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Media Analyses





On Flotilla, International Herald Tribune Editors Asleep at the Helm


Today's International Herald Tribune coverage of yesterday's violent Gaza flotilla events demonstrates that the editors of the paper, which is owned by the New York Times, were apparently asleep at the helm in comparison to their Times counterparts. Coverage at the parent paper was itself only marginally more professional. Both editors were dealing with copy from Jerusalem correspondent Isabel Kershner, aspects of which CAMERA's Snapshots blog fisked yesterday.
 
How Did the Violence Unfold?

The International Herald Tribune version of the story (which is not available online since the two newspapers share one Web site which features predominantly New York Times material) describes the controversy about how the violence unfolded as a he said/she said dispute with no outside evidence available to corroborate either version. Thus, Kershner's Tribune account states:

The Israeli Defense Forces said more than 10 people were killed when naval personnel boarding the six ships in the aid convoy met with "live fire and light weaponry, including knives and clubs." The naval forces them "employed riot dispersal means, including live fire," the military said in a statement.

Greta Berlin, a leader of the pro-Palestinian Free Gaza Movement, speaking by telephone from Cyprus, rejected the military's version.

"That is a lie," she said, adding that it was inconceivable that the civilian passengers on board would have been "waiting up to fire on the Israeli military, with all its might."

"We never thought there would be any violence," she said.

At least four Israeli soldiers were wounded in the operation, some from gunfire, according to the military. Television footage from the flotilla before communications were cut showed what appeared to be commandos sliding down ropes from helicopters onto one of the vessels of the flotilla, while Israeli high-speed naval vessels surrounded the convoy.

A military statement said two activists were later found with pistols they had taken from Israeli commandos. The activists, the military said, "had apparently opened fire "as evident by the empty pistol magazine."

But the television footage, which can be viewed here or here (in addition to countless other online sites), not only shows "commandos sliding down ropes from helicopters one one of the vessels of the flotilla, while high-speed naval vessels surrounded the convoy." It also shows the passengers beating the commandos with chairs and metal bars as soon as the troops landed, and throwing one off the top deck to a lower deck 30 feet below. The videos also show men lining up with weapons, waiting for the troops to arrive, contrary to Ms. Berlin's denial that the passengers were waiting for them. Indeed, the video shows that the troops propelled down from the helicopter to a crowded deck. (This detailed Ynet article mentions 20 passengers on deck when the first troops arrived, a number which swelled to 30). Why does the Tribune omit this critical information, which would put the ostensible he said-she said dispute to rest in favor of the Israeli version?

The New York Times' Kershner story, in contrast, does note the existence of videos which support the Israeli account. The third paragraph states:

With street protests erupting around the world, Mr. Netanyahu defended the Israeli military's actions, saying that the commandos, enforcing what Israel says is a legal blockade, were set upon by passengers on the Turkish ship they boarded and fired only in self-defense. The military released a video of the early moments of the raid to support that claim.

Furthermore, the next paragraph reiterates the video's existence:

Israel said the violence was instigated by pro-Palestinian activists who presented themselves as humanitarians but had come ready for a fight. Organizers of the flotilla accused the Israeli forces of opening fire as soon as they landed on the deck, and released videos to support their case. Israel released video taken from one of its vessels to supports [sic] its own account of events.

It's not clear though, what Kershner had in mind when she referred to video that supposedly supports the organizers' account. The organizers were responsible for provided footage shown first on the Turkish network NTV (see here and here), which shows passengers beating soldiers as they slide off the cables.
 
Who Were the Passengers?

The International Herald Tribune's account of who was on the boats was likewise tendentious and selective in comparison to the New York Times' minimally better coverage. Thus the Tribune reported:

Named the Freedom Flotilla and led by the Free Gaza movement and a Turkish organization, Insani Yardim Vakfi, the convoy was the most ambitious attempt yet to break Israel's three-year blockade of Gaza.

About 600 passengers were said to be aboard the vessels, including the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Mairead Corrigan-Maguire of Northern Ireland.

While the Tribune did find the space to call out the Nobel peace prize laureate (and to include mention of Corrigan-Maguire in a photo caption as well), it did not provide any information about the Insani Yardim Vakfi, or IHH, which has been tied to terror organizations including Al Qaeda by western intelligence sources including the CIA (see here, here and here).

The New York Times, for its part, mentioned IHH's recent activity "at recent disaster areas like Haiti and New Orleans," but was not specific about any terror-related activity. Instead, it relegated that activity to no more than a disputed Israeli claim, noting that "Israeli officials have characterized [the I.H.H.] as a dangerous Islamic organization with terrorist links." The article then gave space to an IHH official, who claimed:

"Our volunteers were not trained military personnel," said Yavuv Dede, deputy director of the organization. "They were civilians trying to get aid to Gaza. There were artists, intellectuals and journalists among them. Such an offensive cannot be explained by any terms."

Among the so-called artists and intellectuals, there was also this knife-yielding individual, whose weapon was later recorded along with the many other weapons found on the Mavi Marmara.

Dede's protestations to the Times that the convoy's intentions were strictly peaceful are belied by statements by flotilla participants recorded in the Arab media, including this woman, who said before she departed: "Right now we face one of two happy endings: either Martyrdom or reaching Gaza" (Al Jazeera, May 29, 2010, translated by MEMRI and PMW). The participants' pre-departure rousing rendition of the Islamic battle cry invoking the killing of Jews -- "[Remember] Khaibar, Khaibar, oh Jews! The army of Muhammad will return!" -- are also not exactly in line with Dede's self-proclaimed image of quiet intellectualism.

In addition, Palestinian Media Watch notes:

Al-Jazeera also reports that before the confrontation, flotilla participants announced that they would use "resistance" against Israel. Mukawama (resistance) is the Arabic term used by Palestinians to refer to all violence against Israel, including suicide terror.

"The flotilla includes hundreds of Arab and foreign solidarity activists from more than 40 countries ... They have announced their determination to use resistance to any attempt at piracy by the Israeli occupation." (Al Jazeera Web site, May 29, 2010)

Who Is Violating International Law?

As noted yesterday in CAMERA's Snapshots, Kershner's coverage yesterday reported without clarification the Turkish claim that Israel's forcible boarding of the ships was a violation of international law. Her Tribune article repeats the inaccurate claim:

“Israel launched this operation in international waters and to a ship flagged white, which is unacceptable under any clause of the international law,” the head of the Turkish Grand National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs Commission, Murat Mercan, said on the Turkish station NTV.

Yet, according to the San Remo Manual, it is permissible under rule 67(a) to attack neutral vessels on the high seas when the vessels “are believed on reasonable grounds to be carrying contraband or breaching a blockade, and after prior warning they intentionally and clearly refuse to stop, or intentionally and clearly resist visit, search or capture.” For more on the international maritime laws relevant to this incident, see CAMERA's "Israel's Right to Blockade Gaza and to Interdict Shipping."

While the New York Times article did include the Israeli position, it failed to give any specifics about the actual laws underpinning that position. The article states: "Israeli officials said that international law allowed for the capture of naval vessels in international waters if they were about to violate a blockade."
 
What are the Casualty Figures?
 
The Tribune article also bungles the casualty figures for both sides.In the second paragraph, Kershner writes that the Israeli attack "killed more than 10 pro-Palestinian activists." Towards the end of the article, she writes: "Channel 10, a private television station in Israel, quoted the Israeli trade minister, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, as saying 14 to 16 people had been killed." But hours after Ben-Eliezer made his remark, and in time for the International Herald Tribune deadline, the Israeli military released a statement noting that nine violent activists were killed and seven Israel soldiers were wounded. (Presumably the IDF had more information about casualties than the trade minister.) The Tribune understated Israeli casualties, writing, "At least four Israeli soldiers were wounded in the operation."
 
The New York Times, on the other hand, was more precise and accurate concerning casualties, stating in the opening paragraph that "a raid by naval commandos . . . killed nine people, many of them Turks." It also accurately reported that "At least seven soldiers were wounded. . . "

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