Israeli newspapers and online news sites were kept busy this past Friday (Oct. 8, 2010) discussing an incident where two rock-throwing Palestinian youths were stuck by a car driven by David Be'eri (Davida'leh), the chairman of the Elad association.
The basic events are uncontested: Be'eri, who lives in the City of David, was the target of Palestinian stone-throwers on Friday while driving down the main road in Silwan and he struck two of them with his car.
How was this covered in the Israeli media? The revolving headline on the Israeli Walla! news site crowed:
"Walla! Photographer Documents the Running Over [of Palestinians]"
While they were busy congratulating themselves for delivering such a "scoop," Walla! editors did not bother to explain to readers why their photographer was at the site and what he had been doing before the indcident.
The Israeli daily Ma'ariv's Yossi Eli wrote about that event:
Newspaper photographers at the site of the incident provided documentation showing the Subaru vehicle of Chairman David Be'eri of the Elad Association striking the two [Palestinian boys] and Palestinian youth gathering to throw stones at the vehicle.
In his report that appeared in the print edition of Ha'aretz, Nir Hasson cited "Ilya Yefimovich, an independent photographer who was at the site."
And on Nana 10, Israeli televsion channel 10's news portal, Shir Sagi reported that "the complete incident was documented by a photographer at the site."
What none of these media outlets addressed was why so many photographers just happened to be gathered at this particular site in advance of the dramatic event. After all, the chance of this is rather unlikely, without a reason to anticipate a dramatic event. The above-mentioned reports, however, just recounted the convergence of newspaper photographers at the site as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
According to the video that was released, the stoning of the car preceded the striking of the stone-throwers by the car. One can see a number of Palestinians, their faces covered, surrounding Be'eri's car and hurling stones at it from different directions, with two of them running directly toward the oncoming car, as well as a flock of photographers gathering near the car and the stone throwers to film the entire incident from beginning to end. Yet, the Ma'ariv's Yossi Eli suggested a different chronology of events, implying that Palestinian youth gathered to stone the car only after it struck the boys, noting only that "5 or 6 Palestinians surrounded Be'eri's car, some of them children."
David Be'eri claimed he accidentally hit the two while trying to flee a possible lynching by an ambush of Palestinian stoners. While many Israeli media outlets included Be'eri's explanation of the circumstances in which his car hit the Palestinians, the journalists and editors at Walla! ignored it, having themselves already imputed a more nefarious motive to Be'eri. They wrote:
The two [Palestinians] threw stones toward Be'eri's vehicle and in reaction, he hit them with his car.
Ironically, both Walla! and Yediot cite the account of the "Wadi Hilweh Information Center". While we've already demonstrated why one must be wary of information from this source, the center's coverage of Friday's events provides yet more evidence of just how unreliable this source is. Even after films were released supporting Be'eri's account that Palestinians were waiting with stones in their hands at the junction before he arrived there and that his car was stoned before it struck anyone, the Wadi Hilweh Information Center presented a completely different scenario. According to Yediot:
Sources at the Wadi Hilweh Information Center in Silwan said that the incident took place as residents who had taken part in Friday prayers were dispersing toward their homes near the Bustan center. Everyone was turning toward their homes when Be'eri's car suddenly appeared we all know him. Several children between the ages of 10-12 walked toward him when [his car] suddenly charged forward and struck two of them. Afterwards, stones were thrown at his car. The dangerous masked men' whom Be'eri claims attacked him were just little children.
At Walla!, too, the false assertions by the Wadi Hilweh Information Center were cited as factual accounts.
One can only guess how many times accounts from this source especially in the absence of photographers' documentation were accepted as credible information by journalists, investigators and NGO representatives.
Indeed, the most important questions that should have been but were not asked are why were so many photographers present and filming even before the car accident? Who invited them to this location? Why didn't they try to stop the stoners, and particularly those running directly into the path of the oncoming car, rather than cooly filming the unfolding scenario? Was the dramatic event anticipated and encouraged? Why was nothing about the presence and actions of the photographers mentioned by reporters?
Digging Beneath Al Aqsa
In their reports about the incident, the online versions of the popular dailies Ma'ariv and Yediot Aharonot, went a step further to denigrate the nature of the "Elad" association. The Ma'ariv's Yossi Eli explained that the association "operates the controversial archeological site in the City of David in the Silwan area."
Indeed, some might consider the association's activities regarding Jewish settlement in eastern Jerusalem as controversial but to describe the archeological site of the City of David as controversial is bizarre at best. It is a recognized national park in the State of Israel, excavated by both Israeli and foreign archeologists since the middle of the 19th century. It contains some of the most important archeological and architectural finds in the world, including a Canaanite water system and Hezekiah's Tunnel. The Ma'ariv correspondent demonstrates his ignorance of the issues by his inability to distinguish between the different elements of the City of David/Silwan reality, and thus he misleads readers.
And according to Yediot's Yair Altman and Ronen Medzini, the Elad association " established at the end of the 1990's an archeological/tourist park." This is incorrect. Elad did not establish the park. As mentioned above, the City of David is part of a larger park surrounding the walls of Jerusalem's Old City, which also includes David's Citadel, Mount Zion and the Old City ramparts. It was declared a national park in 1974. It is under the ownership and auspices of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. Beginning in 1997, the Elad association took over the operation the City of David site. It is not the only national park operated by an outside group. Har Harat-Sataf National Park is managed and maintained by the Keren Kayemet/Jewish National Fund and the Franciscans are custodians of the antiquities site in the Capernaum/Kfar Nahum National Park
The article went on:
The association also operates intensively and controversially at another level with archeological excavations done in partnership with Israel's Antiquity Authorities whose goal is to identify and preserve Jewish relics from the Second Temple period. This activity arouses the furor of the Arab world and the international community.
Once again these journalists reveal their ignorance as they repeat these baseless assertions. The Israel Antiquity Authority and Elad do not limit themselves to identifying artifacts from the Second Temple period. In fact, most of the discoveries in the City of David are from the First Temple period and even the Bronze Age long before King David made Jerusalem the capital of Israel. Several of the current excavations are from the Byzantine period. Moreover, on what basis do these writers claim that these excavations arouse the fury of the international community? The only fury and opposition to the excavations (except that emanating from Arab and Islamic leaders who deny Jewish heritage, history and claims to these sites) come from anti-Israel activists.
Perhaps the most egregious part of the Yediot article comes near the end, as the authors write:
The well known charges against the association pertain to its excavation beneath the Al Aqsa mosque which can lead to the collapse of the building. One should note that such activity has never actually been verified and leftist organizations in Israel do not believe that [such activity] is taking place. Nonetheless, the collapse of walkways and the holes that frequently gape open on the streets of Silwan are attributed by residents to the excavations in the area and this strengthens the fury among them.
It is somewhat difficult to believe that this is a citation from Yediot and not a press release from the Palestinian Authority or from the Islamic movement. This passage echoes if somewhat more politely the outrageous incitement by Muslim leaders both inside and outside of the country falsely alleging that Israel is undermining the foundations of the Al Aqsa mosque by excavating there. Although the authors do add a requisite disclaimer that "such activity has never been verified" to what they describe as "the well known charges" that Israel is undermining the foundation of the mosque, they nevertheless end conspiratorially with mysterious "holes" that are "appearing" on the streets of Silwan. Sheikh Raed Salah couldn't have put it better himself!
Update: Oct. 12, 2010
The online version of Yediot continues to demonstrate its complete lack of journalistic ethics. The Latma website (www.latma.co.il) posted another article from ynet (Yediot's website) which stated:
The running down occurred on Friday, when David Be'eri travelled through the neighborhood in eastern Jerusalem, was attacked, according to his own allegation, by youths who hurled stones at his car. A video broadcast by Al Jazeera showed that the children were run over without having been involved in the disturbances.[emphasis added.]
Following the article, an update was posted:
Update (23:15): The following sentence was dropped from the article: "Despite Mansour's account (Mansour being one of those hit by the car), one can see from the video that his face was covered, similar to the others near him, although one cannot see him throwing stones at the car", and it is presented here with an apology.
Latma illustrates just how ridiculous the above claim is, in its assertion that the sentence was "dropped', since even in the original article, the ynet author had abandoned any pretense of journalistic integrity. As Latma puts it:
The only question that remains after reading the article and the apology is what is worse the original article that repeated a lie that is obvious to anyone who saw the film or the ridiculous apology that leaves the lie in place?