Contextless Headlines on Funeral Clashes Highlight Anti-Israel Tilt

Numerous international news headlines covering violence at Shireen Abu Akleh’s funeral Friday withhold key information, thereby revealing more about their own agenda than the day’s tumultuous events.

“Israeli police beat mourners at funeral of slain Palestinian journalist,” is the Reuters headline.

“Israeli police beat pallbearers at journalist’s funeral,” says AP.

“Outcry after Israel police beat mourners at journalist funeral,” echoes Agence France Presse.

“Israeli police attack funeral of slain Palestinian journalist,” says The New York Times.

“Shireen Abu Akleh: Israeli security forces attack mourners at Al Jazeera journalist’s funeral causing them to almost drop coffin,” Sky News’ headline similarly reads.

“Israeli forces attack mourners carrying casket of dead Al Jazeera journalist,” is the unexceptional Independent headline.

Casual readers who glance beyond the headlines would easily understand that unprovoked Israeli police attacked peaceful Palestinian mourners at a funeral procession.

But that’s not the story, as video documentation demonstrates that some of the Palestinians gathered outside the hospital where Shireen Abu Akleh’s body was held prior to the procession initiated violence, attacking Israeli police.

The following video, shared by Liran Tamari, a police affairs and legal reporter for Ynet, shows Palestinians in the crowd outside the hospital throwing rocks, glass bottles and other items at the police. In Tamari’s video, the sound of shattering glass is heard.

The articles by the two aforementioned British media outlets — Sky and Independent — contained not one word about the Palestinian attacks on the police which preceded the troops’ charging of the crowd. The remaining media outlets, however, do include references to Palestinian attacks on the police, attributing the information to police, and burying it deep down in the article. The lower down information appears, the less audience and exposure it gets.

Reuters, for instance, reported in the eighth and ninth paragraphs:

Israeli police said a group of Palestinians outside the hospital, whom they described as rioters, had begun throwing stones at officers.

“The policemen were forced to act,” they added.

AP, for its part, reserved its reference to the Palestinian violence which prompted the police attack for the 13th paragraph:

Police said the crowd at the hospital was chanting “nationalist incitement,” ignored calls to stop and threw stones at them. “The policemen were forced to act,” police said. They issued a video in which a commander outside the hospital warns the crowd that police will come in if they don’t stop their incitement and “nationalist songs.”

AFP faired relatively better, reporting higher up in the fifth paragraph: “Israeli authorities said six arrests were made after mourners had thrown ‘rocks and glass bottles.'” Notably, “rocks and glass bottles” appear in scare quotes, although the information had already been attributed (“Israeli authorities said”), constituting a double attribution. Given that videos confirm the information, attribution to the Israeli police is not merely superfluous, but also signals to readers that the information is not to be believed.

The New York Times, which sets the tone and the content for coverage about Israel and the Palestinians, goes further, calling into question the throwing of rocks and glass bottles by repeatedly (three times) noting the lobbing of plastic bottles. Misleading about the videos, The Times writes beginning in the fifth paragraph:

The violence at the funeral procession lasted for roughly a minute, and followed a tense standoff between riot police and mourners in which at least one empty plastic bottle was thrown in the direction of the police.

The police then suddenly advanced on the coffin, swinging batons and aiming kicks at the mourners. As the officers advanced, mourners threw projectiles, including what appeared to be a stick, and officers threw what appeared to be stun and smoke grenades.

In a statement, the Israeli police said they “took enforcement action” after some mourners began chanting “nationalist incitement” and after officers had given the crowd a warning. As the coffin was carried out of the hospital, police said, they were “forced to act” because “rioters began throwing stones toward the policemen.”

The police later distributed video showing an empty plastic bottle and two other bottle-shaped objects being thrown in the direction of the officers in the moments before they advanced on the pallbearers, and a separate undated video showing several stones on the ground. There was no clear indication of when or how the stones had reached that spot. (Emphases added.)

Later in the article, The New York Times sums up what it presents as the sequence of violence, emphasizing “at least one empty plastic bottle” was thrown prior to the police charging:

The violence at the funeral procession lasted for roughly a minute, and followed a tense standoff between riot police and mourners in which at least one empty plastic bottle was thrown in the direction of the police.

The Times’ fixation on an empty plastic bottle despite the fact that shattering glass is audible in video documentation recalls the case of a certain notorious “boy scout” knife. In 2015, after a Palestinian terrorist charged Israelis waving a knife, The Times had reported

“He was not carrying a knife, I saw everything,” a [Palestinian] witness insisted. “If they show a knife, they planted it.”

The Israeli police soon published a photo of a pocketknife, the kind Boy Scouts use, next to the slain teenager.”

In fact, the butterfly knife in question is associated with martial arts, not Boy Scouts, and the paper was subsequently compelled to publish a correction acknowledging, “An earlier version of this article referred imprecisely to the knife in the Israeli police photo. It is a butterfly knife, which is traditionally used as a weapon. . . .the knife pictured is not typically ‘the kind Boy Scouts use.'”

From dangerous butterfly knives to wholesome Boy Scotts knives, from hazardous glass bottles to harmless empty plastic bottles, the agenda behind reports which obscure or downplay Palestinian violence is clear. 

Indeed, in an alternate reality in which news coverage is driven by events as opposed to narrative, headlines might have stated: “Palestinian rioters at journalist’s funeral attack Israeli troops.” Alternatively, a longer and more complete heading would expound: “Police forcefully respond to violent rioting at journalist’s funeral.” Or, there’s the third route that Haaretz chose: “Clashes With Police Erupt at Palestinian Journalist’s Funeral Procession.” 

While this formulation fails to convey the chronology — first the Palestinian violence, and then the police’s forceful response — it nevertheless successfully communicates that clashes took place, with violence on both sides, thereby providing a more accurate understanding than the foreign coverage depictions of Israeli police attacking peaceful mourners.

Like polluting empty plastic bottles strewn about, international media headlines devoid of key facts litter the information landscape and diminish public enlightenment.