Ha’aretz 03-10-2000



                               Our victims are stories, theirs are mere



                               By Aviv Lavie



                               The footage documenting the death of Mohammed al Duri, the

                               12-year-old Palestinian boy who was killed in the Gaza Strip on

                               Saturday, ranks as one of the most terrifying films ever made in the

                               Middle East.


                               As the images were shown on Israeli television, Channel One

                               correspondent Shlomi Eldar provided this commentary: "Dozens of

                               Palestinians are throwing stones from behind a brick wall, looking to stir

                               emotions. Otherwise, it's hard to understand what a father and son are

                               doing, ducking below the shelter. The father and son definitely weren't

                               trapped on the battlefield by accident. And that's how the cameras

                               documented it: Dozens of Palestinians are around, yelling and giving

                               instructions to the father about how he should provide cover for his

                               young boy. The boy panics, and cries. There's a finger pointing at the

                               [IDF] soldiers' post. And, that's it, here's how it ends; the boy is killed,

                               and the father loses consciousness."


                               That is what Eldar, a senior Israeli television correspondent and editor,

                               had to say about the killing which took place before his very eyes. Yet

                               the issue isn't a personal one, concerning only Eldar. The text of his

                               narration is a representative sample of Israeli media coverage of

                               Palestinian affairs, and a good example of the ailments that afflict that



                               The text merits analysis, line by line. According to Eldar, the father and

                               son weren't trapped at the site by accident. In fact, the father later

                               explained that they had gone out to purchase a car, and crossed the

                               road at the wrong moment. They were "looking to stir emotions,"

                               according to Eldar. Well, the images of them clinging for their lives

                               behind a wall certainly achieved that. Eldar's ambiguous phrases

                               convey the impression that the father and son, with dozens of others,

                               were "throwing stones from behind a brick wall." This was another way

                               of saying that they were to blame for what happened to them. They

                               started it. Yes indeed, the 12-year-old boy was also a guilty party. And

                               the final part of the text: "Here's how it ends..." Here's how what ends?

                               An all-out battle? A work accident? Or maybe cold-blooded murder.


                               There is no coherent classification of what the viewer has seen. Nor is

                               there a minimal display of emotion on the narrator's part with respect to

                               the horrifying circumstances of this terrible death. Nor is there a hint of

                               criticism leveled at the indiscriminating IDF gunfire. The boy is killed,

                               the father loses consciousness. You know the story, that's how it

                               happens in war.


                               Throughout the Rosh Hashanah holiday, local televisions broadcast

                               these blood-curdling images, yet I heard no commentator bothering to

                               identify by name the boy who was shot by our troops. It wasn't until

                               Monday's newspapers came out that we learned that his name was

                               Mohammed al Duri. As a matter of fact, there's nothing new here: Our

                               victims count as news stories, their victims are mere numbers.


                               This insensitivity regarding the fate of people on the other side is a

                               journalistic failure. At the time this article went to press, none of the

                               local media organs had produced a coherent account of this rare, tragic

                               incident captured by a French film crew. Systematic, investigative

                               reporting in this case should present detailed testimony given by IDF

                               soldiers and by Palestinians who were at the scene, by the French

                               journalists who filmed it and by the victim's father (at least, the father's

                               account was aired on television). It should provide a clear picture of the

                               scene of the killing, along the lines of the extensive coverage lavished

                               on the failed Duvdevan operation a month ago. It should explain who

                               fired at whom, and why. This entire story, which is stocked with

                               dramatic, and tragic, importance, has been neglected by the local



                               In recent days, facts and opinions have become so entangled in Israeli

                               media reports that it has become impossible to distinguish between

                               them. The account of the sequence of events which has been

                               supported virtually across the board in the media is that Yasser Arafat

                               initiated the violence. By this theory, the PA chairman willed the

                               violence to break out; and if he wants it to, it will end. With the

                               exception of a report by Amira Hass carried by Ha'aretz, virtually no

                               journalist challenged this interpretation.


                               The prevailing view is, of course, legitimate as a hypothesis. It could

                               very well be the correct account. But there is a world of difference

                               separating a hypothesis from a fact. Whoever submits the view as a

                               supposition ought to make clear that it is an opinion; whoever presents

                               the view as fact has to cite his or her sources.


                               One after the other, news correspondents and analysts alike are

                               declaring emphatically that Arafat started it all. How do they know that

                               this is the case? What facts do they have to support this view? Do they

                               have in hand minutes of meetings in which Arafat gave this or that

                               order? Are they relying on Palestinian sources who heard statements

                               made by the PA Chairman himself?


                               The accepted interpretation serves Israel's political interests and it's not

                               hard to guess how the account reached local journalists. Beyond the

                               fact that Israeli journalists willingly turn themselves into spokesmen for

                               the government by espousing its line, they are also leveling a highly

                               serious accusation at Arafat, implying that he cynically sacrificed

                               dozens of his people on the political altar to score some points in the

                               negotiations. Perhaps there's truth to this view - after all, we're not

                               talking about a leader built out of the most righteous human

                               components. And yet the accusation is sufficiently serious as to

                               demand thorough evidentiary grounding before being presented to the

                               public as a fact. Would anyone dare to hurl comparable accusations at

                               Ehud Barak? And, by the way, has anyone bothered to try to get a

                               response from the PA chairman?


                               As always happens during such times of violence and strife, the Israeli

                               media is functioning in part as a spokesman for the defense

                               establishment. Major General Giora Eiland, head of the IDF's

                               Operations Directorate, is given extensive camera time by Channel

                               Two's news studio; he and other ranking IDF officers say what they

                               have to say about the current events; and when they leave the studio,

                               television news defense correspondents Roni Daniel and Alon Ben

                               David say exactly the same things. Then the commentators ridicule

                               Palestinian media organs for broadcasting militaristic content all day

                               long. But at least there the media doesn't try to maintain a facade of

                               journalistic objectivity.


                               During the holiday, the media appeared to be in a stupor. Senior

                               television news presenters weren't called to the studio to describe the

                               events; the fact that the country was burning from one end to another

                               wasn't reflected by a significant increase in media reporting. This

                               turned the Internet into the prime information source for those who

                               didn't want to wait for the holiday to end to obtain news about battle

                               scenes. Normally the radio is a leading media alternative to the

                               Internet; but over Rosh Hashanah, the radio stations also operated in

                               low gear.