Oct 06 2000

Image and reality

Published by at 12:00 am under Articles,Media Activism,Palestinian politics

The violence in and around Al Aqsa mosque last Thursday and Friday reminded me of the incident 10 years ago (on Oct. 8) when Israeli soldiers killed 17 Palestinians on the compound of Al Haram al Sharif. I remember that incident 10 years ago because it took place one day after the birth of my second daughter Tania. It was also one of the few times that Israeli attempts to manipulate the media were clearly exposed. 

At the time I was asked to help the producers of a CBS “60 Minutes” team to investigate what actually happened. I would like to use this column to relate some of the findings that the team came up with and which were later broadcast by Mike Wallace much to the anger of Israel and pro-Israeli American Jews.

The producers of “60 Minutes” began their investigation by looking at the news tapes covering that incident including those of CBS News. In the news footage viewers were told that the stones were raining down on Jewish worshippers at Judaism’s holiest site which forced the Israeli army to respond. The pictures that were shown were of stones coming down as the camera pans down the Wailing Wall. The next scene viewers see is of Jewish worshippers fleeing.

To add to these pictures, most television stations ran sound clips from a press conference with Benyamin Netanyahu (who was then a senior official in the government of Yitzhak Shamir) showing to the cameras huge rocks which he claimed were falling down on the worshippers causing scores of injuries. The rabbi of the Wailing Wall was quoted in news clippings as saying that he heard on the speakers of Al Aqsa mosque Islamic clerics urging Palestinian demonstrators to idbah al yahoud — kill the Jews.

The rabbi knew this because he is of Tunisian origin and thus knows Arabic. An open and shut case justifying the carnage against Palestinians!! The “60 Minutes” crew began by looking at the original tapes which they had received from Israel Television. The American producers were shocked in what they discovered. A clever and highly unethical editor had presented the viewers with a twisted version of what happened. In the original tapes the camera pans down at a totally empty pavilion of the Wailing Wall. The editor had made the edit cut just before viewers can see the empty pavilion, and the next images were of Jews running (possibly filmed long before) thus giving the wrong image that the stones were literally falling on the worshippers.

Furthermore, the CBS investigators, using a number of local staff, combed through every Israeli hospital and were unable to locate a single injured person from among those who were at the wall that day.

Mike Wallace then walked with the camera to the Al Aqsa mosque compound to see for himself the source of the stones. He interviewed a young Palestinian, Jamal Nusseibeh, who explained to him that the stones that Palestinians could physically through over the nearly 20-metre wall could not be more than pebbles and nothing like the big rocks that Netanyahu was parading in front of the world press.

The statement of the rabbi that Muslim clerics were calling on the demonstrators to kill the Jews was also found by “60 Minutes” to be totally untrue.

A tourist who at the time was at the Mount of Olives had captured on an amateur video the entire events that took place that tragic day. The audio track of that tape when translated showed the opposite of the Arabic speaking rabbi’s claims. They were attempting to calm down the demonstrators asking them to stop throwing stones pleading with them that their lives are more important than throwing stones.

Even when all the facts became clear to the “60 minutes team”, Israeli propagandist continued to refuse to accept responsibility for the senseless killings. One of the funniest interviews in the CBS “60 Minutes” programme was the exchange between Mike Wallace and the rabbi of the Wailing Wall.

Wallace: What happened?

Rabbi: Palestinians were throwing stones at innocent Jewish worshippers.

Wallace: And how many people were in the pavilion of the Wailing Wall?

Rabbi: Thousands upon thousands of Jewish worshipers.

Wallace: And how many Jews were injured as a result of the stones falling on them?

Rabbi: None.

Wallace: How do you explain that, rabbi?

Rabbi: It was a miracle.

When CBS ran this “60 Minutes” report, a few months after the incident, they were bombarded by criticism including by those who called Wallace a self-hating Jew. At least one, the head of the American Jewish Committee later apologised after an Israeli inquest proved the basic contentions of the “60 Minutes” report.

Do we need to wait for another Mike Wallace or even an international investigation before the truth of who is responsible for last week’s carnage? Or will an Israeli government for once have the moral courage to admit its grievous fault, ask forgiveness, and prove its real intentions for peace by accepting the internationally accepted basis for the resolution of the conflict? I am certain Israel will find a peaceful partner despite the anger and the hurt.

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