16 April '12..
Ten years have now passed, from the time of the "Jenin Massacre" lie, untruth, libel, and media invention. An event that while not having even having the most minimal basis in truth, was watered, nurtured, grown, and after being disseminated, found to be without any merit, other than the febrile imaginations of its creators amongst the news media. Within a guest post today by AKUS, at CiF Watch, a fascinating piece can be found from that year, by Ha'aretz editor-in-chief, Hanoch Marmari:
Following is the text of a lecture delivered by the Ha'aretz editor-in-chief on May 27 as part of the 9th World Editors' Forum in Bruges, Belgium.
First, the good news: Abu Ali's nine children are alive and well - as well as children can be among the ruins of the Jenin refugee camp. Please deliver this news to all of your friends who may have read, a few weeks ago, Abu Ali's mournful declaration: "All my nine children are buried beneath the ruins." Abu Ali's photograph was spread across a double page in a very distinguished and influential European magazine, under the title: "The survivors tell their story."
Israeli tanks and bulldozers had entered the camp, Abu Ali recalled. He went out to fill his car, telling his nine children to meet him at a nearby intersection. But the Israeli forces blocked his way back, and it was a week, he told the reporter, before he could return to the ruins of what had been his home. "It smells of death here," he is quoted as saying. "I am sure all my children are buried beneath the rubble. Come back in a week and you will see their corpses."
The reporter and his editors did not wait a week and published the tentative story as is. They were not satisfied with the extent of the tragedy that they could see with their eyes and legitimately depict in their copy. The desire to hype the story blunted their healthy journalistic instincts to doubt and double-check any story before publishing it.
While preparing this address, I made some inquiries about Abu Ali's case. First, final numbers indicate that three children and four women were killed during the fighting in the Jenin refugee camp. Second, Abu Ali's children were not among them. And third, the magazine did not bother to tell its readers of this relatively happy end to its story. Perhaps because they are tired of writing editor's notes on Middle East stories.
The past 20 months of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have created a real crisis of values for journalism. I believe I can compress the enormous volume of coverage and comment into four fundamental sins: obsessiveness, prejudice, condescension and ignorance. The story of Abu Ali conveniently exemplifies all four.
It is impossible to cover an ancient dispute in post-modern idiom, using 21st century technology - without recognizing the inherent dissonance. But such recognition is not always there. That is perhaps why the intensive media coverage of the conflict is often so self-absorbed and so harmful to the region. Sometimes it is a disgrace to our profession. I wonder whether the disseminators of the Abu Ali story were conscious of the impact they may have had on readers, from the back streets of Jakarta to the universities of Boston, from the Muslim neighborhoods in Marseille to the Jewish community in Toronto. Were they conscious, one wonders, of the effect of their story on the parties themselves?
One day, historians examining this period of crisis will have to consider the circular process by which the media were transformed from observers to participants. From covering the story to playing a major part in it, to stimulating and sometimes agitating the environment for their own media purposes. The media in this cruel Israeli-Palestinian conflict are like a very rich junkie, who parks his Mercedes on the high street of a slum. You can be sure that in no time at all, everyone will be out there, pushing a whole variety of merchandise.
Was this the first time a lie, a libel, of such proportion, would be so enthusiastically, so uncritically promoted, when it comes to Israel? Would it be the last? Not likely on the first count, and Goldstone surely has answered the second. Let the reader beware!
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