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Media Analyses





The Samer Issawi Test


Palestinian prisoner Samer Issawi, released by Israeli authorities for the second time yesterday, is an important test case for journalists. His high profile case, helped along by his months-long on and off hunger strike as well as a concerted publicity campaign, has garnered international media attention, with journalists churning out detailed accounts about his medical condition and his releases.
 
Less predictable, however, is the manner in which media outlets cover his violent crimes which landed him in jail in the first place. Many media outlets downplay or entirely ignore the fact that he was imprisoned for attempted murder. As first reported by CAMERA, Capt. Eytan Buchman, an IDF spokesman, reported that Issawi

was convicted of severe crimes, which including five attempts of intentional death. This included four shootings, between July 2001 and February 2002, in which Isawi and his partners fired on police cars and buses travelling between Ma'ale Adumim and Jerusalem. In one attack, a policeman was injured and required surgery. On October 30, 2001, Isawi, together with an accomplice, fired at two students walking from the Hebrew University campus to their car in a nearby parking lot. In another case, Isawi provided guns and explosive devices to a squad, who fired on a bus. Finally, in December 2001, Isawi ordered an attack on security personnel at Hebrew University, providing a squad with a pistol and a pipebomb. Two of the squad members tracked security personnel but opted not to execute the attack.

According to the Israel Prison Service, Samer Issawi of Issawiyeh, Jerusalem was arrested in April 2002 and sentenced to 26 years for attempted murder, belonging to an unrecognized (terror) organization, military training, and possession of weapons, arms and explosive materials. Issawi (identification number 037274735) was one of the 477 Palestinian prisoners released in the first stage of the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange in October 2011.
 
Following yesterday's release, which was the result of a deal brokered by Israeli and Palestinian officials following Issawi's hunger strike, coverage was a spotty as earlier reports about his initial release. As part of the Shalit deal, a condition of Issawi's release was that he had to remain in Jerusalem. In July 2012 he reportedly violated the terms of his release by leaving Jerusalem and crossing into the nearby neighborhood of A-Ram, and was therefore rearrested.
 
CNN, Agence-France Press and Ha'aretz distinguish themselves for their whitewashing or entirely ignoring Issawi's violent crimes. On the other hand, the Associated Press commendably noted Issawi's murder attempts.
 
CNN: Issawi's Hunger Strike Noted 5 Times. His crime: Zero Times
 
The Dec. 23 edition of CNN International's "Connect the World" mentions no less than five times that Samer Issawi had been on a hunger strike. Not once, however, does host Max Foster or correspondent Ian Lee mention that the gaunt Issawi had been in jail for attempted murder, having fired at Hebrew University students as well as police. 
 
The section of the egregious broadcast dealing specifically with Issawi appears below:

FOSTER One of the most high-profile Palestinian prisoners in Israel has just been released from prison. Samer Issawi is considered a hero by Palestinians for his record-breaking 266-day hunger strike. Let's get more now from Ian Lee, who's in Jerusalem. Ian?

IAN LEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Max, Samer received a hero's welcome when he returned to his hometown in a suburb of East Jerusalem. Hundreds of people were out to greet him. They were throwing candy in the air, waving flags with his picture on it.

This happened despite Israel saying that they wouldn't tolerate any sort of celebrations upon his release. When this celebration was taking police, there were riot police in the distance, dozens of them, but they let the celebration take place without engaging any of those in there.

Samer shot to prominence during his hunger strike, as you mentioned. He has been in and out of jail, essentially, since 2002, during the Second Intifada. But it was really -- he was released in 2011, part of the Gilad Shalit deal, that was the Israeli soldier who was released from Gaza. Over a thousand Palestinian prisoners were released during that, including Samer.

But he was re-arrested in 2012 when he tried -- when he entered the West Bank. The Israelis said that this violated his parole. Shortly after, he went on a hunger strike, and almost nine months without eating any food, only getting nutrition through an IV.

And part of the deal to stop his hunger strike was that he would be released at the end of the year, and this is what we're witnessing now. Or that's what we witnessed today, Max.

FOSTER: And of course, just one of the prisoners -- Palestinian prisoners still in the custody of Israel.

(In addition to the four references to the hunger strike appearing above, Foster also mentioned Issawi's hunger strike in the introduction to the whole show.) Beyond Lee (and Foster's) tendentious reporting, which carefully omits any mention of Issawi's crimes, viewers are treated to a series of sympathetic photographs of Issawi and his supporters, in which the gaunt, weakened wheelchair bound prisoner is hooked to feeding tubes. Ghastly references to shooting attacks and explosives simply do not square with the sympathetic portrait of Issawi-as-victim that CNN prefers.
 
In addition, Lee cites prisoners' dubious, at best, grievances without bothering to seek a response from Israeli authorities. Thus, he reports:
Rights groups put roughly about 5,000 Palestinians still in prison, including over 100 children. These prisoners complain, especially now, it's very cold in the area in Jerusalem and Israel and the West Bank, and they complain that they're not getting adequate blankets to keep warm.

There's also complaints that they're not able to see their loved ones, as well as some are complaining they're not getting the proper medical attention that they need. I need to add, though, that this is coming from the Palestinian prisoners themselves. These are the things that they're saying that they aren't getting.

Since Lee didn't bother to get a response from Israeli authorities, CAMERA did. We spoke with Prison Services Spokeswoman Sivan Weizmann who informed us that prisoners receive plenty of blankets, as many as they'd like, and even in these colder winter days there is no shortage. She explained that the Prison Service provides all of the blankets, and that blankets from home or elsewhere are not permitted. (Thus, while a prisoner may certainly miss the smell and feel of home, none will go cold.)
 
Weizmann also disputed the claim that prisoners may not see their loved ones. She said that prisoners have entitled to visits from first degree relatives on a regular basis, every other week. She said that there few security exceptions to this practice. She likewise denied the baseless claim about the denial of medical care.
 
The AFP's Scare Quotes
 
Agence France-Presse is likewise guilty of obscuring Issawi's crimes from readers. The French agency, however, has its own unique style of doing so. In "Palestinian prisoner freed after hunger strike," AFP reported: "Samer Issawi, whom authorities had accused of 'terrorist' activities, ended his strike in April . . . ."
 
AFP clearly does not agree that attempting to kill Israeli civilians and policeman is terrorism. Regardless, AFP could have simultaneously provided their readers with pertinent information and have avoided the "tendentious" (in AFP's eyes) T-word had the journalist simply stated the crime. Readers can decide for themselves whether or not shooting at university students out of nationalis motives is a terrorist act.
 
Finally, Issawi was not just "accused" of the violent crimes. He was also convicted.
 
Ha'aretz Replay
 
In its story today about Issawi's release, Ha'aretz's English edition omits any mention of his violent crime ("Israel releases Palestinian hunger striker Samer Issawi"). The Ha'aretz article, with its three references to the hunger strike, its detail about his supporter's reactions and Issawi's medical condition, recalls a photo and caption featuring Issawi in Ha'aretz last February.
 
(Interestingly, the Hebrew version of the article does refer his initial conviction, but egregiously downgrades its severity, referring only to his membership in a the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.) 
 
With the release of another batch of convicted pre-Oslo Palestinian murderers before the end of the year, media consumers should get ready for another round of whitewashing.

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