Last week, 14 out of 15 member states of the United Nations Security Council condemned the United States for its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. This was no surprise, as the UN’s cultural agency UNESCO has said Israel has no legal or historical rights anywhere in Jerusalem.
In response to US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas jointly called for rage and violence.
So the international photojournalist community, which is opposed to Israel’s being in charge of the city, needed to provide their news organizations with pictures crafted to create the impression that Israel was taking Jerusalem by force, brutalizing its non-Jewish residents.
As former Associated Press reporter Matti Friedman wrote in The Atlantic after the last war in Gaza: “The Western press has become less an observer of this conflict than an actor in it.”
How is it, you might wonder, that photojournalists are always at the right place at the right time – at “peaceful” Palestinian events that turn into premeditated confrontations – in order to create pictures of aggressive Israeli police officers appearing to attack innocent victims? Since the Jerusalem announcement, far too many photos have been captured showing lines of photojournalists who just happen to be present to photograph the responses of Israeli security forces to “peaceful” protests.
Palestinians and their international supporters have been known to provide news organizations with schedules of where protests and staged confrontations will occur.
Sympathetic journalists play along, taking pictures of “innocent” Palestinians protesting, but not showing them as they deliberately force a violent Israeli response.
The photographs are often of the elderly, meek, or very young, showing expressions of fear and horror in response to the “unprovoked” use of force by Israeli security forces.
Last week, the official Palestinian Maan News Agency published a series of editorialized pictures, available to international news organizations, of Palestinians looking the part of victims.
Among the more sensational pictures was one of a terrified, elderly woman cowering in fear of an Israeli police officer on horseback.
In another, an elderly, injured Palestinian man was being carried away from a protest, in a photograph that also captured two other photojournalists who just happened to be at that spot to record the event.
Maan’s photographs were accompanied by an account in which “witnesses said police stormed into the crowd of local activists, students and ordinary citizens who were marching peacefully on the main city street.... Police tossed stun grenades into the crowd as police on horseback reportedly ran over people, including journalists covering the event.”
Sympathetic European editors are delighted when they receive such pictures, as they represent their narrative of the Israeli “occupier” tormenting the “helpless” Palestinian.
Last week, a Palestinian plunged a knife into an Israeli security guard at the Jerusalem Central Bus Station.
The security video caught it all. The still frames of the attack are just the type of sensational material that today’s media generally love to print. But do you remember seeing a photo or the video on BBC, CNN, or on the front page of the New York Times? This is another form of editorialized photojournalism – editorializing by omission. Not publishing a photograph that contradicts a news organization’s party line is a more subtle, but equally biased form of slanted reporting, such as suppressing a news story or burying it deep in a newspaper.
Another infamous case of editorialization by omission was the AP’s refusal to publish a photograph of an Islamic Jihad rally at the flagship Al-Quds University, claiming it was not newsworthy. The event was organized by a “moderate” Palestinian professor and included en masse Nazi salutes, which made for a riveting image, but not one that fit AP’s narrative.
It is not that editorialized photojournalism is new. It began during the First Intifada, continued into the Second Intifada, then through all three Gaza wars, and continues right up until today in Jerusalem.
What is new, is that we now seem to have become dulled by the longevity of the practice, failing to notice or respond as we once did to its insidious effects.
So, going forward, become reengaged in scrutinizing the news.
Be an educated consumer of the news, especially photojournalism, and ask yourself if you can really believe your own eyes.
The writer is director of MEPIN™, the Middle East Political and Information Network™. Dr. Mandel regularly briefs members of Congress and think tanks on the Middle East. He is a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post.