Thursday, January 6, 2011

[A guest post by Anna Geifman.]

On January 2, 2011 YNet published several reports about a violent episode at the checkpoint Bekaot, southeast of Nablus. See: here, here, and here.

The central theme of the Yediot Akhronot journalists was IDF's use of fire against an Arab civilian. In contrast to soldiers stationed at the roadblock and equipped with weapons and protective gear, the man from the West Bank "was unarmed". In his hand he held only a water bottle. According to Palestinian sources, he was on his way to work.

Yet another instance of Israel's uncalled-for violence against Palestinian civilians, it would seem. The incident was fatal for the 20-year-old Kfar Tubas resident, Mohammad Dragma, allegedly sprayed with bullets from close range and killed. But of course it was for the reader to decide whether or not this use of force was an obvious overreaction.

While many things may be a matter of subjective opinion, news reporting is still first and foremost about hard facts. Interpretation is secondary and ideally also fact-related. That is, based on available data--not the spirit of journalist's message. The essentials of honest reporting require a correspondent to at least pretend to care about what really happened.

Instead, the YNet reporters adopted a conventional template based on an assumption that the West Bank Arabs are (perpetual) victims and the IDF soldiers are (if need be) killers.

The stories did acknowledge some facts. Dragma evoked suspicions when "he bypassed the line of people waiting at the checkpoint and arrived at a spot that was closed for traffic". In other words, he forced his way to a restricted area, which he knew was off limits. How could his actions be interpreted, especially after "he did not respond when the soldiers ordered him to stop"? Nor did he stop even "after being shot in the leg". The soldiers had seconds to make a decision when "he did not lie down as he was ordered". Whatever the intent, Dragma was determined to go through with it, despite the injury.

The "soldier that reached Dragma saw that he was not carrying a gun, but only glass bottle. Regardless of this observation the soldier chose to shoot at the man's upper body." The bottle was Dragma's weapon, and this is why--not "regardless"--the soldier was left with no choice but to open fire. More than once have terrorists used knives and stones to attack IDF personnel at checkpoints--a glass bottle would have been just as effective.

"Soldier shot at debilitated Palestinian" cried the headline. In fact, he shot a wounded attacker, who would not be subdued.

"Two of his battalion companions, who joined him in the shooting, admitted that they were not in the danger zone, but just wished to aid their friend." The journalist's word usage insinuated that because personally they were not threatened, it was a wrong -- perhaps criminal--to protect a fellow-soldier in real peril.

Mohammad "never planned to target soldiers at the roadblock", the YNet quotes his relative Said Darajme (Dragma) as saying. The youth was murdered because "killing Palestinians has become a matter of routine." In reality, the soldiers adhered to the military protocol, tried to minimize bloodshed, and resorted to it only when it could no longer be avoided. Was it for the sake of "objectivity" that the journalists decided to present a family point of view: it blamed the soldiers of killing Mohammad in "an inhuman act of revenge".

Skipping (rather than disseminating) demagoguery, a professional reporter should have troubled himself to investigate family ties, in this case impressive indeed. It would have surely been a point of interest for the YNet audience that Mohammad was closely related to Hiba Azam Sa'ed Daragmeh (Dragma), a 19-year old suicide bomber. She exploded in the commercial center in Afoulah, in May 2003, killing 3 and wounding 47 Israelis.

Sloppy reporting fails the reader, who is unable to form fact-based opinions. It causes harm by its flawed interpretive patterns, emulated at home and abroad. If in Israel the IDF image may be reduced to that of "willing executioners", no wonder that elsewhere it is damaged further.

And how unfair is irresponsible journalism to that uniform-clad 20-year old at the checkpoint. He faces terrorists, while his back is exposed to subtle vilification by the very people he tries to protect.

Dr. Anna Geifman, Political Science Department, Bar-Ilan University. She is a specialist in history and psychology of contemporary terrorism. Her last major publication is Death Orders: The Vanguard of Modern Terrorism in Revolutionary Russia (Praeger, 2010).

"Syme: It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. You wouldn't have seen the [Newspeak] Dictionary 10th edition, would you Smith? It's that thick. [illustrates thickness with fingers] The 11th Edition will be that [narrows fingers] thick. Winston Smith: So, The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect? Syme: The secret is to move from translation, to direct thought, to automatic response. No need for self-discipline. Language coming from here [the larynx], not from here [the brain]" -1984 (film)


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