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Catching Up With Reality

By Emily Gian 

When I opened up my edition of yesterday’s Age to find Ruth Pollard’s article “Incitement and despair combine to leave Israelis and Palestinians living in fear”, it felt as though I had just entered an alternate reality. Instead of reading the usual one-sided piece about the conflict between Israel and its neighbours that is regularly served up by Fairfax, this one was somewhat different.

It was fitting then, that it occurred at this time, around the 21st of October 2015, the date that Back to the Future (Part 2) finally caught up with reality. No, I had not taken a ride in Doc’s DeLorean time machine, where one action (such as Biff taking the Sports Almanac back to the 50s) changed the course of history, but this is what did happen: 

Ruth Pollard filed a story for Fairfax and it contained some facts that she routinely ignores:

1. That Sheikh Muhammad Sallah called on Palestinians to “attack in threes and fours” and “cut them into body parts” while brandishing a large knife. He was talking about Jews. Pollard noted, “As an incitement to violence goes, it doesn’t get more damning”.

Good morning, Ms Pollard.

2. That social media is being used as a tool by the Palestinians to incite more violence. She quoted Eytan Gilboa, the director of the Centre for International Communication at Bar-Ilan University that “what we see in social media is also the glorification of those who complete the violence.

3. That PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who is usually depicted by Pollard as a Palestinian Bambi, lied when he said that Israel executed a young, innocent Palestinian boy. Not only did Pollard quote Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who said, “first of all, he’s not dead – he’s alive… Second, he’s not innocent – he tried to kill, murder, knife to death an innocent Israeli youngster, 13 years old, riding a bicycle”, but the Age even published a picture of the boy alive in an Israeli hospital. I never thought I would see anything like this again on the pages of Fairfax.

4. That statements like Abbas’ recent, infamous words of clear incitement and racism on the Temple Mount issue, that “[the Jews] have no right to desecrate it with their filthy feet” actually rated a mention.

I had to check again. Yes, it was definitely Ruth Pollard’s name in the by-line. October 20, 2015. Everything outside still looked the same.

This marked a seismic departure from Pollard’s usual reporting and in particular, her attempt to cover the recent spate of shootings and stabbings in last week’s piece which described the violence as mainly “lone wolf” attacks without the context of the incitement and focused on Israel’s response to the attacks, almost as if it was more shocking than the killings themselves.  

There was, of course, the usual obligatory reference to the despair, to the settlements and to the frustration of the Palestinians with ‘Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian territories’ but we now know these attacks stem mainly from the misrepresentation by their political leaders of the status of al Aqsa and the Temple Mount, a religious issue -one that was highlighted some time ago when it was revealed that Palestinian fanatics were storing rocks and weapons in one of their most holy places in readiness for the fray. The inflammatory words make it clear that the basis for the violence is rage about the very existence of Jews rather than about settlements and occupation.

Even if the issue really was about settlement building and occupation, then Pollard has continued her tradition of selective omission of facts. The only way in which a political solution can be achieved is through diplomacy and while Netanyahu has consistently urged a return to negotiations, Abbas has consistently refused to do so. He told this to the world at the United Nations in September when he repudiated the Oslo Accords which were established to give back land for peace and security i.e. put an end to occupation. 

We can at least be thankful that Fairfax is, for now, finally accepting that these so called “lone wolf” attacks are being inspired from things that emanate from the highest levels of Palestinian politics, their state-run television and the mosques, and that the violence does not happen in a vacuum. 

Elsewhere however, the reporting on the conflict continues to be afflicted by jaundiced reporting and in some cases a lack of understanding of the facts.  

Over the weekend, Fairfax managed to slip in an incredibly anti-Israel piece in its travel magazine which was such a blatantly propaganda piece that its author and the editors should not have troubled themselves branding it as a travelogue. 

Even the Australian, which is generally more balanced, published an AFP piece two days ago which alluded to the “death tally scoreboard”, a disingenuous device often used by journalists when discussing the conflict to conflate the casualty figures in a way that equates those who initiate and perpetrate violent acts with those who are attacked in the first place. It said, “41 Palestinians have been killed since the violence erupted on October 1, while seven Israelis have died”. Besides the usual implication that happens when journalists try to compare the numbers of deaths as if that is a barometer to measure who is “right”, the subtle language is infuriating. 41 Palestinians have been “killed”, and 7 Israelis have “died”. From what exactly did they “die”? Falling on an innocent knife or getting in the way of stray bullets?  

So what is the media’s problem? 

One terrible example of shoddy journalism we have seen in the past week came from a NBC report from East Jerusalem by reporter Ayman Mohyeldin about a terrorist who attempted to stab a border policeman and was shot dead. Mohyeldin went on to state, a number of times, that from what he can see the man was unarmed. When he was questioned by anchorman Jose Diaz-Balart from back in the studio, who could clearly see the man was holding a knife and even produced a picture of it, he finally had to admit that the terrorist was armed, but not before tripping over his words and trying to clarify that what he was trying to say was that he was not armed any more. Hello! 

The problem here is two-fold. Firstly, that our “eye-witness” reporters on the ground are unreliable witnesses. By trying to paint the terrorist as an innocent, Ayman Mohyeldin ended up making himself the news story. Secondly, they are allowed by their superiors to get away with it, apparently without any sanction or reprimand. Once upon a time, it would have meant their job.

Brendan O’Neill put it well when he said, “when the Guardian glorifies these killings as a ‘knife intifada’ and radical writers describe them as a natural kickback against Palestinians’ ‘ongoing humiliation’, they’re really saying Israeli citizens deserve to be murdered”. 

So maybe we are living in an alternate reality after all, where the villains are the victims and the victims are actually the villains. 

If only we could go back to the past where journalism was a profession and good journalists told the whole truth and nothing but the truth.