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Media Analyses





UPDATED: AFP Defense of Dubious Photo Raises Additional Discrepancies


Feb 29 Update: Wall Street Journal Commendably Clarifies

Feb. 5 -- In a Feb. 3 published statement, Agence-France Presse defends its Jan. 25 photograph by Hazem Bader against questions concerning the veracity of the caption which claimed that a Palestinian construction worker suffered injuries after an Israeli soldier drove a trailer over his legs. Rather than putting to rest questions about the photograph's authenticity, the AFP statement instead underscores that the allegedly injured man's claims are not credible. In fact, the AFP's new claims are largely inconsistent with those in the original caption. Moreover, AFP provides a peculiar "medical certificate" from the Palestinian Ministry of Health, as opposed to a proper medical record from a hospital or clinic, an oddity which itself does not add up.

The Jan. 25 photograph and caption follow:

An injured Palestinian construction worker screams in pain after an Israeli army driver drove a trailer hooked to a tractor over his legs, as he tried to block him when Israeli forces stopped workers on January 25, 2012 from building a house in al-Dirat village, south of Yatta in the southern Bank town Hebron region. The Israeli forces were seizing the equipment and trailer from the construction workers as the site falls in the occupied zone C in which Israel prevents Palestinians from building on their land.

The photograph, along with similar captions, appeared in the print editions of the International Herald Tribune (Jan. 26, page 4, four columns) and the Washington Post (Jan. 27, page A-12, color, five columns), and was featured on the Web sites of the Wall Street Journal, the Guardian and MSNBC, among others.

Last week, CAMERA challenged the veracity of the caption concerning the "injured" worker, whose name we later learned was Mahmoud Abu Qbeita, noting:

Yet, after checking with both Palestinian and Israeli sources, it seems that the man was not at all injured, and there is no evidence that he was run over. On the Palestinian side, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), which provides comprehensive weekly reports about all injuries, fatalities, incursions, and other incidents in both the West Bank and Gaza, makes no mention of this alleged injury in its report for Jan. 19- 25. In addition, the Palestinian Ma'an News Agency did not cover the alleged injury, even though it does report on Israeli army activity that day nearby in Tel Rumeida. And Ma'an also reported a hit and run incident, in which a Palestinian teen was hit by an Israeli driver at a checkpoint this morning. Presumably, then had this worker actually been run over and injured on Wednesday, Ma'an would have carried the story. Nor does it appear that any English-language wire service or other media outlet covered the alleged injury.

On the Israeli side, Capt. Barak Raz, spokesman for the Judea and Samaria division who had spoken to soldiers at the scene, told CAMERA the following: IDF soldiers were on site to provide security for the Civil Administration, which was preventing Palestinian construction in an area not permitted for building. One Palestinian worker was lying on the ground next to the trailer when he started to scream that he had been run over. Nobody saw him get run over. First he complained that his left leg was injured. An army medic checked him and saw nothing. The medic did, nevertheless, wrap him in a bandage since the worker was carrying on that he had been run over. The man then subsequently claimed that it was his right leg which was injured. According to Raz, the Palestinian Red Crescent, which was also on the scene, checked him, and likewise found absolutely nothing wrong with him.

In its response, AFP stated:

AFP’s Jerusalem bureau and photo editor interviewed other media representatives present at the scene and watched video footage filmed by other colleagues showing the construction worker being carried away on a stretcher. Their trust in the events described by Hazem Bader is unequivocal.

Reporters from AFP Jerusalem bureau also interviewed the injured construction worker, Mahmud Abu Qbeita, on February 1 as well as the doctors that treated him at Yatta hospital. The following is a translation from Arabic of the medical certificate issued on the day of the incident : “Yatta Hospital Prescription for Mohammed Abu Qbeita To whom it may concern, The above mentioned person has attended the emergency service at the hospital. He was suffering from severe pain in his right leg. He said that an Israeli military vehicle ran over him. In the medical examination we found that he has pain in his right knee, pain in his pelvis, and pain in the neck, and has difficulty in walking. We conducted X-RAYS on him and found fractures. He has been advised to consult the orthopedic department."

Here’s a transcript of the interview given on February 1 by Mohammed [sic] Abu Qbeita: "I was working on this site for the first day. It was the first time I'd been working there. Some time after we started working the Israeli army arrived. All of a sudden, a lot of them, started saying it was forbidden to build there. I didn't know that because I hadn't worked there before, but they said it was forbidden and we had to stop and they wanted to demolish what was already at the site. They were shouting a lot and I started walking over to where my stuff was so I could get my phone and my ID card and that's when the tractor hit me. It hit me twice, first on my side, which knocked me over on the ground. Then it drove over one of my legs. I didn't see it coming. It went over one of my legs, one was under the wheel, the other one was outside it. (Asked whether he heard it coming) I didn't hear it, there was a lot of noise, a lot of shouting. Even if I heard something, I didn't respond because I never imagined that it would hit me. (Asked who was driving?) It was one of them driving, one of the army, the Israelis. I don't know who he was. It was our tractor, for our work, but he was on it and driving. (Asked if he went to the hospital?) Yes, I went to the hospital, they examined me and treated me and I have a medical certificate and I will show it to anyone who wants to see it. Anyone who wants can talk to me and take a picture of my leg and of me."

In the light of these inquiries and based on the trust we have in our photojournalist, AFP Management does not believes that this event could ever have been staged.

Given the ferocity of the attacks against the AFP Photo service, we have decided to release this statement in order to set the record straight. We will not make any further comment.

First Discrepancy: Leg or Legs?

As previously noted, given that the above statement is inconsistent with the original caption on a number of points, it generates new questions, and fails to resolve the original concerns. First, according to the original AFP caption a trailer hooked to a tractor ran "over his legs," in plural. In the Feb. 3 press release, Abu Qbeita is quoted as saying: "Then it drove over one of my legs. I didn't see it coming. It went over one of my legs, one was under the wheel, the other was outside it." (Emphasis added.) He doesn't say which leg was run over. According to the Ministry of Health document, "we found that he has pain in his right knee, pain in his pelvis, and pain in the neck, and has difficulty in walking." So which is correct? The AFP caption, which states both his legs were run over? Or Abu Qbeita's later claim, that only one leg was run over? Or neither? While Abu Qbeita has not maintained the same consistent story, the Israeli army spokespeople have consistently stated all along that Abu Qbeita was not run over at all — not two legs, and not one.

Second Discrepancy: Trailer or Tractor?

The Jan. 25 AFP caption claims that "an Israeli army driver drove a trailer hooked to a tractor over his legs." The Feb. 3 press release quotes Mahmoud Abu Qbeita stating: " . . . that's when the tractor hit me. It hit me twice, first on my side, which knocked me over on the ground. Then it drove over one of my legs." Which one supposedly hit Abu Qbeita? The trailer, as claimed in the caption? Or the much heavier tractor, as claimed in the press release? The two cannot be confused; the tractor is much, much heavier, and no one run over by a vehicle with such massive wheels would be able to walk, even "with difficulty" (as stated in the PNA medical document). The photograph below, also by Hazem Bader, shows just how different the two vehicles are from each other, and demonstrates the enormity of the tractor's wheels, which would surely mangle Abu Qbeita's legs beyond repair:

 
Third Discrepancy: Abu Qbeita Walking or Lying Down?

In yet another discrepancy, the original caption claims that the construction worker, Mahmoud Abu Qbeita,

screamed in pain after he an Israeli driver drove a trailer hooked to a tractor over his legs, as he tried to block him when Israeli forces stopped workers on January 25 . . . The Israeli forces were seizing the equipment and trailer from the construction workers . . .

Thus, according to the original AFP caption, Mahmoud Abu Qbeita was attempting to block the Israel officials from confiscating the tractor and trailer when he was run over. And yet, Abu Qbeita's statement as quoted in the Feb. 3 AFP release mentions nothing about trying to block the trailer. To the contrary, he states:

They were shouting a lot and I started walking over to where my stuff was so I could get my phone and my ID card and that's when the tractor hit me. It hit me twice, first on my side, which knocked me over on the ground. Then it drove over one of my legs.

So which one was it? Was Abu Qbeita attempting to block the trailer's confiscation, as claimed in the original caption, or was he walking on his way to pick up his personal items, as explained in AFP's defense? The news agency can't have it both ways. According to a photo of the incident by another photographer on the scene, Mamoun Wazwaz of APA Images (Zuma Press), Abu Qbeita was down on the ground blocking the vehicle when he was hit, and not walking about, as most recently claimed by AFP. The Wazwaz image and caption follow:

Palestinian bedouin scuffle with Israeli soldiers as a palestinian construction worker blocks a truck.
The Israeli soldiers later ran over his legs. Israeli forces stopped workers from building a house in al-Dirat village.

So, while AFP itself is back and forth over the question as to whether Abu Qbeita was lying on the ground blocking the vehicle or walking around getting his things, the Wazwaz image upholds the Israeli army claim: that Abu Qbeita was lying down on the ground blocking the vehicle, and he was not knocked down by the vehicle.

The PNA 'Medical Certificate'

As for the "medical certificate issued on the day of the incident," blogger Elder of Ziyon rightly wonders:

Since when do hospitals release statements about patients for the public ("To whom it may concern") on the date of the incident, days before anyone published any accusations that this did not appear to be true?

Moreover, this does not even appear to be a statement from the Yatta hospital or clinic. Rather, the letterhead is from the Palestinian Ministry of Health. Granted, Yatta's hospital is public. But, nevertheless, is it normal practice for the Ministry of Health issue a statement upon the release of a patient from a public hospital? Wouldn't the normal procedure be for the hospital itself to issue a release letter?
 

In a related matter, the AFP translates the ministry document as stating: "We conducted X-RAYS on him and found fractures. He has been advised to consult the orthopedic department." Oddly, the "medical certificate" does not identify the location of the fractures. And the AFP did not release the x-rays. Similarly, AFP quotes Abu Qbeita:

Yes, I went to the hospital, they examined me and treated me and I have a medical certificate and I will show it to anyone who wants to see it. Anyone who wants can talk to me and take a picture of my leg and of me.

As for the x-rays which are said to show fractures, Abu Qbeita does not mention them, and does not offer to show them to anyone who requests them. Why hasn't AFP released them? Why doesn't Abu Qbeita mention them?

In addition, AFP does not fully translate the portion of the medical certificate text dealing with the fractures and recommended treatment. The full translation follows. (The words omitted in AFP's translation appear in bold):

We conducted the necessary X-RAYS on him and found fractures. He has been referred for appropriate treatment, and advised to consult the orthopedic clinic next Sunday to complete the treatment.

Why does the AFP conceal that on a Wednesday (Jan. 25) the patient was advised to visit a clinic the following Sunday (Jan. 29) to complete his treatment? Why would there be such a delay to treat fractures? Why wouldn't the AFP include information on that follow-up visit, which theoretically should have taken place five days before its Feb. 3 release?

No Images of Abu Qbeita Being Run Over

As noted in the AFP press release, and as Jerusalem bureau chief Philippe Agret told the Israeli army, a number of photographers from various media outlets were on the scene. Among them were Palestine TV, Pal Media, Al Quds TV, Russia's RTR TV, and others. AFP's statement reads: "AFP's Jerusalem bureau and photo editor interviewed other media representatives present at the scene and watched footage filmed by other colleagues showing the construction worker being carried away on a stretcher. Their trust in the events described by Hazem Bader is unequivocal."

Notably, it appears the unreleased footage doesn't verify the AFP claim that Abu Qbeita was run over; it is said to show only Abu Qbeita being carried away on a stretcher.

This absence of demonstrable photographic evidence is striking. Despite the fact that some half a dozen media outlets were on scene shooting images of Abu Qbeita both and before and after he was allegedly run over by the truck (as evidenced by Wazwaz's before image), not one of them has published a photograph of this alleged dramatic occurrence while it was taking place. Abu Qbeita is quoted in the press release as saying the tractor "went over one of my legs, one was under the wheel, the other other was outside it." Not one photograph shows Abu Qbeita in this positition, with one leg under the wheel. Surely such an image would be the most vivid and shocking of the series published on wire photo services and on Arab Web sites, and would provide the most dramatic footage. So where is it?

Final Notes

As noted above, CAMERA had earlier found that the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, which issues a weekly report detailing all West Bank casualties and Israeli army incursions, does not mention Mahmoud Abu Qbeita getting injured. Likewise, more recently, CAMERA has read the United Nations' Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which likewise keeps detailed tabs on all Palestinian casualties incurred by Israelis, and also does not mention the alleged injury ("Protection of Civilians Weekly Report," Jan. 25-31, 2012).

And, finally, Capt. Raz points out another discrepancy in the AFP version: "No way did a soldier drive the tractor because [the] whole mission is a civil administration mission where soldiers provide security." Thus, AFP flunks on even the most basic fact-checking: It was the Civil Administration, and not the army, which was confiscating building materials, including the tractor and trailer in question. And so, even if an Israeli official were to have been driving the tractor (and according to the army, none was at the time that Abu Qbeita claimed to be run over), the driver would have been from the Civil Administration, and not from the army, as claimed by the AFP.

Read CAMERA's Feb. 9 Op-Ed about the Hazem Bader photo in Ynet.

Feb. 29 Update: The Wall Street Journal Commendably Corrects

The Wall Street Journal is the first media outlet to clarify the discredited cutline. The original caption on the "Photos of the Day" is now updated with the additon:

A spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces, Capt. Eytan Buchman, says that the man wasn't run over. 'After claiming to be injured, he was inspected by both an IDF medic and a Red Crescent medic, both who determined that he required no medical care whatsoever,' Capt. Buchman said. AFP, the agency that took the photo, said it has reviewed the pictures and videos of the event and has 'no intention at this stage to correct our caption or withdraw any part of it.'

 
CAMERA applauds the commendable step, and urges International Herald Tribune, the Guardian, MSNBC and others to follow suit and correct the record.

We also note that while MSNBC's photo blog has published a straightforward account about AFP's claims and CAMERA's criticisms, which we appreciate, the original caption remains untouched and its page does not even link to MSNBC's own report about the controversy.


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