[News] Independent journalists dismantling Israel's hold on media narrative

Anti-Imperialist News 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

http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article11340.shtml

"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 
("<http://www.democracynow.org/2010/6/9/framing_the_narrative_israeli_commandos_seizes>Framing 
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 
("<http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3897396,00.html>MK 
Zoabi: Israel wanted highest number of 
fatalities," YNet, 1 June 2010; 
"<http://blogs.aljazeera.net/middle-east/2010/06/06/kidnapped-israel-forsaken-britain>Kidnapped 
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 
("<http://www.youtube.com/user/idfnadesk#p/c/D367B77C57326D3E/4/HZlSSaPT_OU>Flotilla 
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 
kitchen utensils 
("<http://www.flickr.com/photos/israel-mfa/sets/72157624179998488/>Weapons 
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 
("<http://www.freegaza.org/en/home/56-news/1201-did-israel-deliberately-murder-civilians-aboard-freedom-flotilla>Did 
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 
("<http://en.rsf.org/israel-as-turkish-photographer-is-buried-09-06-2010,37701.html>As 
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 
("<http://aliabunimah.posterous.com/israeli-propaganda-photo-in-haaretz-of-man-wi>Israeli 
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 
("<http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wIp8PcZxXYQ&feature=player_embedded>Gaza 
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 
("<http://maxblumenthal.com/2010/06/nailed-again-under-pressure-idf-and-haaretz-retract-description-of-suspicious-idf-distributed-photo%22>Nailed 
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 
("<http://dover.idf.il/IDF/English/News/today/10/06/0201.htm%22>Attackers 
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 
("<http://maxblumenthal.com/2010/06/under-scrutiny-idf-retracts-claims-about-flotillas-al-qaeda-links/%22>Under 
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" 
("<http://www.youtube.com/user/idfnadesk#p/c/D367B77C57326D3E/2/pxY7Q7CvQPQ%22>Flotilla 
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) 
("<http://www.myaguarnieri.com/2010/06/israel-under-fire-for-doctoring-flotilla-recordings%22>Israel 
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 
edited 
("<http://idfspokesperson.com/2010/06/05/clarificationcorrection-regarding-audio-transmission-between-israeli-navy-and-flotilla-on-31-may-2010-posted-on-5-june-2010>Clarification/Correction 
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 
("<http://aliabunimah.posterous.com/mavi-marmara-was-heading-away-from-israelgaza>Did 
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 
("<http://www.internethaber.com/israilden-kacirilan-fotograflar-foto-galerisi-7784-p1.htm> 
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 
("<http://imeu.net/news/article0019211.shtml>Israeli 
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" 
("<http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,594095,00.html%22>Transcript: 
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" 
("<http://www.hrw.org/en/node/85900>Why No 
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 
("<http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/07/photographs-of-battered-israeli-commandos-show-new-side-of-raid%22>Photographs 
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 
Freedom Project 
(<http://palestinefreedom.org/>palestinefreedom.org), 
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.



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