Media Analysis

‘Protests turn violent’ with ‘gunfire’ — PBS lies about its own report on Israeli attacks in Gaza

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Last week PBS ran a brilliant piece from Gaza by Jane Ferguson that highlighted Israel’s maiming of hundreds or thousands of young protesters with leg-shattering rifle-shots.

The focus of the piece was Dr. Adnan al Borsh, a surgeon, who described in precise English the explosive nature of the wounds and his efforts to save young Palestinians, captured by a photograph of him falling asleep in an operating room chair at 1 a.m. on May 14, 2018, the day that Israel killed over 60 protesters.

Dr. Adnan al Borsh on May 14, 2018.

The sympathy of the piece was entirely with young men who had once loved to play soccer in their open-air prison. Ferguson:

Most of these kids have never seen the outside world, trapped in a tiny strip of land under blockade by the Israeli government and ruled over by the militant group Hamas.

I watched this report last week as a rapt amateur, with my heart in my throat. Another excerpt:

Ferguson: Waleed and his friends say they were unarmed, protesting near the border fence, when he was shot by a sniper.

Waleed Al Ramlawi (through translator): The Israelis were dealing with us as though we were an army. They were not dealing with us as peaceful protesters. We had no weapons, just our bodies.

John Yang

I was planning to celebrate the PBS New Hour, then I saw the packaging of the report. The title on the PBS site is: “Gazans suffer life-shattering injuries when border protests turn violent.” And host John Yang — I missed this when I was sitting at dinner — put the blame on the Palestinians in his intro:

For many months now, Palestinians in Gaza have regularly protested their conditions along the border fence with Israel. Those protests have often turned violent, resulting in deaths and permanent injuries.

Militant Palestinians have lobbed rockets and gunfire at Israel, especially targeting the soldiers at the border. But some international observers say the response of late has taken a disturbing turn.

These are… lies. There was nothing in the report to justify such a misrepresentation. Ferguson never mentioned gunfire. She did say that Palestinians sometimes send flaming kites over the border that can burn farmland, and that “the most cynical here encourage the smallest to approach the fence, goading Israeli guards.” There has been no “disturbing turn” lately.

Ferguson never mentioned rockets, never mentioned gunfire– except from Israel.

The repeated judgment in the piece was: Israel shooting these protesters is a war crime.

Ferguson: Human rights groups say this is a war crime…

Saleh Hijazi [of Amnesty International]: The willful cause of injury and the willful cause of death is a war crime…

Ferguson: in a damning report released in March, the United Nations’ independent commission of inquiry disputed [the Israeli justification], saying the Israeli military sniping at protesters was unlawful and unjustified, and should be referred to the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

The U.N. noted that some protesters threw stones and lit kites on fire to send across the fence, but the majority were peaceful civilians. Israeli soldiers, the commission said, shot and killed children, paramedics, journalists and the disabled, fully aware of who they were.

So Ferguson all but dismissed Israeli denials of the charge, and her piece took the p-o-v of a protester, Amin Asleep:

“I come every Friday, and I would come every day if the protest was every day. We in Gaza have nothing to do, no work. All of these people around don’t have a single shekel, because we are living under the siege. And the siege is constant.”

It’s hard to convey how disgraceful John Yang’s setup was and the New Hour’s packaging. It shows that the truth is simply too negative to Israel to be handed over to an American audience unspun. And yes I am completely cynical about PBS’s motivation. It is afraid of the Israel lobby, it is afraid of donor mutiny. So it lies about its own reporter’s story.

And here’s the proof, an Israel lobby group attacked the report last week for “humanizing” Palestinians, and said PBS “cripples the truth.” PBS anticipates that sort of attack. It is accountable to racists.

Addendum: There have been six Israeli fatalities at the border in the last 17 months, the UN says: one fatality to an Israeli soldier from the Great March of Return protests, but five others from Palestinian hostilities. The UN also counts 6 injuries to Israelis from the protests, and 188 at the border overall.

Thanks to James North and Allison Deger. 

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But here’s the clever thing about the way PBS packaged it: the claim that “Gazans suffer life-shattering injuries when border protests turn violent” is, in the very narrowest technical sense, true – the border protests did indeed turn violent, it’s just that 99.9 % of the violence came from the IDF. PBS has ‘plausible deniability’, if that’s the correct term – it can continue to claim that its headline is correct. But surely they know… Read more »

Germany, USA, England, etc. were full of this kind of enabler…back in the day.

Thanks for this spot-on analysis of that Newshour story. It looks like there may be a struggle going on inside the Newshour. Clearly the Newshour’s freedom of speech is under assault from powerful forces of evil. I say “evil” because these forces are relentless and powerful in their efforts to hide the truth and maintain a brutal, predatory regime in Israel. Lying to maintain such cruelty cannot possibly be an oversight. It can only be… Read more »

Ferguson: Most of these kids have never seen the outside world, trapped in a tiny strip of land under blockade by the Israeli government and ruled over by the militant group Hamas. .

Not to detract from the laudable aspects of Ferguson’s reporting, but I do note a subtle “moral equivalence” construction in the nicely balanced phrases referring to the Israeli blockade and Hamas.

Phil and James, you don’t go far enough, PBS (a partially US government-funded-entity) is not afraid of the Israel Lobby. Rather, they’re part of it, as is much of the mainstream media. This was also demonstrated by PBS in 2015 hypocritically burying a video that exposed the biased treatment of Arabs in Western media, and which Mondoweiss commented. Here’s an excerpt from a letter I wrote in early 2016 to PBS President, Paula Kerger and… Read more »