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Tuesday, November 10 2009

MSM and the Palestinian Rumor Mill


A journalist describes Palestinian intimidation of the press during the recent eastern Jerusalem disturbances over the Temple Mount.

The intimidation intertwined with rumors that Israeli security operatives were posing as journalists -- endangering Israeli, Western and Palestinian journos too. The source of the rumors comes from a Palestinian whose responsibility is to look after the interests of photojournalists. (I'll come back to that point).

At The Augean Stables, the anonymous Israeli reporter describes the scene in eastern Jerusalem during the street clashes:

“You’re an undercover cop!” he screamed in Arabic, a rock in his right hand as he grabbed onto me with his left.

“No, I’m a journalist!” I answered back, caught off guard at by the sudden jolt.

“No you’re not- you’re an undercover cop!” he screamed back. “Prove to me that you’re not an undercover cop!”

I reached into my pocket and pulled out my government-issued press card, thinking at the same moment that he would see the name of my publication, realize that it was an Israeli one, and my troubles would only grow.

But as he was scanning the card, another journalist, an Arab photographer, approached the both of us, and told the young man in Arabic that I was in fact a journalist.

“Enough, let him go,” he told him. And the young man did as he said . . . .

A few days later, tensions in and around the Old City were up again, and riots broke out - this time on the Temple Mount itself. I was there, covering additional unrest that broke out in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, and I ran into the same Arab journalist who had assisted me during the Succot riots in Ras al-Amud.

“Thanks man,” I told him in Hebrew. “You really saved my ass that day - it was a close call.”

“You have no idea,” he responded. “I have family in Ras al-Amud, and I had to go back there that night and spend hours convincing them that I wasn’t working for the Israelis. They thought because I vouched for you, I was in on it too.”

Rumor The unidentified Palestinian hero blames Al-Jazeera, which the Israeli journalist couldn't confirm.

But a key player in spreading the rumor is Awad Awad. He's the chairman of the Palestinian Photojournalists Committee. Last month, he shared his allegations with Benjamin Joffe-Walt of The Media Line; the full report was republished in the Jerusalem Post:

Palestinian photographers are claiming that undercover Israeli security officers have been posing as photojournalists covering the recent Muslim demonstrations in Jerusalem.

Awad Awad, chairman of the Palestinian Photojournalists Committee, said a group of local residents had confirmed the presence of an Israeli police unit known to imitate Arab civilian dress, as well as Israeli security personnel posing as photojournalists and then arresting protesters.

"People in east Jerusalem claimed they saw this on Thursday, but at first I just thought they were talking," Awad told The Media Line. "But then on Friday lots of people saw three policemen dressed as still-photographers suddenly detain one of the protesters. Lots of Palestinian photographers started calling me and one resident caught it on his cellphone camera, but he says he doesn't want to get in trouble and he hasn't given me the pictures."

But Awad's story doesn't square with other journalists who were there. Joffe-Walt goes on to write:

There was disagreement among photographers at the scene of last week's clashes as to whether the incident took place, and the Foreign Press Association decided not to issue a statement on the matter. While other photojournalists on the scene confirmed the presence of police in civilian dress, many said they did not see Israeli officers posing as media people.

"I'd be the first one to stand up on the rooftops and shout this is not kosher, but as far as I know this did not happen and I think it's just a rumor," said a foreign photographer, who asked that his name not be published. "If it did happen, it wouldn't be the first time, but I was there and while I saw the undercover police I did not see this happen, and neither did other foreign and local photographers I asked."

"The problem is that even if it didn't happen, the fact that people may believe that it did makes it more difficult for the press to work, because people don't trust the press," the photographer told The Media Line. "So I think it needs to be squashed as soon as possible."

I wouldn't put it past the Israeli security services to pose as journalists, and I hope the allegation isn't true.

That said, I find it mind-boggling that Awad, whose role is to protect the interests of Palestinian journalists has endangered them (and their Israeli and Western counterparts) without furnishing any evidence.



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