Someone called me "courageous" for writing this piece, but I think this is an overstatement. The article I wrote for the IHT-NYT last week discusses the never-ending affair of Muhammad al-Dura. It deals with the Israeli government's report about the case (read it here), and with our instinctive suspicion of government versions when we write about complicated events.
Here's a short appetizer from this article:
And now the Israeli government’s new report claims the broadcast was “edited and narrated” in a misleading way. The voice-over says, for example, that “Jamal and his son Muhammad are the target of fire coming from the Israeli position” and then that “Muhammad is dead and his father badly hurt.” But according to the government report, “in the final scenes the boy is not dead.” In the last seconds of the footage, the “boy raises his arm” and “turns his head.”
Not that this solves the puzzle exactly, especially since the report’s authors didn’t interview Jamal or French TV executives, and they didn’t exhume Muhammad’s body for examination. And yet my thinking has changed. I started out believing the dominant version of events largely because I was made skeptical by Israel’s attempts to save its skin; now, I accept the possibility that the Israeli government’s take might be correct after all.
Read it in full here. And as you ponder journalistic behavior in the covering of Middle East affairs, here's one article – written ten long years ago – that I'd highly recommend. The author was then my boss, the editor of Haaretz Daily, but both of us are no longer there. The headline is "Digging beneath the surface in the Middle East conflict", and it tells the story of one Abu Ali, whose nine children were reportedly buried under the ruins of the Jenin Palestinian refugee camp. Here's one paragraph – when you think about the complexities of the al-Dura case, keep this paragraph in mind:
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.
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