Western Media Whitewashes Israeli Violence

Palestinians try to prevent an Israeli soldier from detaining a boy during a protest in the West Bank village Nabi Saleh, August 28, 2015. The photograph was published Reuters, which has otherwise often failed to properly report on the nature of Israeli occupation.

On Wednesday, February 10, Israeli occupation forces shot and killed Omar al-Jawabreh, a 16-year-old from al-Arrub refugee camp. The army claimed that soldiers had opened fire on Palestinians throwing stones at settlers’ vehicles near the camp, “aiming at the legs of suspects.” The incident occurred, said the spokesperson, during “routine security activity” by Israeli forces.

Doctors at al-Mizan hospital in Hebron, however, said the boy was shot “during clashes in the camp,” a version of events supported by locals, who said the teen was killed during confrontations “between residents and Israeli forces raiding al-Arrub refugee camp.” Eyewitnesses said that “the soldiers clashed with dozens of local youths, after the army invaded the refugee camp.” Others told Palestinian journalists how “the soldiers were in no imminent danger when they killed [al-Jawabreh].” The boy’s relatives described the killing as a “cold blooded execution.”

Western media coverage of events in Palestine since October has been profoundly flawed, too often uncritically repeating claims made by the Israeli authorities, and – albeit often unintentionally – downplaying or omitting entirely, Israel’s systematic colonial violence and military occupation. Reuters’ report on the killing of al-Jawabreh is an unfortunate microcosm of these problems. First, the article – and title – entirely relies on the Israeli army’s version of events; if there were other corroborating sources, they were not cited.

“Israeli troops shot and killed a Palestinian youth who the army said had been throwing stones at Israeli vehicles on a road in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday. An Israeli military spokeswoman said troops patrolling near the West Bank city of Hebron encountered Palestinians throwing rocks at vehicles on a main road and shot one of them.”

Second, the context for the killing is as follows.

“Since a surge in violence began in October, 27 Israelis and a U.S. citizen have been killed in near-daily Palestinian attacks that have included stabbings, shootings and car-rammings. Israeli forces have killed at least 157 Palestinians in the same period, 101 of them assailants, according to Israeli authorities. Other Palestinians have died during violent anti-Israeli protests. The bloodshed has been partly fueled by Palestinian frustration over long-stalled peace talks and anger at perceived Jewish encroachment on a contested Jerusalem shrine.”

Nothing in this summary about how 99 percent of Palestinian “attacks” recorded by Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) from October-January took place inside the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), including 87 percent of all stabbings or alleged stabbings. But in addition, Israel’s claims concerning Palestinian assailants are repeated unquestioningly, despite evidence – and precedent – that Israeli authorities’ versions of events are not to be trusted.

Take the case of Fadi Alloun, a Palestinian from al-Issawiya, shot to death by an Israeli police officer near Damascus Gate. The Israeli media reported he was shot while “trying to escape from the security forces that began chasing him. After refusing to release his grip on the knife, the forces shot and killed him.” This was a lie; Alloun was not ‘trying to escape’ and was not holding a knife when shot, as shown in video footage. In the moments before Alloun was shot, police officers were urged by “young Jewish Israelis” to kill him. According to relatives, “Alloun never stabbed anybody.”

Then there is the killing of Fadel al-Qawasmeh, an 18-year-old Hebron resident shot by an Israeli settler on his way to work. As described by Amnesty International, “the Israeli military claim that he had a knife and intended to stab the Israeli civilian but have released no evidence to support these claims, despite the fact that…where the incident took place, is heavily monitored by video cameras operated by Israeli forces.” Al-Qawasmeh passed through an Israeli army checkpoint shortly before he was shot, “making it highly unlikely that…[he] would have been able to smuggle a knife through.”

By November-December, human rights activists had identified a “large number of incidents” over the preceding months where “soldiers, police and armed civilians [had] become judge, jury and executioner” of alleged Palestinian assailants. In some cases, “the very use of live gunfire seems excessive” – other cases “were summary executions.” As UN field workers noted in one January report, “the circumstances of several incidents [of alleged Palestinian attacks] remain disputed.”

On December 9, Israeli forces operating a “flying” checkpoint near Ramallah stopped a car taking three Palestinian brothers, aged 15, 14, and 8, home from school. After an inspection, the soldiers let the driver continue – only to open fire, shattering the back window. A child could have been killed. The army later said that one of the boys “had thrown a screwdriver at the soldiers,” a claim lacking “any corroborating evidence to support it.”

Meanwhile, according to Reuters, any Palestinians not killed in the context of conducting attacks – or alleged attacks – are said to “have died during violent anti-Israeli protests.”

Israelis are killed – but Palestinians “died” – and the wording even suggests blame on the part of the “violent” protesters. But why describe Palestinian demonstrations as “violent” at all – because the youth throw stones, or firecrackers? Reuters certainly does not routinely describe raids of Palestinian villages by Israeli soldiers as “violent” – despite the fact that tear gas, stun grenades, rubber-coated metal bullets, and live ammunition are routinely deployed. And why are the protests “anti-Israeli” – rather than “anti-occupation” or “pro-freedom”?

As I recently detailed, the media has failed to convey the scale of violence meted out by Israeli forces when crushing protests by unarmed civilians protesting a half-century long, military occupation. In the first two weeks of October, the Palestinian death toll reached 31; “at least 17 [of those killed] shot dead at demonstrations.” Over two months (Oct.-Nov.), Israeli forces shot 4,192 Palestinians with live ammunition or rubber-coated metal bullets. By January, Israeli forces had killed more than 50 Palestinians and injured a further 14,000, purely in the context of protests and during raids.

Let us look at some specifics. Between October 9 and November 14, 2015, Israeli forces stationed at the Gaza Strip’s perimeter fence killed 14 Palestinian demonstrators, 13 of whom were shot with live ammunition. One of those killed was a 10-year-old child, “struck in the back by a live bullet.” Over the same five-week period, a further 357 demonstrators were shot and wounded.

One of those killed, during a protest on October 9, was Shadi, an electrician preparing to get married. According to a testimony provided by his brother, Israeli soldiers were shooting live bullets at the demonstrators from “behind a heap of sand” about 60 metres away. Shadi was shot in the abdomen and “died even before he made it to the operating room.”

The media also seems to have already forgotten about the Israeli Air Force’s bombing of the Hassan family home in Gaza on October 11. The attack, which took place at 2am, killed pregnant mother Nur and three-year-old Rahaf. The house “was completely destroyed.” The Israeli army spokesperson claimed that the strike targeted “weapon production sites,” a claim that human rights NGO B’Tselem drily noted was “inaccurate.”

In the West Bank, meanwhile, Israeli forces have killed 13-year-old Palestinian schoolboy Abdel-Rahman Shadi Obeidallah. He was standing with a friend in Aida refugee camp, northern Bethlehem when the soldiers opened fire. On November 11, Israeli soldiers killed another child; 16-year-old Ibrahim Dawoud, shot in the heart during protests near a checkpoint to the north of Al-Bireh.

Or take the killing of 21-year-old Srour Ahmad Abu Srour, shot in the chest with live ammunition by Israeli occupation forces who had entered Beit Jala, raided buildings, and erected a temporary checkpoint. One Israeli news item noted, in passing, that the youth was killed “after hurling stones at troops.” In other words, Abu Srour was an unarmed civilian shot dead while protesting the presence of occupation forces in his town. In the media, he’s just another “killed during clashes” fatality.

The killing of Nashat Asfour on December 18 is even more disturbing. The military spokesperson’s version of events, cited by Gideon Levy in Ha’aretz, is as follows: “There was a violent disturbance of the peace near the village of Sinjil, during which an army force in the area fired shots, as per the ‘suspect detention procedure.’ A Palestinian report of a fatality was received during the day, but the medical report has not yet been received. The circumstances surrounding the incident are being investigated, after which the military prosecution will decide how to proceed.”

In fact, as detailed in the same article by Gideon Levy, the father-of-three was shot as he was on his way home from a wedding. It was around 4pm. A few hours earlier, Israeli forces had crossed through Sinjil, and some of the youth had thrown stones at them. Some soldiers were still positioned in the village, and there was some isolated stone-throwing. As Afour was walking, from 150-200 metres down the hill, an Israeli soldier fired a single live bullet. It hit him in the stomach, and exited from his back. Nashat died in hospital.

There is nothing new about Israeli authorities’ misleading or lying about the circumstances in which Palestinians have been killed.

When two Palestinian teenagers were killed during Nakba Day protests in 2014, Israeli military investigators initially suggested that “the shots may have been fired by the Palestinian side,” while “senior Israeli officials said a video of the shootings that has that sparked an outcry was likely forged.” Eventually, a Border Police officer was charged in the killing of 17-year-old Nadim Nuwara. Yet were it not for the video footage, forensic evidence and determination of the family and human rights activists, the deaths would likely have become yet more “disputed” fatalities “during clashes.”

In July of last year, an Israeli colonel shot and killed 17-year-old Muhammad Kasbeh, after the Palestinian youth had thrown a stone at his jeep near Qalandiya checkpoint. At the time, the army spokesperson said the colonel had “felt in mortal danger and carried out suspect-arrest procedure.” Israeli officials described the stone-throwing as a pre-planned ambush. A video obtained by NGO B’Tselem, however, corroborated the testimonies of eyewitnesses and medics – Kasbeh was killed when the commander exited the jeep and shot the teenager three times from behind as he fled.

Time and time again, the Israeli authorities have proven to be unreliable, or explicitly dishonest, in their accounts of the killing of Palestinians – whether assailants or alleged assailants, or in the context of protests and raids. Yet Reuters, and other news agencies and publications, too often take the Israeli army’s account at face value. In doing so, and by omitting crucial context, the media delegitimises an anti-colonial revolt, whitewashes violence by an occupying army, and disappears the existence of the occupation itself.

Ben White is a writer, journalist, and researcher. He is the author of Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide (London and New York: Pluto Press, 2009) and Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination and Democracy (London: Pluto Press, 2012). He regularly contributes to publications such as Middle East Monitor, Middle East Eye, Al Jazeera English, and others.

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