Monday, August 07, 2006

7-Aug-06: The Truth, the Whole Truth, and a Whole Lot More Than The Truth

It's 11.30 at night on Monday here in Jerusalem. Depending on where you look at this hour, you are going to get radically different versions of what seems like a very straightforward black-and-white report of the tragedy of war.
The Melbourne Age | More Die as US and France Fail to Strike a Deal | Jonathan Pearlman and Sam Ghattas - August 8, 2006: AN ISRAELI air raid killed at least 40 people in a Lebanese village yesterday, Lebanon's Prime Minister said, and other air strikes killed 19 after efforts to end the 28-day-old war stalled. "An hour ago, a horrific massacre took place in Houla village as a result of the intentional Israeli bombardment that resulted in more than 40 martyrs," Prime Minister Fouad Siniora told an emergency meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Beirut. Residents of Houla said they feared up to 60 people, including many children, had been killed. They said most of the people were shepherds who had refused to flee the fighting.
Pretty much the same story can be found right now at other Australian media (where it's the high-news-consumption morning rush hour right now) including the Sydney Morning Herald (Bombing kills 40 in village) and The Australian ('Forty dead' in Israeli raid).

Over at Reuters, they say:

Lebanon demands ceasefire | Lin Noueihed Mon Aug 7, 10:14 AM ET: BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon's prime minister, choking back tears, demanded a "quick and decisive ceasefire" on Monday after an Israeli air raid that he said killed more than 40 civilians sheltering from fighting in a southern village... His eyes brimming with tears as he spoke about the suffering of civilians, Siniora demanded a quick ceasefire and Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon.
Meanwhile at Associated Press, they have a post-oops version that appears to have been available for some hours already:

AP News Alert | Aug 07 11:17 AM US/Eastern BEIRUT, Lebanon: The Lebanese prime minister says only one person died in an Israeli air raid on the southern village of Houla, lowering the death toll from 40.

With Reuters now freely admitting to having published fake images of damage and destruction, and the Lebanese now admitting to claiming a huge death toll that was really nothing more than a bogus emotional grab at the facts with near-zero actual basis, we onlookers are left to ask: So where do the professionals of the news media find the arrogance that lets them sit down at their word processors or stand up in front of the cameras and state with utter confidence the things that, frequently, they are really just guessing or simply hoping to be true?

7-Aug-06: Making a Sharp Point About My Truth and Your Truth


John Spooner in the Melbourne Age today.

UPDATE: In case the point is made too delicately, here's a link to a more pointed version that ought to leave people in no doubt about the fraud that's underway in full force. It's one thing to manipulate public opinion - Hizbollah and Hamas do this routinely and most folks take it into account when assessing their credibility. It's entirely another when the world's most authoritative sources of news, like the New York Times and Reuters, are involved up to their corporate eyebrows with faking the news. Think that's an overstatement? Go here and view the images; see a dead man come to life, courtesy of the NY Times. This is far too important to be swept under the carpet.

7-Aug-06: Pictures Can Certainly Lie... And What About Words?

Democracy Project has some on-the-ball observations about the role of the media in distorting images and what this means for overall distortion and agenda-driven journalism:
The current exposure of Reuters’ clear bias in reporting on Israel continues with more photos photoshopped (see here, and here, for examples, and here for a current wrap-up), and its dispatch on the proposed draft resolution for the UN Security Council a misrepresentation of Lebanese views.
What needs to be understood is that these are neither passing errors but rather part and parcel of Reuters’ longstanding and insistent bias against Israel.
What needs to be understood is that this bias is a purposeful part of Reuters operating procedure and of its commercial strategy.
What needs to be understood is that U.S. newspapers are a major source of Reuters’ revenue, and Reuters’ credibility is enhanced by being carried in U.S. newspapers.
What needs to be understood, AND ACTED UPON, is that truth will not pressure Reuters to reform but only the complaints from these prime customers, the U.S. newspapers that pay for Reuters’ newswire.

Read the entire article - it's a gem.

Now we have a question. If it's called photoshopping (named in honor of Adobe's photo editing software) when a news-agency publishes doctored pictures that present a reality that never happened, what is it called when news-agencies doctor text reports, interviews, analysis? You can place two pictures side by side, as LGF has done and anyone can see the act of fraud.

Words don't work like that, which is why we think there is so much distortion, so much spinning and lying and logic-inverting. And since there's no simple software for detecting twisted analysis, we have to rely on good sense and information as well as on analytic watchdogs like Camera, Honest Reporting and other reputable sources to highlight them. As Democracy Project points out, the spinners and distorters will not change course unless pressured by us - their customers, readers and viewers. They suggest a strategy for responding to the media channels who buy Reuters' news products (here's a site which lists them) by writing to the ombudsman or reader representative or editor, with this text as a model:

I depend upon your newspaper for reliable information. Your use of Reuters’ reports and photos on the current Israel-Hezbollah war, which have been proven false and irresponsible, undermines my confidence. These are not exceptions for Reuters but part of a longstanding bias, as documented for example by CAMERA. Please convey to Reuters your requirement that Reuters publicly investigate the current failures of journalistic standards, reveal the results and its specific personnel and reporting procedures reforms. Please also convey to Reuters that your newspapers’ continued clientage is dependent upon the open thoroughness of this minimal responsibility to be depended upon by you. I will be watching to see whether I can depend upon you to deliver quality journalism by demanding this of your newswires.
Makes sense to us.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

6-Aug-06: Moments After the Missile Hits, This is How it Looks

This streaming video file was passed along to us tonight. It's amateur footage of a missile attack in a suburban area of Haifa two weeks ago.

We think you'll agree there's something so much more frightening and 'real' about it when you see the dust and debris just starting to settle, the victims stunned and not yet evacuated. Far, far more immediate than when you see still-shots in the following day's newspapers.

We received the video just as this evening's massive attack on Haifa happened. We stay in touch as often as we can by phone with friends who are sticking it out in Haifa, who have gotten way beyond the nerve-wracked stage. What motivates them to keep going? Perhaps it's their anger at the media disinformation, the ignoring of what ordinary Israelis are going through, the obsessive media focus on poor beaten-up Lebanon which has been sitting back for six years while Hezbollah built its astonishing arsenal and ramparts and reinforced emplacements. Like many of us, our Haifa friends are waiting for the day when outside observers learn to put Nasrallah and his fanatic followers in the right perspective and understand that these are the opening chapters of a global shooting war between the civilized world against the non-uniformed armies of terrorists who lack any strategic goal other than to destroy everything they can of the other side.

6-Aug-06: Clarifying the IDF's Mission

6-Aug-06: Disproportionality Argument Starts to Fade

To the evident satisfaction of the Vatican and leaders of most European countries, the disproportionality of losses between Lebanese and Israelis has undergone a significant re-alignment in the past 48 hours.

The tragic deaths of a mother and her two daughters in their own home in the Israeli village of Arab Daramshe on Saturday, almost entirely un-noticed and un-reported by news media outside Israel, pushed the death toll up, as did developments this morning. A fifteen minute-long barrage of Katyusha missile attacks on Sunday struck Kfar Giladi, Ma'alot, Safed, Acre, the Golan Heights and numerous open areas in the north. Initial reports say ten Israelis were killed in this morning's attacks, and many others injured. Additional missiles are landing as we write these lines.

Hezbollah's missile firings are always essentially pot-shots. This is by no means a strategic problem for the Lebanese Shi'ites since they have never pretended to be engaged in a strategic battle. Every loss of human life - and certainly including Israeli Arab lives, which happen to be over-represented among the Israeli casualties - on the Israeli side of the border is a victory for Nasrallah's barbarians. Any act of violence qualifies as "resistance", and there is a ready supply of media dupes ready to buy and repackage their spun stories.

Part of the freedom that comes from being designated a terror organization under United States, UK, Canadian and Australian law, but not under the laws of most European countries or of the EU, is that Hezbullah can shoot anywhere it likes. Anything that dies or is destroyed can then be treated as an achievement.

So long as Hizbollah can spin the news as effectively as it has done so far, even the deaths of Lebanese advance their cause. While this will sound odd to many ordinary people unversed in the finer points of press coverage, the editors of such sober and object publications as The Independent (UK) understand this well.

6-Aug-06: Unasked Questions; Unspoken Answers

"Stressed out and anxious in Beirut" by Hugh Sykes of the BBC is not the worst article of its kind. It's certainly not the best either. In fact, it's fairly typical of a vast genre of newspaper and magazine articles expounding on how really rotten it is to be Lebanese and to have your homeland blown to pieces by the Israelis.

It gets started like this:
People keep asking me, "Do you know when it will stop?"
I shrug my shoulders, and say: "Your guess is as good as mine."
Then they ask: "But Beirut - will they bomb Beirut again?"
"What would be the point?" I reply.
Then they bombed Beirut again.
And in case the whole tragic, hopeless fullness of it goes over the reader's head, the caption of the attached photo ("A Lebanese woman reacts at the destruction after she came to inspect her house in the suburbs of Beirut, Lebanon") helpfully states: "For many in Beirut the bombing feels like collective punishment".

For us Israelis, reading these items is an exercise in exasperation. If it's meant to be news, it suffers from two fatal flaws. It fails to present the other side of the story - the immense suffering of hundreds of thousands of Israeli families going into their fourth week of wartime air raids from the astonishingly well-armed Hezbollah in the north. And it says not a word about Israeli losses. No, a correction: it says just enough to make the point that Israeli losses are tiny, trivial, insignificant compared with Lebanon's.

If it's meant to be analysis, it fails to scratch, let along dig, beneath the predictable lament of Beirut's frightened and embattled population. And it presents at face-value the two central arguments we have all heard over and again:
(a) Lebanon is being held responsible - and paying a heavy price - for a problem it can hardly have been expected to deal with - the presence of Hezbollah in its south.
(b) The sheer disproportionality of the loss and damage on the Lebanese side makes it plain who's good and who's evil in this narrative. As Sykes puts it: "Hezbollah's primitive, unguided Katyusha rockets hit civilians too - although far fewer have died in Israel than have been killed in Lebanon."
Even before we take account of the images from all over the world of angry mobs demanding punishment for the Israelis, there's something fundamentally wrong with the way this is presented. But the mobs make it plain that the distortion here goes well beyond journalism.

The fact that Israel has been turned upside down, with hot, stuffy, over-crowded bomb shelters filled with terrified families in the north; thousands of reservists called up for urgent military service, leaving essential and important services in the rest of the country unstaffed; Israel's third city, Haifa, bombed day after day with not the slightest suggestion of a strategic goal but purely for the sheer terrorism of it - all of these things go unstated, unrecognized.

Why?

Because with Israel's quiet and determined spirit of getting on with the job, of adjusting to the new reality and taking it, as much as possible, in the national stride, Israel doesn't look or act like a victim. Even when apartments are bombed and families left homeless, alternative arrangements are made; the government's insurance assessors come the same day or the next and begin making arrangements for compensation and repair; volunteers from the south or from outside of Israel appear on the scene and offer a drink, a cheque, a shoulder.

The contrast with Lebanon could hardly be greater. But this demands some questions be answered. Why are there no communal or private bomb shelters in Beirut as there are all over Israel? Why no air-raid sirens? If Israel can have an efficient Home Command with reservists trained in rescuing people from inside their bombed homes, why doesn't Lebanon?

This isn't the place to go into the proportionality argument again. (Israel is damned because its reaction to Hezbollah bombing of civilian targets produces larger numbers of victims in Lebanon than in Israel.) But is Sykes suggesting that a marked increase in the number of Israeli victims would level out the moral scales? Could any argument be more absurd?

Hezbollah can't be blamed for not trying hard enough. Virtually every one of the roughly two thousand (that's 2,000) missiles fired at us so far was intended for a civilian target. Yes, we know they have poor guidance systems. Which is perhaps why Arab Israelis have been so over-represented among the dead and injured; today, a Beduin mother and her two daughters died at the hands of their would-be liberator in the north.

But Hezbollah's intentions are clear, and at any moment one of those Nasrallah bombs is going to get lucky. Will that make Israel's military activity retrospectively justified? Or prospectively? And is this a way to determine whether terrorism is tolerable? Isn't it absolutely unacceptable under any circumstances? Or is Sykes among those who see Hezbollah as a resistance army? If yes, whom are they resisting? And why?

Relativistic morality that depends on the numbers of dead and injured is an embarrassment to those using it. Can anyone argue that Nasrallah and his Shi'ite thugs are just playing around? They want us dead. Only the morally blind or the truly feeble-minded are unable to see this. Which leaves us to wonder about the many journalists reporting on these events who are neither but for whom the moral argument is evidently too complicated to figure out. So they just go with the stream.

For us, the Lebanese argument that makes the least sense and caused the greatest degree of anger is the one that says: "What can we possibly do? What could we have done? We're just so weak."

We heard this for decades from Arafat and his apologists. We hear it today from Abbas. We certainly hear it from Siniora. It's bunk. If a state is a state, it's entitled to its sovereign entitlements. But entitlements come with responsibilities. Pretend states, by contrast, come with limited shelf-lives. A succession of Lebanese governments has sat with arms folded, watching as Hezbollah took total control of half the country, arming itself to the hilt with the help of arms supplies that cannot have arrived from Iran and Syria without the Beirut authorities knowing. They did nothing because it really did not bother them. After all, there was no immediate threat to Lebanese interests. It was all directed at the hated Israelis.

Now that Israelis are being killed and maimed in their own homes from Lebanese territory, Siniora expends more energy running from press conference to photo op than he, or any of his prdecessors, ever did in resisting Hezbollah. In fact, the idea of resisting Hezbollah is itself a bad joke. Hezbollah was invited into the Lebanese government where it now sits. From there, it and the entire Lebanese power structure bear the true responsbility for creating the chaos and suffering that is embittering the lives of their fellow citizens and of half of Israel's.

They, of course, will not see things this way. As in Saudi Arabia and Syria, where a broken water pipe or an interruption to the power supply is routinely ascribed to the interference of the hated Zionists, the Lebanese authorities will lay all the blame at Israel's feet, even while pointedly ignoring the work of their own hands.

Nothing new in that. This ongoing war, for a century at least, has been characterized by finger pointing in every direction other than at the real source of the Arab world's own dreadful problems. And that source is deep in the heart of Arab society and Arab culture.

Sykes of the BBC says: "People keep saying to me, "We are not Hezbollah - why are they bombing our homes?" What a pity he doesn't give them the frank answer they need to hear but are not hearing. They are bombing your homes, he might point out, not out of revenge, and not as retaliation (Google tells us there are nearly 500 pages on the BBC website which match the search term "Israeli" and "retaliation" and "Lebanon"; it's a powerful theme.) Israel is bombing your city because for years and up until this very day your homes have served as cover for some of the most determined and deadly terrorists on the planet. This is what happens when the victims - the Israeli victims - get fed up and decide that if no one else is going to fix the Hezbollah problem, there's no choice but for them to go in and fix it themselves.

All of this suffering could have been avoided, but now it cannot, and the suffering will go on until the Hezbollah bombers and gunmen and planners and media spinners, together with their astoundingly vast arsenal that somehow none of you were able to see, are removed.

Friday, August 04, 2006

4-Aug-06: BBC Exposes Hamas' UK Terror Financiers

We have just finished viewing an online streaming-video version of a BBC Panorama expose of Interpal, the British charity certified by the US authorities as a terrorist front organization but happily in business in the UK all these years, riding above the storm. A transcript of the Panorama programme is here, but please look at the entire one-hour film. Panorama is described by the BBC as its most important documentary programme.

The UK Charity Commission, which has twice investigated and twice cleared Interpal of involvement in funding terror is caught with its pants around its knees by this expose, and has now gone public with an admission that it will need to review its earlier decisions. In the words of the BBC's own press statement of 30th July 2006:
The Charity Commission admits that a recent investigation, which cleared a leading British Islamic charity of having links to the fundamentalist group Hamas, "wasn't in depth".
(You may want to read just to understand what was not "in depth" about their investigation. )

What would prompt them to make such an embarrassing about-face? Perhaps the extensive ties between Hamas and Interpal revealed by the programme, as well as exchanges like this:
JOHN WARE (Panorama): You've taken Interpal's word for it, without going to the West Bank, that that kind of thing isn't going on, haven't you?
KENNETH DIBBLE Charity Commission: Well, I don't know whether we asked them specifically in terms, because I'm not aware that that sort of concern has actually been raised with us.
WARE: You are kidding! Sorry, surely you have, you've asked them, in a place like the West Bank you surely have said what else is going on in these organisations?
DIBBLE: I do not believe we have considered that, in terms.
WARE: Well that is exactly the point, and can you tell me why you haven't considered that, because it's pretty fundamental, isn't it?
DIBBLE: Well it is, but, as I said, it's only in recent times that the vulnerability of charities for use for these purposes has actually been recognised. But I think it's an issue that you are now raising now and, if I may say so, is quite a pertinent issue to raise.
The BBC's own press office has issued a pointed summary of what the Panorama programme uncovered. It makes compelling reading. Investigative journalism of this kind is why Brits pay their television license fee.

Here's what Wikipedia says about Interpal:

Interpal, the informal name for the Palestinian Relief and Development Fund is a non-political, non-profit making British charity set up in 1994 to alleviate problems faced by Palestinians and focuses solely on the provision of relief and development aid to the poor and needy of Palestine the world over, primarily in the Israeli-occupied territories, Lebanon, Jordan and in Palestine. It is chaired by Mr. Ibrahim Hewitt, the other trustees being Mr. G Faour (also a trustee of the Palestinian Return Centre), Dr. E Mustafa, Mr. I Y Ginwala MBE, Mr. M Rafiq Vindhani and Dr. S Husain. Interpal is currently the largest British charity supplying humanitarian aid to Palestine and is "one of the largest Muslim-led charities in Europe". It is registered with the Charity Commission for England and Wales under the number 1040094.
Our interest in this story is personal. Almost five years ago to the day, on 9th August 2001, Hamas murdered our fifteen year-old daughter.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

3-Aug-06: Scarier Than Fiction

Item 1: Iranian president: Israel's destruction is only solution to Mideast crisis
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Thursday that the only solution to the Middle East problem is the destruction of Israel. "The primary medicine for the problems of the region and the world is the annihilation of the Zionist regime," Ahmadinejad said.
Item 2: French FM Hails Iran's 'Stabilizing' Role in ME
TEHRAN (Fars News Agency)- Iran is a key player in the Middle East and "plays an important stabilizing role" in the region, French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said. "It is clear that we cannot accept a destabilization of Lebanon that could lead to a destabilization of the region. In the region there is a great country like Iran which is respected and which plays an important stabilizing role in the region," he said during a visit to Beirut.
Item 3: How dangerous are Items 1 and 2?

As slightly-amusing as these two pieces of imbecilic logic might be under normal circumstances, they're neither funny nor trivial here and now. The challenge is to keep in mind that:
  • Item 1 reports today's speech by a head of state who recently addressed the United Nations, and whose country is developing nuclear weapons.
  • Item 2 reports last week's speech by a top-level politician from Europe's largest country - a country which has veto power over the UN Security Council and which has a track record of self-aggrandizing, irresponsible meddling in other people's affairs.

3-Aug-06: Pre-requisites for Asking Questions About Qana

Now that the Israeli military has delivered the results of its enquiry into what happened at Qana to the IDF Chief of Staff, the rules of discussion need to change.

The inquiry's results, delivered on Wednesday, confirm what the IDF told the press on the day of the tragedy. The IDF said then and now confirms that it deliberately targeted the residential building in an air attack on July 30th just before 1 in the morning. The attack consisted of two missiles. The first exploded; the second did not.

No journalist, no analyst, no cartoonist is now free to rage about the loss of innocent lives, or to claim there has been an act of "Zionist genocide" of the Lebanese without explicitly first dealing with the following short list of issues:
  • The residential building was deliberately targeted because it fit the test set out by the Israeli military's guidelines regarding the use of fire against suspicious structures inside villages. The residents had been warned well in advance to evacuate by the mass drop of Arabic-language leaflets; in addition, by various other means, the residents of Qana and the villages surrounding it were warned to leave since they were in a target zone because of Hezbollah's activities. The building in question was immediately adjacent to an area from where missiles had been fired in the previous hours and days at Israel.
  • Israeli surveillance of Hezbollah provided explicit confirmation of their exploitation of civilian structures inside villages to store weaponry and hide after launching rockets attacks.
  • Intelligence gathered from Qana confirmed that this building was one of those structures.
  • From July 12th onwards, more than 150 Hezbollah missiles were launched from Qana at civilian targets in Israel.
  • From the official text: "The IDF operated according to information that the building was not inhabited by civilians and was being used as a hiding place for terrorists. Had the information indicated that civilians were present in the building the attack would not have been carried out. Prior to the attack on the aforementioned building, several other buildings which were part of the infrastructure for terror activity in the area were targeted. Our comment: It hurts our enemies to hear this, but Israelis rarely claim to be all-knowing and incapable of making mistakes. Mistakes happen; systems are developed to minimize their frequency and harm. But war is absolutely awful, and the mistakes you make in war are not like mistakes you make in other areas of activity. The consequences are far more serious. This is not what the IDF's report says, but this is exactly what it means.
Lt. General Dan Halutz, the Chief of Staff , expressed one more time his sorrow at the deaths of civilians, among them children, in Qana. In doing this, he expressed the sense of the whole of Israel. But expressing sorrow is quite different from saying "We did this". We did not do this.

Fighting terror is different from fighting a conventional war, as the citizens of Bali, Madrid, New York, Washington, London, Paris, Munich, Mumbai and dozens of other cities already know, and as most of the rest of the world is going to learn in the future.

Terrorists, like Hezbollah and Hamas, use civilians as human shields like armies use armour.

Terrorists, like Hezbollah and Hamas, wear no uniforms and conduct none of their operations, ever, within the rules of war

Terrorists, like Hezbollah and Hamas, intentionally operate from within civilian areas and buildings.

They do these things because traditional military forces hesitate before responding in kind, and in particular will think twice and three times before firing on what may be non-military targets. Not, however, all militaries: the British and the Americans felt themselves sufficiently provoked by Nazi Germany to turn Dresden into ash in 1945, at a time when the tide of war was well and truly running in their direction. It seemed the right thing to do at the time. There is not the remotest comparison to what Israel did this week, hitting a carefully-identified, confirmed military target.

It would be a great mistake to think that Israeli society and its institutions are at peace with what happened in Qana. Halutz instructed that guidelines for opening fire against suspicious targets be re-evaluated and updated immediately. They doubtless will. And Israeli soul searching goes on, affecting all parts of our society. Moral issues get taken quite seriously in this country.

But beyond the military and strategic issues at stake here, there is a long list of additional questions that no objective analyst is free to ignore:
  • Israel confirms, and no one denies, that the bombing happened in the small hours of the morning and the building collapsed seven hours later. What happened in between? Officers of the IDF have said publicly (certainly on Israel television, to which we're glued at the moment) that they believe Hezbollah explosives brought the building down. Maybe yes, maybe no. But the fact no mainstream journalist or report has raised this possibility suggests they are just so very happy with their pin-it-on-Israel theory that anything less would be a let-down.
  • Refrigerated trucks arrived from Tyre before reporters and photographers. There is prima facie evidence that bodies from Tyre's morgue were added to the Qana body count.
  • The Lebanese Red Cross says 28 people were killed in Qana. Why do all the newsagency reports from AP, AFP, Reuters and others say 56, 60 and more?
  • Confederate Yankee raises non-trivial questions about the absence of concrete dust on the bodies. No, not the bodies where there plainly is concrete dust, but the many others.
Of course, we know very well that the media and politicians can and will expound on how tragic the Qana events are, and how criminal or immoral or unacceptable the actions of the Israelis. But if those statements are made without reference to the issues above, then - even when they're expressed in the well-rounded vowels of the BBC or The Indepedent - you know you are in the presence of bombastic, self-important hypocrites.

3-Aug-06: The Dinkum Article

In a ceremony in Tel-Aviv on Tuesday, Australia announced it is contributing $350,000 in aid to Magen David Adom, Israel's civil ambulance service. Tim George, ambassador of Australia to Israel, said that his country wished to support the operations of Israeli rescue teams ''who work night and day to bring first aid to the victims of the Katiyusha rockets''.

Supporting MDA is a vote for sanity and a non-political reminder that people - human beings - are at the centre of the awful events inflicted by Iran and its Hezbollah savages on Lebanese, Israelis and Palestinian Arabs. And a reminder that what's going on in northern Israel is a very serious matter.

Now why doesn't every government have the good sense that Australia does and follow its fine example?

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

2-Aug-06: Remembering Past Losses

We're a people with a memory, we Jews. Tonight is the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av. We call it Tisha B'Av, and it's been a day of fasting for us these past, oh, two thousand years. Not just fasting, but a day of remembering how the heavy burden of Jewish history has impacted generation after generation of Jews down through the ages.

As a child, I recall hearing from a teacher how Napoleon Bonaparte walked past a synagogue and heard the sounds of weeping. He looked inside and saw Jews of all ages sitting on the floor, reading and sobbing. When he asked why, someone told him it was what the Jews do when they call to mind their losses of 2,000 years earlier. His response, as my teacher conveyed it to me, was "A community that can mourn for 2,000 years will surely see the renewal of what was lost."

We spent this evening, as we have in past years, in a public reading of the Biblical book of Lamentations - Eicha, in Hebrew. Not in synagogue, but on a ridge on Mt Scopus about ten minutes drive from our home, looking out over Jerusalem, the city whose name every observant Jew pronounces dozens of times a day in prayer, as our grandparents did in Jerusalem, in Krakow, in Casablanca, in London, in Berlin. And as their grandparents did, and their grandparents' grandparents' grandparents did.

Sitting on a low stool as a sign of mourning (or on concrete steps, as we did) and looking out over Jerusalem as the words of Jeremiah the prophet are intoned mournfully, you would have to be made of rock yourself not to be aware of the history, and of what that history is telling us.

It's not a history that's confined to books, and not even to prayer books, but a history unfolding around us, enfolding us, embracing us.

The particular ridge where our community - with friends, guests, children, we are about 250 people - chooses to meet each year on this night used to be somewhat isolated. Then they built a road right beside it as part of the new rapid access routes that connect Jerusalem's eastern suburbs - places like Maale Adumim - to the center. The new road also serves part of the population that does not see the same significance in Tisha B'Av as we do: the Arab residents of this city. So this year, the quiet of our outdoor prayer gathering blended with the shouts and whistles of Arab Jerusalemites as they pulled up alongside. Not enough to bother anyone. Just enough to remind us of where we are, who else is here and what's on the agenda.

Today was a violent day in a violent period. Hezbollah's 'freedom fighters' have managed to fire more than 1,700 missiles into Israel since the start of the latest phase of this ongoing six-year, one-hundred-year war. Just today, Wednesday, they created a new record: 210 missiles, according to Haaretz; 182 according to Reuters. And the day is not over.

So far today, the Magen David Adom civil ambulance service has had to treat 159 people from injuries caused by Hezbollah missile attacks. 5 are described as moderately wounded; 47 as 'lightly' hurt; 107 needed treatment for shock. You can play with those definitions, because moderate, severe, light are words that make sense when we speak about other people. But when it happens to you and me, we're in much less doubt about what to call it. The family of David Lalchuk understand that. He became a kibbutznik after moving to Israel from Boston about the time we did, two decades ago. 52 years old, he had arranged for his wife and two daughters to take refuge down south while the missiles fell in the Nahariya/Kibbutz Saar neighbourhood. He heard the incoming-missile siren today and got on his bike to pedal to safety, but was hit and died.

In the 22 days since Hezbullah's six-year plan to wage war on the Zionists burst into activity,
2,208 Israelis have had to be treated in hospital for injuries from the missile attacks. 77 are still hospitalized, 3 in serious condition, 34 moderately injured and 40 in what Israelis like to call light condition. And 19 are dead, not including soldiers killed in action.

For the apostles of proportionate response, these are bad numbers. There need to be far more injured and killed Israelis. Perhaps there will be, and those critics will be happier. Meanwhile, almost every last one of us Israelis - stubborn, opinionated folk that we are - would like to have those casualty numbers stay exactly where they are and not grow.

Sitting on that dark hillside tonight, reading from the light of a small lantern, we could hear the cacophany of Moslem muezzins from various corners of East Jerusalem, calling their faithful to prayer. It's a fairly raucus sound if you are not familiar with it. Not melodious in a conventional sense, not meant to be easy-on-the-ears, but rather to burst right through whatever other activity might be underway. Which is just how it was for us tonight; disturbing, intrusive, a reminder of their very different outlook on life. They do it five times each day, and each time it seems, for those of us who hear it in this renewed, flowering, thriving Jerusalem a reminder of profound differences.

That's not to say that we Jewish Jerusalemites are provoked or angered or even, in most cases, bothered. Tonight at least, sitting on the hillside, looking down at the Temple Mount, visualizing the many tragedies we associate with the 9th day of Av, the person chanting the mournful verses did not even raise his voice. It's something we Jews do well: remember, quietly mourn our losses, recall our pain, honour those who came before us and who did not forget.

When you internalize the lessons that history has handed our people, you understand why there are some thousands of young Israelis on Lebanese soil and guarding northern Israel and southern Israel tonight. And also why the sputtering moral outrage and crocodile tears that accompanied yesterday's photographs of dead Lebanese children have so little impact on mainstream thinking in this country.

We have internalized our lessons from history, and other people have internalized theirs. On the whole, our version works for us, and has allowed us to establish a mainly tolerant, robustly democratic, forward-looking and justice-cherishing society. And for those still wondering: there is very, very little we need to learn regarding respect for human lives and for children from the Nasrallahs, the Assads, the Ahmadinejads and the Chiracs.

May the occasions of mournful remembering be turned to days of joy and celebration quickly in our time.

2-Aug-06: The Unbridled Power of the Newsagencies

Demonstrating how alike their business is to that of other pornographers, Associated Press re-released this photo (online here) today to its news-wire customers, with a revised caption:
A civil defense worker carries the body of Lebanese child recovered from the rubble of a demolished building that was struck by an Israeli airstrike at the village of Qana near the southern Lebanon city of Tyre, Sunday, July 30, 2006. The Associated Press and two other news agencies on Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2006, rejected challenges to the veracity of photographs of bodies taken in the aftermath of an Israeli airstrike in Lebanon, strongly denying that the images were staged. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)
AP - Aug 01 1:30 PM
Nasser Nasser will undoubtedly be pleased by the vote of confidence. But the rest of us are left wondering how Associated Press, when presented with the opportunity to express just the smallest amount of doubt about whether their Lebanese photographer was used by Hezbollah, made such a decisive, poor choice.

Yesterday ("Using Dead Lebanese Children for Ammunition") we published some observations and questions about the pictures from Qana. The questions are many, and some of them are sharp. They're bouncing around the Internet. (See EUReferendum as a fine example.) Answers have been slow in coming. They relate to the grotesquery of dead babies being positioned in dramatic poses, in different locations around Qana, by the same handful of men adopting different facial emotions on demand. That the children are dead is true and unbearably painful. But that we know who killed them, when, where and how - that's an entirely different matter.

Did we say answers have been slow in coming? There have been no answers. Associated Press has stonewalled. The Guardian has rallied to the flag ("Attack on photographers in Lebanon is disgraceful"), and others from the journalism-by-wishful-thinking school won't be far behind. AP itself put out the following comprehensive rebuttal of the critics today:
"The AP said information from its photo editors showed the events were not staged, and the time stamps could be misleading for several reasons, including that they can show when pictures are posted, not taken."
That's it.

They're global press agencies and we're just a couple of bereaved parents, victims of terror. They have a staff of hundreds, stringers by the thousand, and budgets in the millions. We have the Internet. But even so, how do Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France Press know, 36 hours after publishing these shocking images and sitting in their air-conditioned offices thousands of kilometers away from the scene, that they have not been manipulated, duped, by Hezbollah? Does Nasser Nasser know? Does Adnan Hajj of Reuters? Does Nicolas Asfouri of AFP? Does Zohra Bensemra of Reuters? Where does their self-confidence come from? Why do they have such an awfully difficult time figuring out whether an act is terror or something else (while most folks have no doubt) but here, where serious questions are being posed, they are instantly confident in the very heat of the moment that these things are just what AP, AFP and Reuters say they are.

We've seen that confidence before. Last year, AP published this when the same individual kept popping into the viewfinder of their cameras:
There's no question that [Hezbollah] were genuinely grieving over the loss of their homes, their livelihood and their dreams. But they were also keenly aware that their struggle was being broadcast across the world ...
Except that this quote above is doctored by us. AP was not referring to Hezbollah here. The word in brackets in the original article was "settlers" and that story was about Israelis. Check out the background in this CAMERA analysis. AP demonstrated it has an acute sense of when it's being used except when it's being used by what it, and much of the world as well, sees as being the weaker side in an asymmetrical conflict. What a terrible way to conduct a news business.

Until yesterday's newsagency-driven orgy of images, most of us reasonable people were appalled at the loss of innocent lives at Qana. As we said above, these are dead children. No soft words can change that. Now some of us - maybe many of us - are wondering whether we are being spun. Not that we doubted for a moment the cold-blooded callousness of Hezbollah. Their manipulation of Lebanon in general, and of children in particular, is a matter of record. But this isn't about Hezbollah. It's about their willing dupes in the media.

Anyone who sees this collection of pictures (we're posting it now - details to come), and especially the babies being posed while dangling in the air, comes away fairly sure something's very amiss here.

Except for the people making money - and maybe doing things that are much worse - from selling them.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

1-Aug-06: Using Dead Lebanese Children for Ammunition

Those of us living in Israel or concerned for Israel's welfare have a pretty good idea what's happening in Haifa, Nahariya, Safed, Afula. This is in large measure because of the real-time, mainly-unfiltered reportage and live television coverage from there and from every other part of this robustly democratic and open country.

But do you know what really happened in Qana? In Tyre? In Beirut? No, neither do I. What we think we know is what the news media – papers, TV, blogs, radio – feed us, generally after the fact, sometimes days afterwards. How safe is a diet like that? Well, as with most diets it's a matter of how carefully you want to check. Here's a look at who's doing the feeding and at the additives, preservatives and other foreign materials that are mixed into what reaches us.

Qana question

As painful as what happened in Qana is to most of us, there are some very disturbing aspects about the tragedy which go to the root of what happened. Some of them:

  • Did Hezbullah stage-manage the Qana incident? A Lebanese source (translated from French to English here) says yes. It suggests disabled children were brought to a building which served as a base for a Katyusha battery because the inevitable destruction of such a building by the IDF and the deaths of children would have such a powerful effect on world opinion.

  • As revolting as this sounds, the cynical parading of dead children's bodies tells you we're dealing with people whose culture and humanity are unrecognizable to most of us.

  • We're also dealing with newsagencies (Reuters, AFP, Associated Press) whose photographers are active collaborators in this disgraceful pornography. The evidence is in the bullet below.

  • A small handful of Hezbollah low-lifes appear in one staged photo after another, posing with a dead child's body, hamming up a range of facial responses. If you can stomach it, see The Parade of Dead Children - Euphoric Reality; What Really Happened in Qana? - Wizbang; Qana: The photographic evidence (Update: Bodies from Tyre?) from Hot Air; and especially EU Referendum.

  • It may be that the dead bodies from fighting some days earlier in Tyre were trucked in to Qana. Ridiculous? Maybe. But you may want to read this before dismissing the idea entirely.

  • In its briefing for journalists at the end of the long day on which the Qana incident happened, the IDF raised several more serious questions. Customarily careful to avoid saying what might not be fully confirmed, the spokespeople presented whatever they were confident to show. This included video footage of missiles being fired from immediately next to the destroyed house several hours before the IDF attacked Qana. CNN's Brent Sadler has just been on our screens this afternoon (Tuesday), reporting live from Qana, pooh-poohing Israeli claims that the town was a launching pad for Hezbollah war ("Nope, no Hezbollah people here"), and asserting that Israel has failed to bring any evidence to the contrary. If you have Sadler's email address, we'd be glad to know he gets this link to the film footage.

  • Sadler or his CNN producers might also be interested to hear - since they evidently have no clue - that Qana was the source for no fewer than 150 rockets fired into Israeli civilian settlements in the past three weeks, as documented here. Hezbollah salvos from Qana have crashed (among others) into Haifa, Nahariya, Ma'alot and Kiryat Shmona. They caused the documented, proven and undisputed deaths of 18 Israeli civilians and hundreds more wounded. Brent, our email address is on this page for when you get a free moment to send the people of Israel your apology.

  • Reuven Koret over at Israel Insider has some additional, cogent and bothersome questions. Please visit his excellent site to read them.

  • We know how hard it can be for some people to accept that Hezbullah would ever treat their Lebanese brethren poorly. But there is some evidence that this is not entirely beyond them. Try looking here and here and here.

  • As for the general credibility of Hezbullah, its record as one of the bloodiest of the bloodthirsty speaks for itself... though evidently not loudly enough.

But the western media would surely blow the whistle on stage-managed news fakery, right?

Reporting from southern Lebanon (and quoted in the Columbia Journalism Review), freelance journalist and Time magazine contributor Christopher Allbritton drops this little gem:

To the south, along the curve of the coast, Hezbollah is launching Katyushas, but I'm loathe to say too much about them. The Party of God has a copy of every journalist's passport, and they've already hassled a number of us and threatened one.

To be clear, he doesn't say that Hezbollah fakes the news events. Or that they manipulate the journalists. But he doesn't need to. And we're left wondering: on what other aspects of this complex story are he and his colleagues loathe to report? And what have they reported as fact that perhaps ought not to have been reported as fact? Fair questions, no?

CNN's Nic Robertson can supply a helpful answer to that. Last week, Howard Kurtz – on his Reliable Sources show on CNN - interviewed Robertson about reporting from Lebanon. Here's Columbia Journalism Review's analysis of their exchange:

Just a few days before, Hezbollah minders had taken Robertson on a tour of a neighborhood in southern Beirut that had been hit by Israeli missiles. Robertson told Kurtz, "Hezbollah has a very, very sophisticated and slick media operation," and in southern Beirut, "they deny journalists access into those areas. They can turn on and off access to hospitals in those areas." He also said that Hezbollah "designated the places that we went to, and we certainly didn't have time to go into the houses or lift up the rubble to see what was underneath ... Hezbollah is now running a number of [press tours] every day, taking journalists into this area. They realize that this is a good way for them to get their message out, taking journalists on a regular basis. Robertson [said]: "We went in to those southern suburbs of Beirut with that media representative from Hezbollah. They haven't let western reporters into some parts of that very, very, very carefully controlled southern suburbs ... they took us in because they wanted to show us what was being damaged." He then ended by again reminding viewers that it was a "very, very brief and swift tour escorted by Hezbollah." The disclosure that Hezbollah acted as tour guide does put the report into perspective, but still, Robertson could have dwelled a bit more on the calculated photo op CNN's cameras were provided by an obviously interested party.

(Source: Paul McLeary, Lifting the Cover of the Hezbollah PR Effort). McLeary also quotes CNN's Anderson Cooper from a week ago (transcript here):

We found ourselves with other foreign reporters taken on a guided tour by Hezbollah ... They only allowed us to videotape certain streets, certain buildings... This is a heavily orchestrated Hezbollah media event. When we got here, all the ambulances were lined up. We were allowed a few minutes to talk to the ambulance drivers. Then one by one, they've been told to turn on their sirens and zoom off so that all the photographers here can get shots of ambulances rushing off to treat civilians ... These ambulances aren't responding to any new bombings. The sirens are strictly for effect.

So whom can you believe?

In our opinion, no one deserves our uncritical support. Questions need to be asked, and no one is beyond criticism. Politicians will do what politicians always do, and terrorists will do whatever they can get away with. Our question is why are so few journalists doing what journalists do -- dig, question, investigate. Thus, the one action point we would urge on everyone visiting this blog is: never assume that reporters, editors, photographers are more credible or more objective than anyone else. It's perfectly plain that they're not and never have been. More than this, they are as capable of being jackasses and dupes as anyone else.

And working for a brand-name media channel is no defence.