Photos Really Do Lie [Excerpts]
By Jonathan Tobin
How is that the pictures and the facts seem to be so divorced from each when it comes to Israel?
When an explosion on a Gaza beach killed several Palestinians earlier this month, the international media didn't pause to think, research or ask questions about the incident.
As a picture of a Palestinian girl grieving over the corpse of a dead relative spread around the world and onto the front pages of newspapers like The New York Times, there was little doubt as to who was to blame for her suffering and, by extension, that of all Palestinians: the Israeli "occupiers" whose brutality had once again taken the lives of Arab innocents.
The only problem with this story, like so many others that have come out of this conflict, is that its basic premise wasn't true. Shell fragments from some of those wounded in the incident who were treated in Israeli hospitals, along with other factors, showed that the Israel Defense Forces were not responsible.
Does all of this sound familiar? It should. The Gaza beach story was just the latest rerun of the same scenario we've all seen before.
It was the same when a Palestinian boy named Mohammed al- Durra was supposedly slain by Israeli army snipers in the arms of his father at the beginning of the second intifada in the fall of 2000 when, in fact, he was killed by Palestinian gunfire.
And the same scenario was played out in the spring of 2000 when many in the media bought into a lie about a massacre of Arab civilians in Jenin during an Israeli army counteroffensive following a wave of Palestinian suicide bombings. Even the United Nations eventually had to accept that this was false, too.
Why does this keep happening? How is that the pictures and the facts seem to be so divorced from each when it comes to Israel? For a credible answer to these questions, there's no better place to look than a book that was published by Encounter late last year to little fanfare: The Other War: Israelis, Palestinians and the Struggle for Media Supremacy by journalist Stephanie Gutmann.
As Gutmann reports, in the age of the 24/7 news cycle of Internet and all-news cable television, the stakes involved in this issue have never been higher.
In her introduction, Gutmann asserts, "I wrote this book because apparently people need to be reminded that pictures do lie -- The second intifada was explained to the public through a series of images -- images that didn't bring us the truth."
The classic example of this was a celebrated New York Times error in which the paper printed an Associated Press photo that it said depicted an Israeli soldier brutalizing a bloody Palestinian youth on the Temple Mount. As the Times discovered, the youth in extremis was actually an American Jew who had been attacked by Arabs. The soldier, whom Times readers were told was beating him up, was really an Israeli police officer who had rescued him from a mob bent on lynching him.
Gutmann relates that one European reporter confessed to her that he wouldn't report a story of a boy suicide bomber who had been captured before he could explode his bomb because he felt "the Israelis were trying to exploit" it. The exploitation of a child whom the Palestinians attempted to use as a human sacrifice didn't seem to bother him.
Gutmann closes on a hopeful note when she predicts that blogs and alternate media sources are undermining the "imperial media" monopoly and bringing accountability to a profession that desperately needs it.