July 20, 2004
Reuters and Associated Press covered the slaying of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah terrorists on July 20, 2004 in reports that could have come straight from Al Manar, Hezbollah’s main propaganda engine.
According to Israeli newspapers, two IDF communications technicians, Itai Iluz and Avishai Korisky, were fired on by a Hezbollah sharpshooter the morning of July 20 while they were repairing an antenna on the roof of an outpost in Western Galilee. The attack on the outpost, located 200 meters from a Hezbollah position across the Lebanese border, came while the Israeli army was on high alert following the killing of a Hezbollah official in a Beirut car bombing for which Hezbollah blamed Israel. Israel denied inolvement. The two wounded soldiers were extricated from the area under cover of rifle and tank fire, supported by IAF helicopter gunships, but died of their injuries. The army responded by shooting toward the direction of the sniper fire, killing one Hezbollah gunman and destroying the position, and an Israeli helicopter struck a Hezbollah position, wounding three gunmen. Hezbollah fired anti-aircraft shells, hitting and setting a fire in a northern Galilee moshav. The Israeli army spokesman called the Hezbollah attack “a continuation of the chain of provocations by the terrorist organization that is operating from within the state of Lebanon.”
But in an article entitled, “Three Die as Hizbollah and Israelis Clash,” Reuters Lebanon-based correspondent Hussein Saad called the Hezbollah-initiated sniper attack part of a “border clash” while focusing primarily on Israeli retaliatory actions. According to Saad, the terrorist snipers were merely “guerillas” who “lost one of their own fighters in border clashes, a day after the group accused Israel of killing a top Hezbollah member.”
Reversing the order of events, the Reuters reporter first devoted several paragraphs to Israel’s response as if it were the primary event, then presented the slaying of the soldiers as an Israeli claim in one sentence in the fourth paragraph. He wrote:
The Israeli army said two of its soldiers were killed by Hizbollah fire while repairing equipment on the roof of their post near the southern border.
It is only in the second half of the story that readers are told:
There were conflicting accounts of Tuesday’s clash in the south. Iranian and Syrian-backed Hizbollah said it began when Israeli forces shelled its positions by the town of Eita al-Shaab. Israel said Hizbollah had started the fighting and that the Israeli army would continue to operate against any party “involved in terrorism against Israeli citizens”.
Then back to Al Manar mode with Hezbollah PR, as the journalist informs his readers:
Hizbollah played a key role in forcing Israel to end its 22-year occupation of southern Lebanon in May 2000.
An earlier article by the same reporter recorded the shooting of the Israeli soldiers as an afterthought, while focusing on Israel’s response. Under a title calling the terrorists “Lebanese guerillas,” Saad wrote:
Israeli forces killed a Hizbollah fighter in a clash on the Lebanese border on Tuesday, a day after a Hizbollah official was killed in a Beirut bombing the group blamed on Israel. Two Israeli soldiers were also killed in the fighting, Hizbollah’s al-Manar television reported. The Israeli army declined comment, citing censorship rules.
The AP coverage of the same events was even worse. Readers were never even informed that the two dead Israelis were killed by Hezbollah snipers, let alone that the Hezbollah attack prompted the Israeli response.
Published separately under two different bylines (Bassem Mroue and Joseph Panossian), it was not clear who actually wrote the July 20, 2004 article,”Three Killed as Hezbollah, Israelis Clash”. What is clear, however, is that this lopsided piece of journalism obscured the facts throughout.
There were only two mentions of Israeli casualties in the entire article, the first in the introductory sentence which suggested Israeli soldiers initiated the hostilities:
Israeli soldiers clashed with Lebanese Hezbollah guerillas along the border Tuesday, leaving two soldiers and one guerilla dead and prompting an Israeli general to threaten Hezbollah and its sponsors –Syria and Iran.
The second mention came in an ambiguous sentence that also focused on Israel’s response. According to AP, the soldiers were not killed, but simply “died” and even this was presented as a claim by Israel. The reporter wrote:.
The Israeli army said two soldiers died Tuesday and helicopter gunships attacked Hezbollah positions.
By contrast, the article not only specified that the Hezbollah casualty was a victim of the Israeli army, but devoted no less than eight paragraphs to charges against Israel. Repeated over and over again were the same charges by various Lebanese representatives, including the foreign ministry, security officials, Hezbollah’s media chief, and from a Hezbollah statement, making it appear that Israel had launched numerous attacks against Hezbollah instead of responding in the way it did.
Hezbollah confirmed one guerrilla was killed. Witnesses in southern Lebanon said two Israeli helicopters fired two rockets at guerillas near the border village of Aita Shaab, about nine miles southeast of coastal Tyre. Later, an Israeli helicopter staged a raid in the same area, security officials said.
The Lebanese securtiy officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said an Israeli tank fired on a Hezbollah position near Aita Shaab, killing one guerrilla.
Hezbollah returned fire across the border. Israeli helicopter gunships later fired back, the officials said.
A Hezbollah statement said the guerrilla was killed by Israeli tank shell [sic] targeting a Hezbollah observation post near Aita Shaab late Tuesday morning.
Israeli helicopters then atacked another observation post at nearby Ramia, but there were no casualties or damage, Hezbollah said.
The militant Shiite Muslim group vowed it would “choose the time and place for a deterrent response to make the enemy understand that aggression against the security and blood of our people would be very costly.”
“The Zionist enemy is fully responsible for what happened and what is happening in Lebanon,” Sheik Hassan Ezzeddine, Hezbollah’s media chief, told The Associated Press.
It (Israel) is the side that moved the battle out of its natural frame in Chebaa Farms.”
The article briefly paraphrased the Israeli position once more, casting doubt on it with the use of scare quotes:
In Israel, Maj. Jacob Dallal of the military spokesman’s office said Hezbollah shot first at an Israeli border post and military action responded to the “provocation.”
Again, there was no mention that Hezbollah not only “shot first,” but also fatally struck Israeli soldiers..
AP and Reuters editors should inform their reporters that echoing a terrorist group’s propaganda arm is not ocnsistent with the policies of these global agencies, which pledge to be impartial and accurate.
“Three Die as Hizbollah and Israelis Clash” by Hussein Saad, July 20, 2004
“Israeli Forces, Lebanese Guerillas Exchange Fire,” by Hussein Saad, July 20, 2004
“Three Killed as Hezbollah, Israelis Clash” by Joseph Panossian or Bassam Mroue