Role of the media in incident brought into question
By Robert Swift, The Media Line
September 01, 2015
JERUSALEM –Images of an Israeli soldier grabbing a Palestinian child around the neck and pinning him to the ground during an arrest in the West Bank have gone viral on the Internet. One version of the video, on the Tamimi Press Facebook page, was viewed over 3.5 million times. The result is a wave of arguments from across the Israeli-Palestinian political divide trying to frame the photographs and videos of the incident in terms which reinforce their own narratives.
To parts of the pro-Israel world, the soldier, who was arresting a stone-throwing Palestinian, is being attacked by a well-known group of violent and media-savvy Palestinian activists. They say the soldier shows remarkable restraint throughout the incident and is clearly under distress.
To the Palestinians, the video shows a masked and armed soldier attempting to interrupt the peaceful demonstration of a young boy, whose arm is in a cast, by physically detaining him. The angry reaction of the child’s female relatives, they say, including biting the soldier, are the natural response of anyone seeing their family attacked.
The incident took place during clashes outside the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh, northwest of Ramallah, in the West Bank. Residents have staged weekly demonstrations since 2009 relating to a number of disputes with a neighboring Jewish community, Halamish, over land and access to water. The protests, held every Friday, frequently turn into confrontations with the Israeli army with international and local media in attendance.
One particular point of the video which caught commentators’ attention was a young girl, the boy’s sister, who bit the soldier during the confrontation. Ahed Tamimi, 14, is a familiar face in a number of videos from 2012 showing the teenager confronting Israeli soldiers.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan personally presented Tamimi with an award for bravery. To right-wing Israeli commentators, Tamimi is the poster girl for what they describe as “Pallywood” – confrontations with security forces that are deliberately provoked and then recorded by Palestinian activists.
“The role of the town (Nabi Saleh) has been a lesson in how you can fool some of the people all of the time – in particular reporters,” Arnold Roth, an Israeli blogger who has followed activities in the village for a number of years, told The Media Line. Following the killing of their daughter in a terror attack in Jerusalem in 2001, Roth and his wife Frimet established the blog This Ongoing War, which posted a number of articles detailing what they believe is the “staged provocation” of the Tamimi family.
Roth argued that professional journalists should know that these confrontations are staged.
“There is clear open passion for Jewish blood and the peaceful demonstrations (are in fact) provocative acts designed to cause confrontation,” Roth said. “I don’t believe that reporters are (that) gullible.”
Palestinian photographer Mohanad Darabee, who was present during the episode, rejects claims that anything was staged.
“I used a GoPro (video camera) – (it shows) the whole incident unedited and showing everything,” Darabee told The Media Line. He said the angry reaction from the family was natural and to be expected from a mother witnessing her child being attacked by an armed soldier.
Generally, the weekly demonstrations by residents from Nabi Saleh are peaceful, Darabee said, explaining that although Palestinian youth do throw stones at security forces this only occurs after the soldiers have fired tear gas at protesters. Evidence of the women’s peaceful intent could be seen in that no serious effort was made to hurt the soldier, Darabee argued. He was isolated, outnumbered and not wearing a helmet.
The Israeli army refused to comment on suggestions of “staged media-focused events” by Palestinian protesters or on any issues regarding the use of such events to push political narratives. “We’re about safety and security rather than media sensitivity,” the spokesperson told The Media Line.
The army did release a press statement which said: “IDF forces attempted to detain an individual who had been identified as throwing rocks. A group of rioters, including women and children, attacked the soldier in an attempt to prevent the arrest. The commander on site stopped the arrest in order to prevent an escalation of violence.”
For her part, Ahed Tamimi, the fourteen-year-old at the center of the controversy argued that it was as a result of Israeli military actions that she had become a part of the equation. “Daily… I see my father being humiliated by an Israeli soldier who is not even twenty-years-old. This obliges us to insist that all of the family should participate in demonstrations until they leave and we become free,” Tamimi told The Media Line.
Much of the Israeli media pushed a narrative, favored by the army and the government, that the incident took place in the context of a legitimate arrest and that the soldier was the victim and not the aggressor, according to Yoram Meital, the head of the Herzog Center for Middle East Studies and Diplomacy at Ben Gurion University. “It’s highly important from the perspective of the IDF (the Israeli army) to show these women actually disturbing the work of the soldier,” Meital told The Media Line.
At the same time Palestinian media has attempted to show the event as an “example of the… evil, negative and brutal (nature of) the occupation,” the professor said.