Fox News Channel’s coverage from the West Bank on a Friday in mid-July left some viewers a little puzzled. First, the station broadcast footage of Palestinians hurling rocks toward Israeli troops. A minute later, a Fox correspondent in Israel, Reena Ninan, told viewers that the demonstrators were actually “peace activists.” And after another minute, she relayed the Palestinian claim that Israel used “extreme force” when it fired tear gas because the protesters did not even throw stones — just before the footage of Palestinian stone-throwers again appeared on television screens.
Why did Ninan describe the protesters as “peace activists,” and credulously relay their claim that they did not throw stones, when the images on the screen (and other evidence that will be discussed below) suggest otherwise? And how seriously should she have taken the accusation that Israel used excessive force when the troops used only tear gas and a similarly non-lethal skunk spray to disperse demonstrators who were caught on tape forcing their way to the fence by breaking through a gate in a closed military area?
Below is the footage of Ninan’s appearance on Fox’s daily news show Happening Now. Note the clips of stone throwing eight seconds into the broadcast, the reference to “peace activists” one minute in, the allegation of “extreme force” against protesters armed not even with stones at 1:55, and the repeat footage of stone throwing at 2:25.
This segment was one of about six involving Ninan that aired Friday, July 10. That the correspondent was featured in several Fox News programs that day is understandable. Her news crew, which was filming the weekly demonstrations by anti-fence activists in the West Bank town of Bilin, got caught in a cloud of tear gas used by Israeli troops, and the camera was still rolling as Ninan and the demonstrators ran off gasping and coughing. The drama of the footage evidently prompted Fox to broadcast it multiple times, along with interviews during which Ninan recounted her experience.
To her credit, Ninan acknowledged that Israel sees the fence as a vital security measure, and that the fence has been preventing suicide bombings. But she also used her appearances to repeatedly describe the anti-fence demonstrators as “peaceful protesters” or even “peace activists,” and to relay (and seemingly endorse) the Palestinian talking point that Israel’s non-lethal measures constitute “excessive force” against non-violent demonstrators.
Ninan told the host of America’s Newsroom earlier that morning, “The protesters … said they didn’t come with stones, they didn’t come with weapons, and they felt that it was a bit of excessive use of force by the Israeli army.” The footage of stone-throwers, which was broadcast subsequently on Happening Now, was not aired.
Later, on Studio B, another daily Fox program that broadcast the footage of Ninan running from the tear gas but not the clips of Palestinians throwing rocks, Ninan acknowledged that the demonstrations were a weekly event, before repeating the excessive force charge:
these protests near the barrier have been going on for year now. Every Friday they gather, and the Israeli military confirms to us they’ve started using harsher tactics to disperse the peaceful protesters …
… the protesters say they didn’t have weapons. We saw for ourselves, and they didn’t even have stones, so they’d like the military to tamp it down a bit.
Nor was the stone throwing broadcast on that evenings episode of the daily program The Fox Report, during which Ninan took the opportunity to yet again tell viewers that
The protesters, who are Israeli and Palestinian peace activists, say they didn’t come with any weapons or even throw stones. They claim excessive force was used by the Israeli army.
|Studio B, July 10, 2009||The Fox Report, July 10, 2009|
When asked about the discrepancy between the footage of stone-throwing and Ninan’s description of peaceful protesters who claim not to have been throwing stones, a senior Fox News editor answered, remarkably, that the Ninan’s assertions were accurate because the footage was not actually filmed that day in Bilin. When pressed further, the editor explained that the source of the footage was unknown.
Reuters photographer Fadi Arouri, who was taking pictures at the Bilin rally that Friday, captured the following image:
It’s caption reads: “A Palestinian protester uses a sling to hurl stones toward Israeli soldiers (not pictured) during a protest against the controversial Israeli barrier in the West Bank village of Bilin near Ramallah July 10, 2009.”
When CAMERA shared this image with Fox News, the editor insisted that if stones were thrown, it happened only after the Fox crew left the scene.
Moreover, members of the extremist International Solidarity Movement, whose volunteers are certainly not “peace activists,” often participate in the Bilin demonstrations.
A March 21, 2009 story in the New York Times properly termed the group the “pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement” and noted its members regularly join with “Israeli far-leftists and anarchists” in West Bank protests.
Notably, the ISM itself has openly admitted to being part of the rallies (and to the participation of “stone-throwing youth” from Bilin).
It is worth reiterating, then: ISM members are not peace activists. The group, though it claims not to participate directly in violence, notes in its mission statement that it “recognize[s] the Palestinian right to resist Israeli violence and occupation via legitimate armed struggle.” A cofounder of the extremist group, Huwaida Arraf, even more explicitly spoke in favor of “noble” suicide bombings and other anti-Israeli violence, saying:
Nonviolent resistance is no less noble than carrying out a suicide operation. … The Palestinian resistance must take on a variety of characteristics — both nonviolent and violent. But most importantly it must develop a strategy involving both aspects. No other successful nonviolent movement was able to achieve what it did without a concurrent violent movement …