Photo: China Weekly

It has barely been 24 hours since the exchange of fire on the Lebanon-Israel border. But over that period, the Israeli media narrative has changed dramatically.

In the initial hours, Israeli and Western media reported that “a Lebanese army sniper” shot at an “Israeli civilian vehicle.”

The latter was tweeted by an Israeli army spokesman:

Earlier this evening shots were fired at a civilian vehicle on the #Israel #Lebanon border.Sniper is Lebanese Armed Forces. #IDF
— Peter Lerner (@LTCPeterLerner) December 15, 2013

Yet the next day, the term “civilian vehicle” went missing in media accounts and Israel’s Jerusalem Post was reporting that it had been in fact an “army vehicle”that was fired upon.

Meanwhile, Israeli paper Haaretz reported that the shots had been fired, not from a sniper rifle, but at close range from a pistol. Again, the term “civilian vehicle” was replaced by “IDF vehicle”

Of course there is an important difference between a sniper carefully aiming at a civilian vehicle and a solider shooting at an army vehicle that he is at war with. The first narrative is victim-like and illicits a visceral reaction along the lines of “what savage would carefully aim and shoot at an innocent civilian?!” As pointed out by journalist Alex Rowell, there has been no correction or clarification by the Israeli army spokesperson on his twitter feed.

Whether this was a simple coincidence or intended misinformation strategy, the Western media has rapidly adopted the initial Israeli narrative.

A Google News search for “Israeli civilian vehicle” returned nearly 300 results.

While a search for “Lebanon sniper” returned over 7,000 results.

Of course, this seemingly inaccurate media narrative may have been combated by a response from the Lebanese Army, but curiously, they have failed to say almost anything about what happened yesterday.
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Habib Battah
Habib Battah is an investigative journalist and founder of the news site beirutreport.com. Battah has covered Lebanon and the Middle East for over 15 years and teaches journalism and media studies at the American University of Beirut. He is a contributor to Monocle, The Guardian, BBC World, Al Jazeera and others, a former fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University and two-time recipient of the Samir Kassir Press Freedom Award. Battah's investigative work was recently recognized for outstanding local reporting by the Columbia University Oakes Award for Environmental Reporting. Battah earned a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Texas at Austin and an M.A. in Near East Studies and Journalism from New York University.

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