Once again a flood of headlines present Israel as an aggressor responsible for the deaths of dozens of unarmed civilians. Was this really a peaceful protest or another Syrian-engineered attempt to breach Israel’s border? Where did the media get it right and where did it go wrong?
Syrian Media: A Credible Source?
For many weeks, Syrian state controlled media (and it is all state controlled) has failed to report on President Bashar Assad’s brutal and murderous assault his own citizens’ peaceful protests against the Syrian regime. So why then did the media rush to quote casualty figures provided by Syrian media despite the lack of any concrete confirmation of the number of deaths or injuries from either side?
For example, the New York Times reported:
By nightfall, the Syrian news agency SANA reported that 22 protesters had been killed and more than 350 had been wounded. Israeli officials said that they had no information on casualties but suggested that the Syrian figures were exaggerated.
Even so, it was the worst bloodshed in the Golan Heights since Israel and Syria fought a war there in 1973.
As Jeffrey Goldberg says:
So, the official Syrian news agency, which has every reason to inflate the casualty figures, reports that 22 people were killed by Israeli troops. Israel says that it disputes the figures. The Israeli information operation is far from perfect, but it’s much better than the Assad regime’s information operation. So skepticism about these figures is certainly warranted.
And yet, the Times follows this ambiguous paragraph about the death toll with a declaration: “Even so, it was the worst bloodshed in the Golan Heights since Israel and Syria fought a war there in 1973.” How does the Times know this? How does the Times know how many people died? The only source for the death toll is the Assad regime’s propaganda apparatus.
Protestors or Infiltrators?
Events on the Golan played out in similar fashion to the events of the so-called Naqba Day one month previously as did the press coverage. Many headlines referred to Israel opening fire on “protestors”. But this was not your run of the mill protests, nor was it peaceful. This was an attempt to breach Israel’s borders in a hostile act.
The term “protestors” conjures visions of placard carrying activists rather than the more accurate term of “rioters” who threw Molotov Cocktails and stones and confronted Israeli soldiers while trying to enter Israel.
Any infiltration has to be taken seriously and that is how the press should also have treated these incidents – as attempts to illegally breach a sovereign nation’s borders.
Despite this, Karl Vick of Time Magazine chose to frame the incident in this way:
Television images on Sunday from the Golan Heights village of Majdal Shams showed apparently unarmed Palestinian civilians marching peacefully down a hill toward Israeli soldiers who had assumed firing positions. Then came a crackle of gunshots; bloodied bodies were then carried back up the hill. It went on for hours, with 20 people reported dead according to Syrian state television. The human cost was high but for a Palestinian movement trying to reframe itself, the footage at least set it on a course along on the lines of Birmingham, Soweto and Gandhi’s Salt March — parallels it has been making explicitly.
Aside from falsely presenting Palestinians as Gandhian acolytes, this description certainly does not correspond with other media reports that confirmed that the IDF had issued clear warnings in Arabic and fired tear gas before firing over the heads of the Palestinians in an attempt to convince them to halt. The use of live fire and then, only used selectively, was solely a last resort.
The video below records the verbal warning given by the IDF.
The Daily Telegraph reported:
Protesters said they were hoping to emulate Hassan Hijazi, who managed to reach his former home in the Israeli coastal city of Jaffa after the last protest before turning himself into the police.
In fact, Hassan Hijazi, like all of those Palestinians involved in May’s border infiltration, had never set foot inside Israel before and therefore could not have been attempting to reach their “former homes”. Most of those Palestinians involved in May’s and this latest incident are second and third generation descendants of Palestinian refugees displaced in 1948.
In similar fashion, The Times of London (subscription only) stated:
Yesterday’s protest was meant to mark Naqsa, the anniversary of the Six Day War, in which Israel annexed the West Bank and the Golan Heights. Many of the demonstrators were Palestinians who have been unable to return to their homes for decades.
In addition to wrongly crediting Palestinians with the ability to “return” to homes that they never left in the first place, Times journalist Sheera Frenkel also mistakenly states that Israel annexed the West Bank. Israel, has, in fact, never annexed the West Bank, which was instead, Israeli administered and not absorbed into the State of Israel.
While this may seem like a minor point, it is extremely important in light of the many legal arguments surrounding the status of those territories captured in 1967.
Misleading reporting such as the examples above only serves to promote the Palestinian demand for a “right of return” and to mislead over the status of the Palestinian territories.
Meanwhile, CNN still believes that Hamas-run Gaza is still under Israeli “occupation”:
Israel has made peace with the other two parties to the 1967 Six-Day War, Egypt and Jordan, but still occupies the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza as well as the Golan Heights.
A Media Setup
According to a Syrian opposition group:
The Reform Party of Syria has learned today, from intelligence sources close to the Assad regime in Lebanon, that Syrians storming through the Golan Height next to the Quneitra crossing are Syrian farmers who have migrated in recent years from the drought-stricken northeast Syria to the south. Estimates put the number at 250,000 impoverished migrants.
Information received cite the regime has paid hundreds of these farmers $1,000 each to show-up and $10,000 to their families should any of them succumb to Israeli fire. In Syria, an average salary is about $200 a month and to these impoverished farmers, such a one-time sum can keep them economically afloat for six months.
Even The Guardian, referring to the previous Naqba Day violence on the Lebanese border, acknowledged the possibility that Arab demonstrators could be motivated by money rather than ideology:
One demonstrator who was wounded that day told the Guardian the Lebanese militia Hezbollah had given him $50 to turn up at the border and $900 to have his gunshot wounds treated by physicians. He said he had been planning to return to Maroun al-Ras yesterday until the rally was cancelled.
At least Dominic Waghorn of Sky News also got it:
The buses of protestors only reached the border area because authorities allowed them to. They may well have been organised by the regime or at the very least encouraged….
The tragic events were carried live by Syrian state television in marked contrast to the cover up perpetrated by Syrian government media of the military offensive being waged against its own people inside the country that has killed hundreds.
State ‘journalists’ appeared to have recovered their ability to count bodies stating at least twenty had been killed
While the world watches the pictures from the Golan, it will be distracted from the bigger story, Syria’s slaughter of its own people and the gradual demise of the Assad regime.
What Really Happened?
After investigating the incident, the IDF believes that many of the Syrian rioters were responsible for their own deaths by igniting mine fields on the border. YNet News reports:
Responding to Sunday’s violence, IDF sources said the protesters who ignited minefields on ‘Naksa Day’ did not bring fire extinguishers with them and thus posed a danger to themselves and others by behaving irresponsibly. Others threw firebombs near Quneitra crossing to the same effect, they said.
The sources are also assuming that many protesters were hurt or killed as a result of the Red Cross’s inability to reach them, due to protesters’ refusal to cease violence in order to allow for medical evacuations.
IDF officials say commanders ordered three ceasefires, each of which were taken advantage of by the protesters in order to gain ground.
Whatever the real story behind what occurred on the Israeli-Syrian border, once again Israel finds itself damaged by a media that rushed to produce sensationalist headlines based on the less than credible propaganda organ of a brutal dictatorship with no regard for its own people let alone the Palestinian pawns in its war on Israel.
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