These days when you consider the information you take in when looking at a newspaper article or an item on a website, everything often boils down to the headline which attracts the attention. If the topic or issue is one that takes your interest, you might well read on and otherwise, you might simply discard the piece but in any event, a few words or a sentence from the headline is what leaves you with a lasting impression.
Over the past few weeks I have been visiting family in Israel. From the moment I landed until quite literally the moment I arrived home, the situation in the country was extremely tense. As an advocate for Israel it was problematic whilst there for me to take in the events that were taking place and even more so when viewing the way in which they were reported in the international media.
But as bad as things were during the northern summer with the war in Gaza and some of the nasty events on the streets around the globe were Jews were subjected to physical attacks on themselves and their property there was a turning point on 22 October.
On that day, a Palestinian man drove his car deliberately and intentionally into a group of Israeli civilians who were waiting for the Light Rail in Jerusalem. A three-month old baby girl, named Chaya Zissel Braun was killed. It was her first trip to the Kotel with her family. A day later, a 22-year old Ecuadorian woman named Karen Mosquera also died of her wounds from the same attack. The driver was subsequently caught by Jerusalem police and was shot.
To the everlasting shame of New York based Associated Press news agency which was established in 1846 and today prides itself on being “the definitive source for reliable news across the globe”, the story was reported with a headline – “Palestinian shot by Israeli police”.
If you had no interest in the actual story and delved no further than the headline, then the story was about Israeli police killing a Palestinian man. Full stop.
The story was not about the deliberate and wanton murder of a three-month old baby who was too young in life to have done anything in her life to cause someone to ram his car into her and extinguish her life.
The offending headline was later changed but even as I write over one month later, the URL (which is the link to the page) to the story remains the same.
Unfortunately, events in the Middle East continue to be distorted in this slipshod and dishonest fashion. We have seen many stories coming from journalists who have an agenda beyond simply reporting the events, but now we also get them from the fractured perspective of nameless and faceless sub-editors who take it upon themselves to decide the main point of the story for the headline even if it means shaping the story to fit their own twisted views.
Over the next few weeks, the terror in Israel continued. And what I found interesting was how disinterested the media was in the story of these victims of terror. In particular of Dalia Lemkus, whose life was seemingly less important because she lives in the West Bank as if her murder was justified based on her postcode, like the three boys that were kidnapped and murdered in almost the exact spot back in June.
Did the media care that eight years ago, at age 17, Dalia was lightly wounded when she was stabbed by a terrorist while waiting at a bus stop in Gush Etzion? Did they care that this time she did not survive?
Were they interested in Almog Shiloni, the 20-year-old Israeli soldier who was killed when a Palestinian terrorist stabbed him at a train station in Tel Aviv? Would the media ever report that Almog had a twin brother, who said “they say that twins can sense each other. For the last four days, I’ve been dreaming about death”.
Would we have read about Druze Border Police Officer Jidan Assad, who was killed on 5 November when a Palestinian terrorist rammed his car into crowds near the Jerusalem light rail? Jidan left behind his pregnant wife and a three-year-old son, but the AP would not incorporate this fact as their headline.
As we were travelling in the air on our way back to Australia, one of the most horrific terror attacks occurred in Israel when terrorists entered a synagogue branding picks, axes and guns and killed four men while they were in the middle of their morning prayer.
Having not been connected when the incident happened, I first heard about it in the Hong Kong airport. I could not see what had gone on all that I knew was what I could read on the television monitor – “Israel govt. radio: Police shot, killed 2 Palestinians”. The horror behind the headline only became apparent when I delved further for the truth but if this is the best that CNN can come up with after such a brutal pogrom was visited on this peaceful congregation, then it has a serious problem.
A formal complaint by Yossi Dagan, head of media relations for the Samaria Regional Council filed a formal complaint with the Government Press Office against the CNN reporter Ben Wederman who was responsible for the headline. He said, “there is no reality elsewhere in the world where journalists can report a terror attack in this style. This rule should also apply to foreign reporters in Israel. There is good and there is bad, there are killers and there are victims… The media arena in recent years has become an equally important battlefield for Israel, and it must use all the tools at its disposal to demand certain baselines in its media coverage… coverage like this legitimises the next murder; whoever loses in this loses the next war as well.”
To highlight the way in which the media can skew an event, a picture was posted on Jerusalem Post of the twin towers erupting in fire on 9/11 with the headline “8 Saudi men die in plane accidents”. If that seems ridiculous to you, which is should, then the subsequent coverage of the Har Nof incident should as well, where we were treated to headlines such as,
“Jerusalem police fatally shoot 2 after apparent synagogue attack”
“Jerusalem synagogue attack kills four Israelis”. (So it was the synagogue that killed the Israelis?)
“4 Israelis, 2 Palestinians dead in Jerusalem”
CNN did apologise for their gaffe (or number of gaffes) by stating, “As CNN updated its reporting on the terrorist attack on the synagogue in Jerusalem earlier today, our coverage did not immediately reflect the fact that the two Palestinians killed were the attackers. We erred and regret the mistake.”
The damage however, was already done. Even from my own perspective at the airport, for every individual who saw the initial headline and had already made their judgement on the situation, how many of them then had the opportunity to see the apology?
Even our own publications in Australia are not immune from this issue of headlines not reflecting a story. In last week’s Weekend Australian, Middle East Correspondent John Lyon’s who writes excessively on the settlements, had an article entitled “Settlers fuel cycle of bloodshed: fear is taking hold in Palestinian and Israeli homes”.
Lyon’s agenda, that the settlements are the root cause of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is on display here and the article states that the cause of the current violence is settlers and settlements. So what Lyons’ and the sub-editors at The Australian writing the headlines are trying to tell us is that barbarians walked into a synagogue in Israel proper wielding picks and axes because of what is happening in the West Bank. What an insult to Israelis, Palestinians and the Australian readership in general.
Lyons ignores the months of incitement from the highest levels of Palestinian leadership, as well as the events of the last month which has seen a spike in murderous attacks encouraged by both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. He ignores the education system within the Palestinian territories which fosters a culture that demonises Jews and delegitimises Israel on a consistent basis.
And most importantly, he completely ignored the widespread celebrations on the Palestinian streets after the attacks took place. Could there be anything worse to perpetuate the so-called “cycle of violence” than people handing out celebratory sweets in the street?
Where is the human face of the five victims of terror? Where is the story of the five widows or 25 children who longer have fathers? Where is the story of four men who just wanted to go about their daily life, or the Druze policeman, who was just trying to do his job? All of this is lost in Lyons’ obsessive need to blame the entire situation on the settlements. And how dare he draw equivalence between the deaths of five Israelis and demonstrations by angry citizens against the murders?
While I was in Israel twelve names of twelve individuals from all different walks of life were added to the sad and long list of Israeli victims of terror. They were Chaya Zissel Braun, Karen Jemima Mosquera, Netanel Roi Arami, Jidan Assad, Shalom Aharon Baadani, Almog Shilony, Dalia Lemkus, Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Goldberg, Rabbi Aryeh Kupinsky, Rabbi Kalman Ze’ev Levine, Rabbi Moshe Twersky, Zidan Nahad Seif. They may not make the headlines of CNN. Their life story may not make it on the feature pages of the Weekend Australian. But I hope their memories will be a blessing to all those who knew and loved them.
Media & Advocacy Director
Zionist Federation of Australia