Friday, March 04, 2011

Pallywood, B’tselem and the Augean Stables of the MSNM

Richard Landes

CAMERA has spotted a particularly interesting case of Pallywood which illustrates not only the mechanics of staging, and the lust for dirt on Israel on the part of “human rights” organizations like B’tselem, but the near-unbelievable sloppiness of the MSNM (here Ynet, an Israeli newspaper outlet).

March 2, 2011by Yishai Goldflam, Tamar Sternthal UPDATED: B’Tselem Photographer Stages Scene

March 2 Update: Translation of Arabic Proves the Scene is Staged

March 1 — Once upon a time, journalists would report the news. Today, some prefer manufactured news. When journalists collaborate with organizations driven by a one-sided agenda aimed at influencing public opinion, the distinction between a newspaper and a propaganda mouthpiece is dangerously blurred.

Of course, this only goes one way. Let some settlers (or even the IDF) try and give the MSNM some footage putting Palestinians in a bad light and see with what a fine-tooth comb it gets worked over. The basic epistemological principle is: If it’s a Palestinian claim, believe it until proven false; if it’s an Israeli claim, doubt it until proven true. (And if that happens, move quickly on to another topic.) Take, for example, B’Tselem, which noticed that some lazy journalists prefer to receive pre-packaged video clips over actually doing their jobs. These edited and ready-to-view clips then appear next to bombastic headlines, and the journalist congratulates himself for getting a scoop.

Such was the case early this week (Feb. 27) at the Israeli site Ynet, which appears in English and in Hebrew. Sunday’s Hebrew article by Elior Levi and the corresponding English version (“Video: 11-year-old Palestinian stone-thrower arrested”) are based on a video that B’Tselem apparently supplied to Levi.

One wonders if the intrepid Ynet journalists, including both Levi, his editors, and English translators, even bothered to view the pre-packaged B’Tselem video before passing it off as journalism. The article states:

In the video the officers can be seen putting the boy, Karim al-Tamimi, in a police vehicle after chasing him down. The boy’s mother pleaded with the officers to allow her to accompany him to the Sha’ar Binyamin police station, but her request was denied. . . .
The boy’s father, Salah al-Tamimit [sic] told Ynet, “They took him without a chaperone, and by the time we arrived at the police station he was already being interrogated.”

Yet, a careful viewing of the clip (with Hebrew and Arabic dialogue) reveals that the exact opposite was the case; the policemen invited the mother to accompany her child. At 2:07 minutes into the video, one of the policemen says to the mother, “Come, come, get in.” The cop then asks one of the people standing nearby, “Is that his mother?” When the bystander answers in the affirmative, the policeman repeats, “Get in with him” (the boy). The door is opened for her and she is about to get into the vehicle, as the policemen are saying “get into the car,” but then (2:27) the mother is pulled away from the car by the Palestinian man wearing a black jacket. After the policemen closes the van’s door, a woman wearing a pink shirt pushes the mother towards the vehicle, and then the mother bangs on the door, a heartrending scene directed to the end. Here’s the clip:

What possible explanation is there for the discrepancy between the article and the video? Perhaps Elior Levi received the video together with a B’Tselem press release which falsely claimed that the mother was denied permission to board the van with her son. Levi then copied the press release, without carefully reviewing the video, nevermind undertaking any field work.

B’Tselem’s Video Project

In January 2007, B’Tselem launched its video project, distributing more than 100 video cameras to Palestinians in order to document whatever material they can to incriminate Israeli soldiers, policemen and settlers. As B’Tselem put it, “Citizen journalism – a phenomenon that has garnered much attention of late – is particularly relevant in the context of the Israeli occupation. . . .”

I commented on this strategy and its strong likelihood of encouraging both Pallywood and that film school’s attendant violence back in September of 2008.

But the so-called “citizen journalists” are apparently branching out into staged productions. For example, in the video in question, Nariman al-Tamimi begins the clip by filming an intersection of Nabi Salah where a number of police vehicles are passing through. Suddenly, one of the vehicles stops and as if out of nowhere a frightened Palestinian boy runs towards the camera, with two policemen chasing after him. A careful review of the video shows that the boy had been hidden behind a sign, blocking him from viewers’ site as he threw stones at the moving vehicles. In addition, despite the fact that he had a number of options, the boy knew exactly where to run — in the direction of the camera. And thus we have the perfectly dramatic shot of a skinny and frightened child running away from the big and scary police.

When the boy is placed in the vehicle, a number of people who were in the vicinity of the camera surround the cops and try, apparently, to reach the boy. One of the women is his mother. Thus, she was at the scene the whole time, watching her son throw stones at the police and then run towards the camera.

An analysis of the film clip, including the heartrending ending, raises a red flag concerning staging directions. The vehicles were moving away from the photographer (who repeatedly shouted “I am B’Tselem!”), when they by chance stopped near the photographer and the dramatic scene unfolded. This case is reminiscent of the October 2010 incident in Silwan in which two boys were hit by a car and “by chance” seven or eight photographers were on the scene.

It is abundantly clear that the youth’s arrest and the policemen’s actions, for better or for worse, were not staged. It is also clear that not all of the neighbors that came out to see what was happening and then surrounded the cops received staging instructions. However, one does wonder whether the whole arrest scenario would have happened at all without the B’Tselem photographer. As Avshalom Peled, an IDF commander of the Hebron region remarked about the organization Breaking the Silence, which conducts tours in Hebron: “They are smooth operators. Their activists provoke the settlers and then wait for them to attack.”

If this is the case as well with B’Tselem in Nabi Salah, then this video was created not simply to document authentic circumstances, but rather entails the cynical exploitation of an innocent child, and possibly also his mother.

This is similar to the techniques used in the Al Durah affair, where the boy was placed behind the father (putting him in greater danger if the Israelis were firing), even as the imagery appealed to the pathos of the Western viewer, as pointed out by Tamar Liebes Plesner.

Did Ynet not see what we saw? Maybe Levi and his colleagues saw, but did not care? Do they think that posting videos from an organization with a blatant agenda without fact-checking constitutes journalistic work?

Here’s an idea for a journalistic investigation for Ynet: an analysis of all B’Tselem’s videos in which adult Palestinians are filming Palestinian children who are undertaking criminal and dangerous acts, and an expose of the criminal exploitation of these children who are not kept safe at home.

Now, that’s an investigation which requires actual journalistic work. Is Ynet up to the challenge?

March 2 Update: Arabic Translation Proves Scene Was Staged
CAMERA translated the Arabic which is heard in the video, and the translation provides additional evidence that Levi’s report is entirely erroneous and that the B’Tselem photographer, Nariman al-Tamimi, staged the scene.

When Karim’s mother is about to enter the police van after the police tell her to board, one of the Palestinians clearly says to her in Arabic, “Don’t get in,” and then the Palestinian man in a black jacket pulls her away from the vehicle. This sentence proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is the Palestinians themselves who prevented her from joining her son in the van, while the Israeli police repeatedly urged her to get in.

It is also noteworthy that in the beginning of the clip videographer Nariman al-Tamimi shouts to the boy, “hurry, hurry, hurry” as he runs in her direction, yet another indication that the entire scene was planned in advance.

It appears that B’Tselem has some explaining to do regarding its “citizen journalists,” the recipients of B’Tselem cameras, who fabricate news as opposed to document it.

For the Hebrew version of this article, visit Presspectiva, CAMERA’s Israeli site.

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