Wednesday, September 15, 2004

It is one of the iconic images that emerged from the Intifada - an Arab man and his boy sheltering behind a barrel as bullets come in at them. A few shots hit the wall behind them as they crouch. Suddenly a spray of bullets kicks up the dust in front of them. The media informs us that the boy, Muhammed Aldura is dead, his father badly wounded. Another victim of brutal Israeli violence - this time captured live on camera. How could soldiers have shot at this innocent pair? It is a powerful image.

But is it real?

Sometimes the eyes deceive, and they especially deceive when what we are being shown is intended to do so.

Last Thursday I attended a video presentation by Richard Landes, a Professor of Millennial Studies at Boston University. Billed as a "Film on Palestinian Manipulation of the Media," I was anxious to see what was in store. Canny media observers know that there's almost always more to the story when it comes to media reporting of any contentious issue - and that's particularly true with regard to Middle East reporting, where journalists are routinely given access based upon their sympathy and performance in advocating for the Palestinian Arab cause (at least, as dictated by the establishment groups), and those who do not are literally at risk of life and limb.

Professor Landes' opening remarks contained a perspective one would expect from someone who'd spent his professional life examining the history of Apocalyptic beliefs. Modern Jihadism is a sort of modern "active Apocalypticism," whereby its practitioners are seeking to bring about, through their own hand, the promise of a (Muslim) utopia on Earth. An intrinsic aspect of this effort, it was explained, is of course, the existence of a "Dajjal," a sort of end-of-times Muslim anti-Christ. And who fits this role better than the Jews? One doesn't have to seek far to witness this literal demonization at work every day in the areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority and beyond.

And what better method to demonize than with visual proof of the demons at work, slaying an innocent child? In older times, a particular demonization of the Jews was known as the Blood Libel. The incident filmed on September the 30th, 2000 is, as the Professor pointed out, is a perfect modern version of the same.

The Blood Libel, the demonization of the Jews, the casting of them as a sort of Muslim anti-Christ can only lead in one direction - as the Professor pointed out, they add up to what Norman Cohn set as the title to his book on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, they are a "Warrant for Genocide."

We watched the film in VHS on a normal sized TV. The production is clearly in a first draft form. Sound was bad, and eventually the Professor ended up simply narrating the images live from the podium. It was made in only a few weeks using what amounted to donated studio space. The video used was obtained from Israeli Investigator Nahum Shahaf, as well as some other footage obtained from other sources. Almost all of the footage was from that one day in September, and serves to give a very important overall impression on what was going on that day.

The first part of the presentation focused not on the Aldura material, but on the other activity going on at the crossroads that day. A bit of "pulling the camera back" in order to give us the perspective necessary to see the images anew - to re-train our eyes as it were.

Entitled "Pallywood," we start with some shots of Bob Simon of 60 Minutes doing a report on the day...but something's amiss we're told. We begin to look at the images again, but from more angles, and this time we leave in the parts who's only witness previously was the cutting-room-floor.

We see a man shot in the leg and drop to the ground, only to be grabbed by that leg and loaded into an ambulance that appears conveniently on the scene immediately...loaded in laying on his wounded leg. A close examination of the film shows that no blood is visible on the man's clothing - an examination not possible when seeing the film as it is displayed on the nightly news.

We see a dramatic scene of an Arab man in civilian clothing firing an AK-47 through a hole in a building, presumably at the Israeli position. Then we are shown what wasn't shown by the media - the scenes immediately before. First, a shot showing the interior of the building the man is about to be firing into - it is an empty room that, due to its location, could not possibly permit the man to fire at the Israelis. We see an Arab civilian giving direction, shooing away the group of bystanders clustered nonchalantly around, clearing the area and getting the shooter into position for filming. Now when we see the same footage of the man shooting, we know what we are seeing - a staged shot of a man firing into an empty room.

A cut is included to emphasize the point of how staged these things can be. This is surveillance footage taken by the Israeli military of a group of men carrying was is supposed to be a corpse for a funeral. The problem? Several times on the tape the corpse is seen to be dropped, whereupon he gets up, dusts himself off and climbs right back on to the shoulders of his friends. No matter to the crowd that begins to gather and surround the procession. They know their roles.

We have everything we need for a Hollywood production. There are actors, extras, props and an audience.

Most of the action takes place right in front of the Israeli strongpoint, from which this withering fire is supposed to have been issuing. Yet it is clear from the tape that those present have no concern whatsoever for their own safety. Cars drive past, the crowd gathers, chats, smokes, laughs and takes direction from handlers. PA cameramen lollygag in the middle of the street.

Men lay in the street - in the edited news film they look like corpses, or desperate people sheltering from the gunshots - yet a longer and closer look shows one man chatting on his cell phone, and other shots show other people simply wandering by them. Landes calls these curb-huggers simply, "sunbathers." They have their role to play

In the hours of footage Landes saw, he says he only noticed one person who may have actually been injured.

Now that our eye has been re-trained on how to view the footage, it's time to revisit the Aldura film. In the uncut footage we see crowds of other people running past Aldura and his father, yet they stay in place. Even a PA cameraman stops and shelters next to them for a moment. All of this taking place while PA camerman Talal Abu Rachman had testified that the pair were pinned in place by "withering" Israeli fire. None is seen on the film, and it is quite clear the two could have moved easily had they wanted to, as many others did. We even see one of the ubiquitous "directors" motioning people.

The first few bullets do finally come in, but they come in at the wrong angle to have come from the Israeli position - they come from straight-on, not at the angle Israeli fire would have come from. When the first few bullets hit the wall behind the pair, we hear a man shouting in Arabic, "The boy is dead, the boy is dead!" But he has not apparently even been shot yet, and is still sitting up. In the final moments of the available film, after the boy is supposed to be dead, he is even seen to raise his hand and his feet and look up. This part was cut out of the original sequence broadcast by France 2 Television. They said it was footage of the boy "in his death throws" - so horrible they refused to release it. I have never seen anyone "in their death throws," but this certainly does not look horrible, and no worse than the rest of the footage. Might they have had another agenda at work in their editor's scissors?

Finally, we are shown footage taken that day and the following morning that show the sidewalk that this supposedly gut-shot boy and his badly wounded father lay. The is no blood visible there. It's not until a news crew arrives the following afternoon that a small puddle of blood makes its appearance for the cameras.

Landes emphasized he takes no position on whether, for a certainty, the boy is alive or dead, or whether he was killed that day in September. He does feel, however, that when the evidence is examined in full context, there is sufficient doubt about what actually occurred that day. When combined with the obvious explosive nature of the footage, a responsible news organization would think twice about airing it.

But air it they did. Few other images have been used to incite such hatred and violence as those images have. They helped drive the violent intifada. They were fodder for encouraging people to strap on explosive vests and commit genuine mass-murder.

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is violent enough without help from outside. Some think that the staging and fabrication of images is OK, because after all, Arab kids are killed, and even if it's a question of whether this one was, what's the difference? But they're not killed like this, and if they are, it's essential that we know it for sure, not have it staged for us. Images have the ability to kill as efficiently as any bullet or bomb. It is essential that those images tell the truth, and not just a "sort of" truth. If we allow that, we allow ourselves to be used, to be manipulated, to be robbed of our ability to understand the world as it is, rather than as it is served up to us in a created reality.

It's in the real world that we need to make decisions and find solutions, and that means understanding that real world as it is. If we don't do that, we'll never understand why our solutions just don't seem to be working. And that means that everyone - American, European, Israeli and Palestinian will continue to suffer for it.

I would never sit idly by while my house was being robbed, why would I do anything less while my mind is robbed? Truth is essential.

Note: Per my usual practice, I will scan in and post my notes later.

Update: Notes scan, for what it's worth: Page1, Page2

Listed below are links to blogs that reference this entry: Truth is Essential - "The Mideast Conflict Through the Eyes of the Media" Report.

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Was his presentation at BU recorded on video? Was it heavily advertised and well attended? How did you hear about this presentation?


How did Landes get his hands on the 'cut images', I thought for some reason France 2 wouldn't release them? And were these 'cut images' from that day in total or just from the Al-Durra scene?
If they're not France 2 images than what are they and who shot them? I thought only France 2 shot that day?
I assume that when you mention the 'propped funeral' with the 'corpse' falling off you're not speaking about the video of Jenin in 2002 that everyone has seen?
Assuming you're not where was this 'propped' funeral that day? In the same area or city/town as the al-durra "shooting"?
What was the Bob Simon report about? (Al-Durra?) and what were his conclusions in it?

Was his presentation at BU recorded on video? Was it heavily advertised and well attended? How did you hear about this presentation?

It was not recorded so far as I know. It wasn't held at BU, it was held in the same place I had seen Robert Spencer speak previously (find the report on the right side-bar) - Temple Emmanuel in Newton. I heard about it through the JAT Action email list. I'm guessing attendence at about 90 people, but I didn't do a final count.

How did Landes get his hands on the 'cut images', I thought for some reason France 2 wouldn't release them? And were these 'cut images' from that day in total or just from the Al-Durra scene? If they're not France 2 images than what are they and who shot them? I thought only France 2 shot that day?

He got the film through the fellow who did the Israeli investigation, a guy named Shahaf. I believe that was his main source. France 2 got the film from the usual Palestinian sources the outlets all have filming for them in the area, and I too recall that France 2 wouldn't release the uncut film for what now appear to be absurd reasons. There were a number of news outlets filming that day. Only one submitted their raw footage as requested by the Israeli investigation. Landes seemed not to want us to repeat who it was, so I won't, but the name will surprise you.

I also got the feeling Landes had seen footage, or spoken to the Palestinian Arab cameraman Talal, but I'm a bit vague on that point to say for certain. As I understand it, and I could be wrong, the lion's share of the footage came from Shahaf.

Most of the footage came from that same day, the day of the Aldura incident. It was a busy day. There were also a few scenes from one of Pierre Rehov's films I didn't describe in the piece above, as well as the funeral scene.

It was probably the funeral scene you are familiar with. I had never seen it before, so I don't know for sure. Taken from the vantage point of a helicopter was it?

What was the Bob Simon report about? (Al-Durra?) and what were his conclusions in it?

The Bob Simon report was a 60 Minutes piece called The Crossroads - just a few minutes of it. It was basically used as a lead-in or frame for the rest of the film. Basically a way of saying, "Here's what you see in the mainstream media about that day, but we're going to take you to the cutting-room floor and give you a broader perspective."

"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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