“Peaceful” Stone-Throwers in Bil’in Use Fox News to Accuse Israel of Excessive Force

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.

Below is the relevant footage from Studio B and The Fox Report.
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.

If it is true that the footage was from some other day or place, its inclusion in the video montage raises a separate but nonetheless serious issue that Fox News must address.
What is clear, though, is that Ninan’s description of peaceful protesters who claim not to throw stones is extremely misleading. This is because there were indeed stones thrown at the Bilin demonstration that day; stone throwing at the weekly demonstrations is routine; and demonstrators often include people who are clearly not peace activists, but rather extremist anti-Israel activists.

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.

Even if that were the case, the crew surely should have known, and viewers surely should have been told, that the protests often involve rocks being flung toward Israeli troops. Below are just a small sample of the many wire service photos of violent protesters in Bilin:
Reuters, Bilin, June 26, 2009
AP, Bilin, June 29, 2009
Reuters, Bilin, June 5, 2009
Reuters, Bilin, May 1, 2009
AFP, Bilin, Aug. 18, 2008
AFP, Bilin, March 7, 2008
AFP, Bilin, Dec. 21, 2007
The stone throwing, in other words, is nothing new. On the same Friday that Ninan took to the airwaves to describe her encounter, the Associated Press ran a story acknowledging that “Israel has classified the protest areas as closed military zones and troops have clashed frequently and increasingly violently with protesters, some of whom hurl rocks at the soldiers” (7/10/09, “Israel uses putrid spray, undercover troops”).
The stone throwing in Bilin is nothing new. This CNN report from July 2007 shows footage of stone throwing, and reveals the involvement of Jonathan Pollack, an Israeli anarchist who has raised funds for the radical ISM movement, in the protests.

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.

As far back as May 15, 2005, Agence France Presse wire service noted that the ISM “often joins local protestors demonstrating against the barrier” (“Four Israelis arrested over bid to block work on West Bank barrier”). The New York Times also noted that ISM members based themselves in Bilin, going so far as to rent homes there. (10/8/05, “At Israeli Barrier, More Sound Than Fury”).
On February 14, 2008, after a Japanese protester was injured, Tokyo’s Kyodo News Service explained that “the protest was organized by International Solidarity Movement, a Palestinian-led NGO, in Bilin…” (“Two Japanese injured by Israeli troops in West Bank demo,” —- qtd. by BBC Monitoring Worldwide).

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 …

(For more on the ISM, see here.)
Fox News owes its readers a “fair and balanced” account of the Bilin protests — one that not only refrains from mislabeling the protesters as “peace activists” and acknowledges Palestinian stonethrowing, but also gives more insight into the Israeli perspective about the demonstrations, which places importance on protecting the security barrier from vandalism and protecting troops from harm during protests by activists who seek to promote precisely the distorted media depictions Reena Ninan obligingly provided.

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