Hamas / Islam / Palestine / Pallywood / PLO

Pallywood and the pornography of death: the Western media suckered again

Richard Landes

Richard Landes is an American writer and medieval historian specialising in millennialism. He is associate professor of history at Boston University and the author of several books including Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience (Oxford University Press). He has also, since turn of the millennium, become a critic of the mainstream news media (MSNM), in particular its treatment of both the Arab-Israeli conflict and more broadly the issue of Islamism and Global Jihad. He has two sites dedicated to these issues: The Second Draft and a blog, The Augean Stables.


By World Last updated: November 19th, 2012


Here’s a classic. Let’s start with the ghoulish display of sorrow over the body of a dead boy, allegedly killed by Israeli bombing. It’s aimed right at the heart of a someone like Annie Lennox who, upon seeing bombs falling on Gaza immediately imagines Palestinian babies on the receiving end, rather than Hamas militants targeting Israeli babies. And, of course, the news media snatch up the photo-op.

And, of course, the media run with the story. It’s all so obvious. Boy dead from explosion, Israelis bombing Gaza. As the Palestinian “general” in charge of the investigation of Al Durah’s death put it, “there’s no need to investigate when we know who did it.

But wait, what about the evidence, asks Elder of Baker Street? Jodi Rudoren, who for all her flakey early noises when she was assigned the Middle East beat by the NYT, shows some signs of independent journalism writes:

It is unclear who was responsible for the strike on Annazla: the damage was nowhere near severe enough to have come from an Israeli F-16, raising the possibility that an errant missile fired by Palestinian militants was responsible for the deaths.

And Karin Laub, the AP reporter, adds significant detail:

Israel vehemently denied involvement, saying it had not carried out any attacks in the area at the time. Gaza’s two leading human rights groups, which routinely investigate civilian deaths, withheld judgment, saying they were unable to reach the area because of continued danger. Mahmoud’s family said the boy was in an alley close to his home when he was killed, along with a man of about 20, but no one appeared to have witnessed the strike. The area showed signs that a projectile might have exploded there, with shrapnel marks in the walls of surrounding homes and a shattered kitchen window. But neighbors said local security officials quickly took what remained of the projectile, making it impossible to verify who fired it.

We’ve seen this scenario before. In the summer of 2006, most of the Ghalia family were killed in an explosion on the Gaza Beach. The Palestinians, with the help of dramatic but dubious footage of their young daughter, meandering in wild grief among the wreckage, sold the Western news media, who immediately broadcast their claim that the family, while relaxing on the beach, was shelled by Israeli naval ships. Classic Pallywood. Evidence piled up that the Israelis had not been firing there, that the hole caused by the ordnance did not accord with an Israeli shell, that despite claims to the contrary, Palestinian sources and their unofficial spokesman, Mark Garlasco of HRW had no ballistic evidence of what caused the explosion. When it came time to send two of the youngest victims to Israeli hospitals, and at risk to their lives, the doctors hastily removed the shrapnel from their bodies.

In this case, however, journalists begin to show some signs of forensic acuity. To be fair, them to us, and we to them, both the NYT’s Jodi Rudoren and AP’s Karen Laub actually mention the anomalous evidence: the explosion was too small to have been fired from a plane; the clean-up crew visited the site before the journalists. Indeed, the Algemeiner contacted a ballistics expert who confirmed Rudoren’s suspicions:

After reviewing CNN’s footage of the scene of the blast, Yiftah Shapir, a ballistics expert who is the Director of the Middle East Military Balance Project at the Institute for National Security Studies in Israel confirmed to The Algemeiner, “It is reasonable to say that this damage is from a relatively small explosion at close range.”

“You see a lot of small holes,” he added, “If it was a very heavy bomb the damage would be worse, and at long range the shrapnel would be spread much more widely because of the long distance.”

This is obviously a huge step forward over the Guardian’s Suzanne Goldenberg’s appraisal on October 1, 2000, of the wall behind barrel that Muhammad al Durah and his father had hidden behind, the previous day.

From Nahum Shahaf’s archive:

Told that the Israelis had fired for 40 minutes ofbullets like rainuntil they killed the boy, Goldenberg looked at the dozen or so bullet holes that looked suspiciously like they were shot from “head on,” rather than the 30% angle of an Israeli bullet would have to travel to leave marks on the wall, and pronounced the cluster “proof that the Israelis had targeted the boy.

Apparently, now, almost 13 years later, some journalists have at least problematised the Israeli-Goliath/Palestinian-David framing story: maybe that doesn’t cover all the cases. It is after all, a journalistic task to give us the relevant evidence. Obviously more investigation is called for, but thanks for the allusive scraps. Those who argued that Israel should have let journalists into Gaza for OCL in 2008/9, because they would have provided quality control over the kind of footage that would come out of Gaza from unsupervised Palestinian “journalists,” have evidence for their claim in this kind of reporting. Similarly, watchdog groups like NGO Monitor have read the riot act even to Palestinian NGOs, notorious for their anti-Israel advocacy brand of “human rights” defence. Notes Elder of Baker Street:

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights , which is keeping track of everyone killed in Gaza (and which admits that most of the dead have been “militants,”) did not list Mahmoud Sadallah or Aiman Aby Wardah in their list of victims of Israeli airstrikes, although they even include one person who died of a heart attack.

So far so good. Now I don’t want to grade elementary school students by too high a standard, but an alert journalist’s antennae should quiver at the comment, “no one appeared to have  witnessed the strike”. In one of the most densely populated neighbourhoods of “one of the most densely populated areas in the world”? No one noticed? Omerta? Possibly. Probably, if it were a Hamas explosive.

How many journalists or readers even think on the role of intimidation in shaping the news they get?

And yet, another datum corroborates this hypothesis: Laub informs us, “local security officials quickly took what remained of the projectile.” Two questions:

1) Are we sure it was all “projectile”? What if part of it was the mangled body of a rocket launcher that blew up on the launchers, killing the neighbours, including the four-year-old boy?

2) Does one imagine all these cleaners did was run in, remove the item(s) in question, and leave without also informing those watching them not to speak about the event? Indeed, I wonder who was the brave person who reported about the clean-up crew?

Here is the head of Hamas, whose boys systematically fire from the midst of civilians, in order create civilian casualties they can then blame on Israeli counter-strikes, exploiting a death directly caused by his men in order to appeal to Wwestern sympathy. It would be hard to imagine a more stunning portrait of the most depraved hypocrisy (and contempt for viewers who believe this display of compassion). If hypocrisy is the compliment that vice pays to virtue, then this brazen hypocrisy is the contempt vice shows for the pathetic stupidity of the supposedly virtuous.

After all, it is hard to imagine a more grotesque expression of a mutual corruption: trying to demonise your enemy before an outside audience whom you expect to side with you in the name of empathy for the very children you victimise. How disordered must the emotional and moral world of someone subject to this kind of manipulation?

Not only that, but Haniyah dragged into this humiliating display the prime minister of Egypt’s new “Muslim Brotherhood” government, trying to show support for her Palestinian branch, Hamas. Prime Minister Hesham Kandil jumped right in, kissing the baby, and subsequently testifying (in what BBC Correspondent Wyre Davies found to be a “powerful statement”): “his blood is still on our clothing.” Kandil’s a fool eagerly trying to join in the morbid circus Haniyah and Hamas so frequently stage. Haniyah, thinking he could get away with it, has dragged Kandil into this shameless pornography of death.

One last reflection. Hamas’s strategy has long been to attack from behind civilians to provoke Israeli retaliation and then use the collateral damage of those victims as a way to blame Israel. This is in fact a key element of their asymmetrical war with Israel. As one Gazan explained to an Italian reporter towards the end of Operation Cast Lead (OCL):

The Hamas militants looked for good places to provoke the Israelis. They were usually youths, 16 or 17 years old, armed with submachine guns. They couldn’t do anything against a tank or jet. They knew they were much weaker. But they wanted the [Israelis] to shoot at the [the civilians’] houses so they could accuse them of more war crimes.

In other words, Hamas engages in the exceptionally rare wartime act of actively victimizing one’s own civilian population – specifically a war crime – in  order to win a victory in cognitive war. And they can only do so, if a corrupt media on the scene (including NGOs and UN agencies), rather than expose their criminal strategies, play along and present the images of dead babies in the framework of the Palestinian narrative of Israeli victimisation.

The fact that Hamas thought they could clean up the scene and pull off a Gaza Beach, successfully blaming the Israelis for the tragedy, speaks eloquently of their exceptionally low appraisal of the forensic acumen of the Western press (or their power to indimidate). And they have good reason to so believe. After all, Goldstone, in his investigation into the abuses of the Palestinian people during OCL, never once looked into this kind of human shielding. Imagine if he had!

Similarly, when so acute a journalist and commentator as Max Fisher puts his mind to analyzing this data and these issues, he ends up coming out with the empty-handed meme about “both sides…” It’s hard to know whether he is just incapable of siding with Israel on so simple and fundamental an issue, or he’s actively trying to do damage control for Hamas. In either case his readership is hardly served by his moral obfuscations in the name of even-handedness.

Alas. It’s hard to believe that if the press had learned the lessons of al Durah they’d still be suckered by this grotesaque display.

Now meditate on this picture, provided by Electronic Intifada to weaponise the tragedy against Israel.

Are you prepared to say, “so what if Hamas killed the boy, this picture symbolises Palestinian suffering at the hands of Israelis anyway”?

• An earlier version of this essay, one that includes all the pictures, appeared at Pajamas Media, and the evolving version is at the Augean Stables.

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