bloody attack had spread
across the globe. Rage, condemnation and calls
for an international investigation followed.
Meanwhile, Israel's campaign to spin the attack,
distort the facts and quell an outraged public
was already in full swing. Concurrently,
activists and skeptical journalists began
deconstructing the official story and assembling
evidence to uncover the truth behind the violent
deaths of activists on a humanitarian mission to the besieged Gaza Strip.
From the time the Israeli military apparently
jammed the flotilla's communications, and for the
next 48 hours as survivors were held
incommunicado, their cameras and potentially
incriminating footage seized, Israel's account of
the raid dominated international headlines.
Central to Israel's media strategy was the rapid
release of selected video and audio clips which,
the government said, validated its claim that
passengers had violently attempted to kill troops
without provocation -- thereby forcing the
soldiers to use live fire in self-defense.
However, the initially and most
widely-distributed clips bore signs of heavy
editing, including the obscuring or removal of time stamps.
Although the clips apparently depicted passengers
aboard the Mavi Marmara hitting Israeli troops
with poles and other objects, the context of the
images was completely unclear. It was impossible
to determine at what point during the assault the
clips had been filmed, raising questions about
exactly which party had been acting in self-defense.
Al-Jazeera's Jamal Elshayyal, among others,
corroborated accounts by other flotilla
passengers, including Israeli Knesset member
Hanin Zoabi, that the Israeli commandos had
allegedly started firing before commandos began
rappelling to the deck of the ship
Zoabi: Israel wanted highest number of
fatalities," YNet, 1 June 2010;
by Israel, forsaken by Britain," Al-Jazeera, 6 June 2010).
These clips were quickly supplemented by footage
put on YouTube, also heavily edited, which Israel
said had been taken from the ship's security
cameras and from the journalists whose equipment
had been seized
Rioters Prepare Rods, Slingshots, Broken Bottles
and Metal Objects to Attack IDF Soldiers," 2 June
2010). The Israeli military spokesperson's office
also distributed numerous still images allegedly
documenting fighting on the deck.
After the commandeered flotilla ships were
brought to the Israeli port of Ashdod and were
unloaded, on 1 June the Israeli Ministry of
Foreign Affairs (MFA) began distributing via the
Flickr website photographs of objects it said
were found aboard. Materials the MFA classified
as "weapons"-- thus supposedly supporting its
claim that activists had planned to conduct a
"lynching" of Israeli troops -- were identifiable
to the public as standard nautical equipment and
found on Mavi Marmara").
In addition, the ships were inspected multiple
times prior to setting sail for Gaza, both by
Turkish customs authorities and by an independent
security firm, and had been found at both points
to contain no weapons, according to a Free Gaza
Movement press release
Israel deliberately murder civilians aboard
Freedom Flotilla?," 3 June 2010). Participants
also say that all passengers were subject to
thorough security checks before boarding, regardless of where they embarked.
These photographs of "weapons" became the first
flashpoint in the effort to analyze and expose
inconsistencies in Israel's claims. Shortly after
the release of the images which appeared on the
MFA's official Flickr page on 1 June,
commentators began calling attention to the fact
that several of the images included
digitally-encoded information indicating that
they had been shot several years prior. The MFA
responded to this by modifying the dates, and
issuing a statement that one of its cameras had been incorrectly calibrated.
While this claim can be neither confirmed nor
disproved, the gaffe exposed the fact that
Israel's rush to promote its version of events in
the media was leading to significant mistakes and
oversights. As surviving flotilla passengers
began to be released and expelled following
detention in Israel, the accounts they gave of
events aboard the ships -- and on the Mavi
Marmara in particular -- clearly diverged from the official Israeli narrative.
Journalists aboard the ship, some of whom had
been able to broadcast via satellite for a
limited time during the assault, told
interviewers that they had been singled out for
attack by Israeli troops. "We had cameras round
our necks and our press cards in our hands, but
the soldiers kept aiming the lasers of their guns
at our eyes in order to intimidate us," Turkish
journalist Yuecel Velioglu of the AA news agency
told Reporters Without Borders
Turkish photographer is buried, other journalists
aboard flotilla speak out," 9 June 2010).
In addition, much of the footage released by
Israel (after heavy editing) was taken from
journalists aboard the ship after their equipment
had been confiscated. The move was strongly
denounced by Israel's Foreign Press Association
(FPA), which stated on 4 June: "the use of this
material without permission from the relevant
media organizations is a clear violation of
journalistic ethics and unacceptable."
Determined not to allow the Israeli government to
continue dominating public discourse on the
flotilla attack with its questionable version of
events, independent journalists around the world
analyzed and identified inconsistencies with the
Israeli narrative. This work played a pivotal
role in making a more complete and accurate
picture of the events available to an
English-speaking audience: the vast majority of
English-language corporate media outlets, with
the notable exception of Al-Jazeera English,
simply took Israeli statements at face value and
conducted little or no investigative work to ascertain their validity.
Images and the elimination of context
Another photograph released by the Israeli
military spokesperson's office aroused additional
controversy when it began appearing in news
articles about the incident. The image, which
featured an anonymous, bearded man holding a
curved knife, was generally presented with a
caption, also sourced from the Israeli military,
claiming that the knife-wielder was an activist
aboard the Mavi Marmara photographed after Israeli troops boarded the ship.
Ali Abunimah, co-founder of The Electronic
Intifada, immediately noticed clear
inconsistencies with the context of the photo,
casting its veracity into doubt. Abunimah pointed
out on his blog that behind the man, natural
light could be seen streaming in through a window
-- despite the fact that the raid was conducted
during pre-dawn hours. Additionally, the man was
surrounded by photographers who seemed unusually
calm for onlookers in the midst of a firefight
propaganda photo in Haaretz of man with knife
make no sense #FreedomFlotilla," 31 May 2010).
Finally, a few days after the image first
appeared, the image was re-used in a video
montage, published on YouTube under the
newly-registered handle "gazaflotilliatruth", but
this time with less cropping. In the new version
of the image, the bearded man can be seen to be
sitting down, not standing -- again, an unusual
physical position to display during a melee
Flotillia - The Love Boat," 2 June 2010).
Investigative journalist Max Blumenthal reports
that the Israeli military-sourced caption --
repeatedly used by media outlets such as the
Israeli daily Haaretz -- indicated that the
bearded man was holding the knife after the
commandos boarded the ship
Again: IDF Description of Suspicious Photo It
Distributed Is Retracted," 8 June 2010).
Following his query to the Israeli military
spokesman's office, Haaretz "scrubbed its caption
of the suspicious photo." Blumenthal adds that
Haaretz "did not mention the retraction, probably
assuming no one would notice. The retraction
raises disturbing questions about the level of
coordination between the IDF [Israeli army] and
the Israeli media." Nor did they mention that the
bearded man was Yemeni Minister of Parliament
Mohammad al-Hazmi, who was displaying his
ceremonial dagger -- an essential part of
traditional Yemeni dress -- to "curious
journalists and foreigners on the ship," as
Blumenthal points out, obviously well before the attack.
New accusations instantly dismantled
As the accounts of surviving passengers began
receiving increased attention in the mainstream
Western press, Israel retaliated with a series of
increasingly dire accusations to discredit them.
The serious nature these accusations makes it
difficult to understand why the Israeli
government would have waited so long to issue
them. As journalists began evaluating the new
claims, they found Israel's supporting evidence
to be flimsy and periodically even nonexistent.
One such accusation, published in a 2 June MFA
press release, was that 40 Mavi Marmara
passengers had been identified as mercenaries in
the employ of al-Qaeda
of the IDF soldiers found to be Al Qaeda
mercenaries," 2 June 2010). Later that day, US
State Department spokesperson Philip Crowley said
that his office could not validate Israel's
story, and independent journalists on the ground
in Tel Aviv promptly set out to investigate for themselves.
Blumenthal and his colleague Lia Tarachansky were
told bluntly by the Israeli army's press office
that the military didn't "have any evidence" to
support the MFA's contention. By the morning of 3
June, all references to al-Qaeda had been removed
from the online version of the press release
Scrutiny IDF Retracts Claims About Flotillas Al Qaeda Links").
More significantly, on 4 June, Israel released a
YouTube clip which it claimed was an excerpt from
radio communications between the Israeli navy and
the Mavi Marmara. The clip included a voice
telling the Israelis to "go back to Auschwitz,"
and another voice stating "We're helping Arabs go
against the US," in response to Israeli
statements that the vessel was "approaching an
area which is under a naval blockade"
Ship to Israeli Navy: "We're Helping Arabs Go
Against the US, Don't Forget 9/11 Guys," 4 June
2010). The latter statement was made in an accent
resembling that of the American south, despite
the fact that no one from that region was present
aboard any of the ships. Numerous bloggers
commented that the accents sounded as though they
had been faked, and ridiculed the quality of the apparent forgery.
One of the flotilla organizers, US citizen
Huwaida Arraf, was astonished to find that the
clip included her own voice as well -- even
though she had not been aboard the Mavi Marmara,
but was on a different vessel. Tel Aviv-based
journalist and blogger Mya Guarnieri noted that
Arraf told the Bethlehem-based Maan News Agency
that the clip of her voice, saying "we have
permission from the Gaza Port Authority to
enter," seemed to have been excerpted from
communications during a previous flotilla trip
(there have been nine trips since 2008)
under fire for doctoring flotilla recordings," 5
June 2010). "When they radioed us [on this trip],
we were still 100 miles away," Arraf remarked.
Blumenthal called attention to the mysterious
presence of Arraf and other discrepancies in the
clip in an article he posted on 4 June. The
following day, the MFA issued a statement
admitting that the clip had been substantially
Regarding Audio Transmission Between Israeli Navy
and Flotilla on 31 May 2010," 5 June 2010).
However, the clip including the "Auschwitz"
statement remains on the MFA website in a new
"unedited" version of the alleged transmission.
High-tech sleuthing uncovers a web of deceit
Perhaps most damaging to the credibility of
Israeli accounts was a map published by Ali
Abunimah on his blog and which was produced by
using archived transmissions of Automatic
Identification System (AIS) data to plot the
position of the Mavi Marmara as it sailed on the
morning of the raid
Israel press on with bloody attack on Mavi
Marmara even as ship fled at full-speed?," 7 June
2010). Using the map, Abunimah was able to
determine the location and heading of the ship as
it broadcast updates on its status. The map also
plotted the position of the Mavi Marmara at the
exact points when surveillance camera footage
from the ship -- which Israel had released
without obscured time stamps -- was apparently recorded.
According to AIS data, the Mavi Marmara had been
heading south -- parallel to the Israeli coast
and more than 80 miles from the shore -- until
approximately 4:35am local time. At this point,
the ship abruptly turned west, heading away from the Gaza coast.
The attack, which surviving passengers say began
shortly after 4:00am, was reported to Greek
activists in direct communication with the ship
at some point before 4:51am. However, the time
stamp seen in the released security camera
footage and described in a caption as being the
point at which "rioters initiate confrontation
with Israeli soldiers," indicates that the clip
was filmed at 5:03am. This is reinforced by the
fact that the sea is apparently lit by natural
light, which would not have been possible an hour earlier.
This evidence directly contradicts Israeli claims
regarding the sequence and timing of events, and
throws its overarching narrative into doubt.
While the vast majority of footage of the raid
has been seized by Israel, along the flotilla's
Voyage Data Recorders (VDRs, the nautical
equivalent of aircraft's "black boxes"),
activists have been diligently archiving all
available evidence to prevent Israel from
altering or destroying it. As more time stamped
data becomes available, it will be aggregated by
activists and plotted on mapping applications not
only to help reveal what happened aboard the Mavi
Marmara, but guarantee a greater level of
accountability when Israel responds to future flotillas.
A significant amount of data is already emerging.
Several of the survivors managed to conceal
memory cards from their Israeli captors, the
contents of which they proceeded to make
available to journalists upon their return home.
Some photos, published in the Turkish newspaper
HaberTurk, depict passengers administering
medical care to wounded Israeli soldiers and even
protecting them from being photographed -- which
seemed to contradict Israel's claims that
passengers were intent on a premeditated
"lynching" of the Israeli commandoes
srail'den kaç r lan foto raflar," 4 June 2010).
Recently-released video clips from flotilla
survivors show Israeli soldiers kicking, beating
and shooting passengers, including footage which
Turkey's Cihan News Agency says depicts the
close-range killing of Furkan Dogan, a
19-year-old US citizen, with automatic weaponry
Soldiers Murdering Man Identified as Furkan
Dogan," 10 June 2010). An autopsy determined that
Dogan was shot five times, including once in the
back and twice in the head from almost
point-blank range. Other footage shows
helicopters hovering above the flotilla, with
apparent muzzle flashes and sounds of gunfire,
supporting the survivors' contention that
commandos were already firing before boarding the
vessels, thus prompting the limited resistance
demonstrated by terrified passengers.
International vs. internal investigations
The Israeli government continues to reject the
idea of an international investigation in favor
of pursuing its own. On 5 June, the United
Nation's Secretary General proposed an
international panel to examine the killing of
nine flotilla passengers, but Israel's ambassador
to the US, Michael Oren, announced on FOX News
the next day that Israel would refuse "to be
investigated by any international board"
Amb. Michael Oren on 'FNS'," 7 June 2010).
Those who demand an international probe have good
reason to doubt Israel's ability to investigate
itself. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW),
which cited statistics from the Israeli human
rights organization Yesh Din, between 2000 and
2008, "Israeli soldiers in the Occupied
Palestinian Territories killed more than 2,000
Palestinian civilians not involved in combat. Of
1,246 criminal investigations initiated during
the same period into suspected offenses of all
kinds by soldiers against Palestinian civilians,
only 6 percent (78 cases) resulted in
indictments. Only 13 of those indictments charged
soldiers with killing civilians. As of September
2008, five soldiers had been convicted for the
deaths of four civilians"
Justice in Gaza? Israel Is Different, and so ...," 1 October 2009).
HRW found a similar pattern in cases stemming
from Israel's infamous three-week attack on Gaza
beginning on 27 December 2008. The invasion,
which caused the deaths of more than 1,400
Palestinians, resulted in only one criminal
conviction -- for the theft of a credit card
belonging to a Palestinian family after soldiers looted their home.
Regarding the flotilla attack, some sources in
the Israeli government have indicated that they
would consider permitting one or more
international "observers" to be included in their
internal investigation. Governments around the
world have insisted that this is not an
acceptable alternative to a genuine international
investigation. However, even a completely
impartial group charged with investigating the
raid would be analyzing "evidence" (such as
seized footage and VDRs) that had been under the
full control of the Israeli military since the time of the assault.
Accountability and independent journalism
With little hope for a formal investigation with
any degree of credibility, independent
journalists around the world have recognized the
need to mount their own. The work of independent
journalists is achieving a growing level of
influence in the mainstream. And the story of the
Mavi Marmara killings, despite the unwillingness
of many professional reporters to publicly
challenge Israel's version of events, is no exception.
"This is an issue where, in the flotilla
incident, the legal and moral circumstances of
Israeli abuse were so flagrant and visible that
independent media have a greater opportunity of
being heard," said Richard Falk, international
law expert and United Nations Special Rapporteur
for Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian
Territories. Should the UN or another impartial
body mount an international probe, it would
"benefit greatly from [independent media's]
active undertaking to reinforce whatever
investigation took place," Falk commented for this story.
Independent journalists were able to crack the
wall of Israel's narrative in the corporate
media, like how they were able to circumvent
Israel's restrictions on establishment
journalists during the winter 2008-09 attacks on
Gaza. For nearly an hour on the morning of 5
June, most mainstream reports about the status of
the delayed fourth ship in the flotilla that had
included the Mavi Marmara relied almost
exclusively on information gleaned from messages
shared between activists and independent
journalists via Twitter. The work of Abunimah and
Blumenthal in debunking much of the Israeli
narrative was cited extensively in a post by The
New York Times blogger Robert Mackey
of Battered Israeli Commandos Show New Side of Raid," 7 June 2010).
On 10 June, a United Nations press conference was
devoted to presenting uncensored footage of the
assault captured by filmmaker Iara Lee, which
promises to make global headlines with countless
images contradicting the Israeli version of events.
Paul Larudee, a San Francisco Bay Area-based
activist who participated in the flotilla and
endured a severe beating which required him to
him to be hospitalized, believes that the success
of independent journalists in unraveling Israel's
disjointed narrative has had a transformative
effect on the popular consciousness.
"Something's happening here. Perceptions begin to
move," Larudee said. "People are getting it --
they understand that a humanitarian aid convoy
was attacked, and the passengers were defending
themselves, despite the spin that Israel is
creating in the media. Israel is not going to be
able to keep this up much longer. It's all starting to crumble."
Abraham Greenhouse is founder of the Palestine
which specializes in studying and providing
support for the work of grassroots Palestine solidarity activists worldwide.
Nora Barrows-Friedman is an award-winning
independent journalist, writing for The
Electronic Intifada, Inter Press Service,
Truthout and other outlets. She regularly reports
from Palestine, where she also runs media
workshops for youth in the Dheisheh refugee camp in the occupied West Bank.
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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