Media Coverage of “Nakba Day” and Infiltration Attempts

News reports about “Nakba Day” and Arab attempts to infiltrate Israel from hostile territory were not all informative. And some were simply misleading.

Time’s Karl Vick

In an example belonging to the latter category, Karl Vick, whose reports for Time Magazine generally blend news reporting with anti-Israel advocacy, obfuscated the chronology of events on the Golan Heights to cast Israel in a harsh light.

He wrote that

in the Golan Heights, high ground Israel took from Syria in 1967, only 30 to 40 soldiers were on duty where hundreds of Palestinians began arriving by bus and marching toward the fence. Troops were ordered to shoot to maim. Four protesters were killed, and at least 100 scrambled into Majdal Shams …

Readers would be forgiven for believing that Israel opened fire with instructions to maim peaceful protesters in Syria, after which some fled across the frontier into Israeli territory

But according to a number of reports, Israeli troops were told to fire toward infiltrators legs — “shoot to maim” in Vick’s dark telling — only after they began to breach the border. According to the Jerusalem Post,

The protest began as in past years at the “Shouting Hill” – a place 400 meters east of the border where relatives of Druse in Israel stand and shout to them. Around noon, 1,000 people on the Syrian side began marching toward the border fence and a few hundred then rammed it, trying to cross into Israel.

IDF soldiers under Col. Eshkol Shukran, commander of the Golan Regional Brigade used crowd dispersion techniques to push back the crowd.

“We tried to contain it by shooting in the air,” Shukran, who was hit in the face by a large rock thrown by the demonstrators and was later evacuated to Ziv Hospital in Safed, said on Sunday night. He said that he ordered his men to open fire at the protesters’ legs after they began storming the fence.

“I gave the order when I understood that we will find ourselves with thousands of people in Majdal,” he said.

The article also notes that “the IDF brought 30 of the wounded Syrians to Ziv Hospital,” further corroborating that these protesters were wounded on Israel’s side of the border.

Other reports concur with this account. AFP, citing a Druze doctor who treated casualties, noted that the gunfire occurred “after protesters from a Syrian-held part of the Golan entered the [Israeli] annexed territory.” Later , AFP reiterated that the protesters “were killed when they entered the Golan Heights.” A Reuters story reported that protesters were shot “as they tried to enter Israeli-controlled territory.” And according to the Associated Press, “thousands of people approached the frontier, hoisting Palestinian flags, shouting slogans and throwing rocks and bottles at Israeli forces. When hundreds of people burst across the border fence into the Israeli-controlled town of Majdal Shams, surprised soldiers opened fire.”

Most compellingly, video evidence plainly shows that Vick was wrong in alleging Israelis were ordered to shoot protesters who were merely “marching toward the fence.”
Vick further misled when asserting that the Nakba Day protests are “aimed at winning international sympathy for the Palestinian perspective, and as a result, forcing Israel to pull out of territories its army has occupied since 1967.” By definition, Nakba Day is not a commemoration about territories Israel gained control of during 1967’s Six-Day War. The commemoration mourns what Palestinians consider the loss of their land during 1948 — that is, it mourns the very existence of Israel. So it is virtually certain that Islamic Jihad protesters in Lebanon chanting “We will liberate Palestine with the Kalashnikov,” and protesters in Syria chanting about “liberating Palestine” and screaming that “Palestine is Arab,” had in mind sovereign, internationally recognized Israeli territory and not, as Vick disingenuously claimed, territory “occupied since 1967.”
Shooting by Lebanese Forces
On the northern border, Lebanese protesters attempted to damage or breach the border fence separating Lebanon from Israel. During the incident, shots were fired not only by Israeli border guards, but also by Lebanese Army troops. While a few news reports did point out the Lebanese gunfire, or at least noted Israeli assertions that Lebanese were likely killed at the hands of their own army, all too many reports completely ignored it.
A New York Times headline exemplified the relative lack of interest in the actions of the Lebanese Armed Forces: “Israeli Troops Fire as Marchers Breach Borders.” The piece repeatedly referenced Israel’s gunfire and use of tear gas, but said not a word about Lebanon’s tear gas, let alone its bullets.
Misreporting on 1948
A number of reports erred or omitted context when describing the 1948 events that inspired Arab “nakba” protests.
Nicholas Blanford, writing for the Christian Science Monitor, adopted an extreme and erroneous pro-Palestinian position when referring to Palestinian refugees “who gathered on Lebanon’s southern border with Israel to demand a return to the homes they were forced to leave 63 years ago.”
The suggestion that Palestinian refugees were all “forced to leave” their homes is patently false. (In Haifa, for example, Palestinians chose to leave, despite pleas by their Jewish neighbors that they stay.) Unlike Blanford’s story, most other reports referencing Palestinian claims to a “right of return” commendably used language that takes into accound Palestinians who “fled” and who were forced out. According to credible sources like Ephraim Karsh, the majority fled and were not forced out.
On the other hand, most news outlets failed to provide key context about the Palestinian refugee crisis, namely that it is a result of a war imposed by Palestnians and Arab countries who turned to the force of arms in an attempt to destroy Israel.
The Associated Press, for example, asserted that
Palestinians regard the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 a catastrophe because hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were forced from their homes during the two-year war that followed.
The two-year war that followed Israel’s declaration of independence in May 1948 was, in fact, an invasion by multiple Arab countries of Palestine and Israel, a point rarely acknowledged in Nakba Day coverage. And for nearly two decades after the war, Egypt and Jordan occupied land that was meant to become a Palestinian Arab state, another key piece of information generally left unmentioned in coverage of the events of 1948. And although the AP backgrounder does not say so, Palestinians were fleeing their homes even before the “two-year war that followed” Israeli independence. This is because they initiated a civil war against their Jewish neighbors in November 1947. History Benny Morris described it as follows:
The United Nations General Assembly vote of 29 November 1947, which supported the partition of Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab, prompted Arab attacks and sniping against Jewish passers-by in the big towns, and on Jewish traffic on the roads, the following day. The [Arab Higher Committee], which completely rejected Partition, declared a three-day general strike … thus releasing the Arab urban masses for action. On 2 December an Arab mob, unobstructed by British security forces, stormed through the Jewish commercial centre of Jerusalem, looting and burning shops and attacking Jews. Arab and Jewish snipers exchanged fire in Haifa and attacks were launched on the [Jewish] neighbourhoods in Tel Aviv which adjoined Jaffa and its suburbs.
Thus began the fighting that caused so many Palestinians to flee.

Washington Times beats Washington Post on “al-Nakba” riot coverage

The Washington Times provided its readers with a more informative, better balanced account of the anti-Israel “al-Nakba” riots than did The Washington Post. USA Today, using staff and wire reports, also provided relevant context missing from The Post.
But these publications, and Tribune Newspapers (Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun, Orlando Sentinel, Hartford Courant, among others) seemed to assume or at least imply that the 15 Arab rioters killed were certainly shot by Israeli forces. Israeli diplomats said Israeli military believed most if not all fatalities at the border were caused by gunfire from Lebanese forces.

In The Times’ top May 15 front-page article, “Palestinians storm into Israel; 15 reported killed during unprecedented demonstration,” reporter Shaun Waterman’s lead sentences read:

Thousands of Palestinian demonstrators clashed with Israeli security forces on three hostile borders Sunday in an unprecedented wave of protests marking an annual ritual against the founding of the Jewish state in 1948. Israeli soldiers opened fire, leaving at least 15 dead and many more injured, as rioting Palestinians poured across the borders with Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. Israel officials said 13 troops were wounded and blamed Syria and Iran for orchestrating the clashes.

Waterman told readers that “the unprecedented breakthrough by Palestinian demonstrators on the Syrian border in the disputed Golan Heights area — tightly controlled by the Syrian military — brought allegations that Damascus had encouraged the protests as a way of distracting attention from the two-month-long uprising against the regime of President Bashar Assad.” The Times reporter added that after “thousands of people approached the border, hoisting Palestinian flags, shouting slogans and throwing rocks and bottles at Israeli forces” and “hundreds of people burst across the border fence into the Israeli controlled town of Majdal Shams, Syrian forces did not intervene, and surprised Israeli soldiers opened fire.”

The Times pointed out too that “Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV was in place to film much of the day’s clashes ….”

Notably, rather than repeating only that Palestinian Arabs label Israeli’s founding on May 15, 1948 “al-Nakba” or “the catastrophe,” Waterman added that “hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled when Arab nations attacked Israel [emphasis added].”

Compare The Washington Times’ report with that of The Washington Post, “Clashes erupt at Israel’s borders; Troops fatally shot 12 during annual Palestinian protests,” another page one May 15 article. Post Middle East correspondent and interim Jerusalem bureau chief Joel Greenberg’s coverage parallels that of The Washington Times in some respects.

But rather than point out, as Waterman did, that Palestinian Arabs became refugees “when Arab nations attacked Israel,” Greenberg imprecisely writes of “the displacement of hundreds of thousands in the war that followed Israel’s declaration of independence.” Had there been no Arab r ejection or invasion there would have been few if any Arab refugees.

The Post’s wording errs regarding causation, and its vagueness obscures Arab culpability in creation of Arab refugees.
Arab Spring?

Likewise, The Post’s mistaken comparison between Palestinian anti-Israel riots and anti-dictatorship protests in Arab countries inverts reality. According to The Post, the Palestinian “marches … brought the protest culture of the Arab Spring to Israel’s doorstep ….”

Hardly. Information elsewhere in The Post article (like that in The Washington Times report) suggests that the “al-Nakba” riots were orchestrated by Syria and Iran, with the aid of Hezbollah in Lebanon. Syria apparently intended to distract from its slaughter of Syrian “Arab Spring” demonstrators. Such aid to the rioters apparently included busing Palestinian Arabs to the borders, permitting them to reach the normally well-guarded Golan border, and Hezbollah’s distribution of Palestinian flags while the terrorist group’s Al Manar television videotaped the proceedings near the Lebanese-Israeli frontier.

USA Today’s riot coverage, unlike The Post or The Times, quoted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s observation that Israel “was founded 63 years ago on the basis of the declaration of independence which promises equality of rights for all of our citizens regardless of religion, race and sex.”

He stressed that “when one looks at the region today, Israeli Arabs are the only Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa that enjoy democratic rights, equality and civil rights.”

“The protest culture” that the Syrian- and Hezbollah-backed “al-Nakba” riots brought to Israel’s doorstep was a protest against the one Jewish democracy. The “Arab Spring” uprisings have been, by contrast, against corrupt autocracies and police states like Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Libya, Yemen and Bahrain, all attempting to repress their own protesting citizens. News coverage like that of The Post’s missed the point that the “al-Nakba” riots were not for a democratic Palestinian state as part of a “two-state solution” but rather an element in the renewed call for the destruction of Israel.

The Tribune Newspapers’ dispatch that appeared in May 16’s edition of The Baltimore Sun led with the same inaccurate comparison as used by The Post:

“The recent tide of popular Arab unrest swept over Israel’s borders Sunday as thousands of Palestinian refugees and fellow Arab protesters attempted to cross tightly secured frontiers from Syria, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.”

Journalistic inquiry ought to show that just because demonstrations — or riots — look alike does not mean they stem from similar causes.

The three-column color photograph used by The Sun to illustrate its page 6-A article gave the best sense of the border violation of those chosen by The Washington Times, Post, or USA Today. It showed dozens of young men, many carrying Palestinian flags, scaling a short section of the double-row border fence between Israel and the Golan Heights. The Post’s large page-one photo was a Reuters picture of young men diving for cover along the Lebanese border. The Times’ used a similar Associated Press picture on its page A-13 jump. On page one it ran an AP photograph of a Palestinian Arab standing on a burnt car, making a “V” sign with his right hand, holding what appears to be a stone or block in his left, while smoke billows about him.

A reader of all four articles, who also took a minute to study the accompanying photographs, would have a good general idea of the riots and their causes. A reader of The Post alone would miss pertinent quotes, and related information, from official Israeli sources.

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