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Media Analyses





Party Time: Fatah's Founding Myth


It's Jan. 1, so it's party time in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. It's not the new year they're celebrating with massive demonstrations replete with trampled American, British and Israeli flags and cute kids toting guns -- it's the anniversary of Fatah's first attack against Israel. This year is a milestone: 50 years since the Jan. 1, 1965 attack against Israel's water carrier.
 
Remarkably, year after year, Fatah has passed off the festivities to credible media outlets as marking the movement's founding. This deception is a rather impressive feat given that Fatah was founded in October 1959, not in January 1965. Thus, even journalists with the most rudimentary math skills ought to be able to detect that the number of years since Fatah's founding does not correspond to the number of years marked each year at the movement's annual shindig.
 
Among the erroneous captions this year were the following:
 
 
The caption reads: "A Palestinian Fatah militant fires a weapon in the air during a rally marking the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Fatah movement, at Qalandia refugee camp near the West Bank city of Ramallah, January 1, 2015."
 
 
The caption to this more subdued scene is: "Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (C) gestures during a rally marking the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Fatah movement, in the West Bank City of Ramallah December 3, 2014. . . ."
 
In some instances, caption writers and photo editors were clearly aware that Fatah was founded in the 1950s, and not in 1965. Yet, as is the case with the following Agence France Presse image, they were apparently not bothered by the fact that it has been more than 50 years since Fatah's founding.
 
 
This AFP caption notes the "rally marking the 50th anniversary of [Fatah's] creation" and then goes on to contradict itself, stating: "The Fatah movement was founded by the late iconic leader Yasser Arafat in the 1950s and formally launched its armed struggle against Israel on January 1, 1965." A simple check of the arithmetic would have revealed that 50 years prior to 2015 corresponds to 1965, when Fatah began its terror attacks against Israel.
 
In other captions (see example below), though, AFP does rightly note that the celebration is "to mark the 50th anniversary of the launching of Fatah's armed struggle against Israel."
 
 
The Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs (PASSIA), identifies 1959 as the year of Fatah's founding (though they wrongly cite January instead of October, and elsewhere on the site state it was founded in 1957), as does the Palestinian UK mission, the Trans Arab Research Institute, Encyclopedia of the Palestinians (Philip Matter, p 31); Arafat's War (Efraim Karsh, Grove Press 2003), and Revolution Until Victory? (Barry Rubin, Harvard University Press 1993), among many others. Likewise,  Armed Struggle and The Search for State: The Palestinian National Movement 1949-1993, by Yezid Sayigh (published by the Institute for Palestine Studies and Oxford University) documents Fatah's founding in 1959. 
 
Why does it matter if Fatah was founded in 1959 or 1965? What interest do Fatah,and cooperative journalists have in passing off the annual festivities as marking the movement's founding? The following Associated Press caption, which outright misidentifies 1965 as the year of Fatah's founding, provides clear insight into this question:
 
 
Initially skirting over the question of what exactly Fatah is marking with its extensive rallies, the AP caption refers vaguely to "a military parade to mark the 50th anniversary of the Fatah movement." It then goes on to misstate the year of the organization's founding: "Yasser Arafat founded Fatah in 1965." Finally, it closes with the key assertion: "Over time, Fatah moderated and accepted Israel's right to exist, while seeking a Palestinian state."
 
Surely a "moderate" organization does not schedule massive annual celebrations around a terrorist attack targeting civilian infrastructure? A party marking the "founding" of Fatah is much more suited to a "moderate" organization.
 
If festivities celebrating terror attacks are out, so are images of small Palestinian children in attendance decked out in military gear and guns (toy and otherwise). Thus, the following scenes, captured by relatively small photo agencies like Nur and APA Images, were ignored by photographers working at the major services including Reuters, Associated Press and Agence-France Presse.
 
A Palestinian boy holding a gun during a rally marking the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Fatah movement, at Qalandia refugee camp near the West Bank city of Ramallah January 1, 2015. Photo by Abdalkarim Museitef/NurPhoto
 
A Palestinian child watches a parade 50th anniversary of Fatah movement, Ramallah, West Bank, Palestinian Territories - 31 Dec 2014/Photo by APAImages/Rex
 
(Reuters has, in the past, certainly demonstrated a keen interest in Israeli children holding guns. But, when it comes to Palestinians kids with guns, Reuters photographers avert the lens.)
 
Credit Where It is Due
 
Two years ago, The Washington Post commendably corrected when it misidentified the purpose of the January festivities. The Jan. 8, 2013 correction stated:
A Jan. 5 A-section article about a mass rally in the Gaza Strip incorrectly said that it marked the 48th anniversary of the founding of the Palestinian political party Fatah. The rally commemorated the 48th anniversary of Fatah's first armed mission against Israel.
The English edition of Haaretz also deserves commendation this week for quickly changing a photo caption, supplied by Reuters, which erroneously stated that the anniversary was to mark Fatah's founding.
 
The original Haaretz caption was:
 
 
Following communication from CAMERA's Israel office, Haaretz editors immediately set the record straight. The caption now more accurately refers to "50 years of armed struggle against Israel":
 
 

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