Tags Posts tagged with "Israel"



Ah “fake news” and the “post truth” era:  the demise of the world as we know it through the dangerous spread of unreliable social media and bad, manipulative reporting. This popular critique can be heard everywhere these days, but it leaves out one important detail: Fake news often appears in “real news” and there was never a “truth era” for there to be a “post truth” one.

The reality is that politicians have always used the media to spread fake news and fake facts. It’s called propaganda, but nowadays we like to make it sound nicer by calling it Public Relations. The result is PR consultants everywhere and fake news pretending to be “real” news, which is when it is arguably most effective and dangerous. (There’s a great piece on this in Forbes this month)

Take CNN’s coverage of the recent UN Security Council vote that finally criticized Israel for its settlement expansion. Settlements are Jewish-only housing developments or colonies within Palestinian territory. Most of the whole world has criticized them for decades as a way of slicing up the West Bank, preventing a Palestinian state from being geographically viable and fueling anger and violence against Israel.

Instead of listening to security council members like Britain, France, Spain, Japan, Russia and China who voted for the resolution, Israeli officials went on a full PR/propaganda denial defensive, successfully transforming a reasonable reprimand of violent activity against Palestinian farmers into a case of Israeli victimhood. And CNN and other networks just ate it up with very little questioning, abandoning the story of settlements and focusing almost entirely on Israel’s angry reaction to criticism, ignoring those who suffer most from the settlements that seize Palestinian land, farms, homes and livelihoods.

In fact, CNN basically handed over its airwaves to Israeli officials allowing them to spread fake news like wildfire, and beam it into households across the world. (This has been the case for decades by the way). I’m not trying to single out CNN but it’s the only American channel I have access to in Beirut and also serves as a good sample due to its perceived credibility. FOX News is probably worse, but that wouldn’t surprise many people because FOX’s agenda is pretty clear.

So let’s take a look at the top fake news stories aired on a “real” news network. I compiled a few on twitter this week. Here’s a recap:

7.) Palestinians move freely; it only takes “five minutes” to cross checkpoints

This according to former Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren. See transcript here.

FACT: It takes hours for Palestinians to move around the West Bank, which is under Israeli military occupation. One checkpoint in particular takes an average of five hours, according to an Israeli journalist, a claim backed up by Israeli human rights organizations. In fact, there are hundreds of roadblocks in the West Bank according to the World Bank, which notes movement of Palestinians is severely restricted hurting access to healthcare, jobs and education.  But none of these facts were presented by CNN anchor Jake Tapper, who remained silent as the insanely false claims were made by Ambassador Oren.

6.) Gaza is a “terror state” 

This according to Israel’s education minister.

FACT: There are no terror states. You cannot call entire countries or cities terrorists. That is bigoted, racist and wrong. Yes there are people and organizations who commit deadly acts of violence and terrorism. Like the Israeli military, which has dropped thousands of tons of bombs that have caused thousands of Palestinians, Lebanese and other Arabs to die over the last 50 years. If Gaza is a “terror” state, Israel would have to be a super terror state, but either way, categorizing an entire country or people with one adjective is shameful and wrong and news organizations like CNN have a responsibility to rebuke that type of language. Yet the statement went unopposed.

5.) “Palestinians need to stop killing Israelis”  

According to the former CIA director, James Woolsey.

FACT: Not once did Woolsey mention that Israelis ALSO kill Palestinians. In fact, far more Palestinians have been killed than Israelis over the last 10, 20 or 50 years. But if you watch pundits like Woolsey, it seems like only Palestinians are doing the killing. Once again, CNN’s Jake Tapper did not oppose the statement. (See transcript.)

4.) CNN is covering “both sides” of the story 

FACT: CNN had barely any Palestinian voices in its early coverage, which was dominated by Israeli and American officials or correspondents based in Israel. This was the case in several different CNN programs over the past few days. Here are some examples:

Christian Amanpour’s show actually featured only Israelis to talk about the issue:

3.) “Israel has been a state for 3,000 years

Again, according to Israel’s education minister.

FACT: No state has been a state for 3,000 years and Israel was established less than 70 years ago in 1948. That’s an exaggeration of 2,900 years. Not bad for an education minister.

2.) Israel has a “tiny air space

This according to US Sec. of State John Kerry, who gave a very powerful critique of the Jewish state, yet still painted Israel as weak and vulnerable.

FACT: Israel has one of the most advanced warplane fleets in the world, capable of wiping out all Arab air forces in a few hours (They already did that in 1967). Israel is by no means restricted to its own airspace. It has illegally violated its neighbors’ airspace for decades, either to mount attacks or simply to practice and intimidate. I grew up with Israeli planes flying over my house every day in Lebanon. They just flew over yesterday:

1.) “Israel is the only place in the Middle East Christians can celebrate Christmas”

This according to Israeli Prime Minister and chief propagandist, Benjamin Netanyahu.

FACT: Christmas is celebrated in the majority of Arab countries, where Christian minorities erect huge displays and Christmas is enjoyed and appreciated by many Muslims. Even groups like Hezbollah, which the US considers a “terrorist organization” is an avid promoter of Christmas celebrations and plays Christmas mass on its TV channel. Meanwhile, in Israel, a group of senior Rabbis have actually condemned Christmas trees and demanded hotels to remove them.


So be wary of fears over fake news because there is often nothing real about real news.




By now much of the world has seen the brutal image of a Texas police officer literally sitting on top of a young African American girl wearing nothing but a swimsuit–after having tossed her around and shoved her head into the grass.

The news of what happened at a pool in McKinney went absolutely viral and has rightly sparked outrage. A google news search brings up over 6 million results:

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But an act of violent discrimination against young brown people at another pool got almost no coverage by comparison. Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem revealed that a large crowd of Israeli settlers accompanied by dozens of well-armed police and military troops expelled Palestinians from a public pool near Hebron. And this wasn’t some lone crazy/racist cop, it was a whole brigade of machine-gun toting military officers that carried out the ethnic expulsion under the cover of martial law harking back to America’s Jim Crow south.

15-year-old Ibrahim Abu Tabikh told B’Tselem:

“…one of the soldiers ordered us to get out of the water. I refused and stood by the edge of the pool. Another soldier came up to me, pointed his gun at me, and shouted at me to get out of the water quickly. Muhammad and I got out of the water because I was afraid of the soldiers.”

The news coverage? A search for “Palestinians” and “Pool” brought back only 1 relevant result, the very same B’Tselem report from its own website:


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In fact I could not find one news organization that covered this, at least in English. A far cry from the soul-searching that went on in the US, with in-depth pieces looking at how this pool incident reflects a wider historical context of inequality.

Yet when it comes to Palestine, there has barely been a chronicling of the event, let alone any type of social or historical analysis.

No wonder the decades of discrimination and brutal daily violence against Palestinians is so invisible to Americans. In the mainstream media, it largely doesn’t exist.

Cleared of Palestinians, Israeli settlers swim in pool. Photo: Nasser Nawajah/B’Tselem


Thanks to Pamela for initially posting the B’Tselem story on Facebook. Otherwise I probably wouldn’t have even seen it.



Israeli TV is on all Lebanese channels as we wait for Israel’s expected response to an attack on one of its convoys in South Lebanon. Hezbollah is saying the attack is retaliation for the killing of several of its men a week ago by Israeli warplanes.

It’s hard not to feel reminded of those days in 2006 when soon after an Israeli convoy was attacked, Israel’s military began shelling south Lebanon as is happening right now. At the time, I remember a colleague in my office laughing it off, while I worried things would get much worse. Sure enough, things escalated over the next few days when Israel warplanes destroyed highways, bridges, airport runways and eventually leveled several villages and parts of south Beirut in a month long war that left over 1,000 Lebanese civilians dead.

Is this Deja Vu or have things changed? This time around, Hezbollah is already involved in a war in Syria and some believe its forces are stretched too thin for a second war. But on the other side we have Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who is considered one of the most hawkish Israeli leaders, far more so than his predecessor in 2006, Ehud Olmert.  Some say Israeli elections are upcoming in March and a war won’t help him win. Or will it?

The ironies are already starting to pour in. Today a former Lebanese warlord was warning current Lebanese warlords about the dangers of in war:


If he’s worried, should we worry? Or is a large part of this media theatre, with all sides trying to score propaganda points?

You’ll notice the Western media frequently calls Israeli attacks retaliations, but will almost certainly frame any action by Hezbollah as offensive. Hezbollah also claims the Israeli soldiers were occupying Lebanese territory– rather than peacefully minding their own business in Israel. That’s another detail you probably won’t hear much about in major Western media outlets.

On the other hand, Hezbollah media are broadcasting call-in congratulations from various officials and they just aired a report on a handful of cars near the border, claiming these spectators proved that ‘people are not afraid.’

“No one is scarred,” said one pundit on Al Manar. ‘On the contrary, people had been waiting anxiously for the resistance to respond.” Meanwhile Arab media are reporting up to 15 dead Israelis, while Israeli media only report “medium to light” injuries.

All we know for sure is that it started out as such a beautiful morning…


Yet now my only hope is for a massive storm. Maybe a deluge will wash away some of the belligerence.

Follow me on Twitter for updates.


UPDATE: More evidence not to worry? Al Jadeed TV just posted a video of Lebanese smoking arguileh (hookah) near the border.

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Yesterday we set out for a fun day on the slopes.

Thankfully, when we reached the peaks at Faraya, the lifts were running smoothly:


And the mountains were blanketed:


But, as usual, we had some unexpected visitors:


Ruining that perfect shot:


Crisscrossing over the skies



And down toward the slopes:


Looping and looping:


Letting us know they were there:


At one point, it seemed there were trying to entertain us with shapes:


But I have seen this air show before. And it’s not the kind you want to attend or choose to attend.

These are Israeli fighter aircraft routinely violating Lebanon’s airspace–an air show of intimidation if you will.



We see it so often in Beirut–I’ve posted about them before. Last year there wasn’t enough snow for boarding, but we saw them the one day I went in 2013–see pictures here.

It’s as if they are always there. Some years they bomb, some years they don’t. You’re never quite sure when they are armed and when they are not. Would any other country tolerate this?

But the F16s didn’t stop us from having a good day. Here are a couple panorama shots.

That’s Biblical Mount Hermon (Jabal el Shaykh) in the distance:


This is the view toward North Lebanon (Al Arz) and the Mediterranean is on the far left.
One word of advice for those heading up this year: Put chains for your tires because the roads are not exactly clear:



The New York Times logo

In journalism schools across America, students are often instructed to read and purchase the New York Times every day before class. It is hailed as the “paper of record” and something every young pupil should aspire to. But in the Middle East, the Times is increasingly providing a great example of what not to do as a journalist and how irresponsible reporting can really skew a story and misinform the public. (This blog has previously debunked problematic or completely false NYT stories published recently on Lebanon and Gaza.)

Today, the Times provides a great example on how not to write a lead sentence, the first and most important sentence in a news article. The lead is a place where the facts of a story are summarized in a succinct and compelling way so that readers can get a very good sense of what the piece is about before reading the whole thing.  The lead is not a place for opinion or vague speculation.

Yet here is today’s lead sentence:

The lead here contains no facts. It contains no specific information about the recent air strikes and serves only as a vague, unsourced general and polemical argument that portrays Israel as a victim of Hamas. This is despite the reality that Israel has killed 2,000 more Palestinians than Hamas has killed Israelis.

In fact, the Times writer Jodi Rudoren is actually mimicking a near verbatim talking point made constantly by Israeli officials: i.e. ‘Hamas is the bad guy that breaks all the rules and keeps this war going.” I would not be surprised if someone found a soundbite from an Israeli official that sounds exactly like what Ms. Rudoren has so vaguely and polemically written.

But there is more.

Another important aspect of good journalism is listening to a variety of sources so that one can attempt to produce a balanced story. This gives readers a sense of the many different aspects of the reality on the ground and how they can be interpreted very differently, especially when there are two parties at war.

Yet Ms. Rudoren quotes only Israeli sources in the first 18 paragraphs of her story. No Palestinian analysts are ever interviewed.

The Israeli sources include former Israeli ambassador, a former Israeli general and a former Israeli intelligence chief. The tone of their quotes sets the tone of the story, a tone of defiance and victory for Israel:

“Israel’s entire existence has been a war of attrition, and we’ve won that war.”

The killing of Hamas members was  “a very important operational achievement…  this will badly hurt Hamas’s military wing.”

‘You want attrition? You are welcome. You lost your strategic military tools against Israel. Our firepower and our intelligence and our capability to sustain more days is much bigger than yours.’ This is the strategy.”

But Ms. Rudoren doesn’t even need to quote Israeli officials, she makes the case for Israel in her own words. These are direct quotes from her own paragraphs in the piece:

Israel’s advantage has never looked more lopsided.

Israel deployed its extensive intelligence capabilities and overwhelming firepower in targeted bombings with limited civilian casualties less likely to raise the world’s ire.

 Israel dealt a profound psychological blow to the enemy while giving the home front something clear to celebrate.

Israel was able to avoid the large-scale collateral damage that has provoked international outrage.

Diplomatic pressure appeared to be easing, if only because the world’s attention seems focused on other crises 

As the conflict grinds on, Israelis see time as on their side.

Palestinians are only quoted in the last 3 paragraphs of the 27 paragraph story. But those quoted are not analysts or prominent intellectuals. They are mainly bystanders, given a token one-line quip of sadness or anguish.

By prioritizing Israeli official views and featuring virtually no equivalent Palestinian voices, many readers will walk away from Rudoren’s piece with the impression: ‘Hamas is bad, Hamas has caused all this suffering. Israel is winning. Israel is doing the right thing.’

But by failing to question the price and long term sustainability of such an aggressive military strategy, by downplaying the dozens of innocents killed in recent days as minimal  “collateral damage,” by failing to note the deep seated hatred the high-profile killings may inspire for generations to come, by failing to question why Israel has not sought a political solution and basic rights for Gazans, Rudoren is providing a public service not to her general readership– who deserve answers to all of those questions– but to war hawks, who prefer to silence dissenting views. 


Thanks to Massoud for pointing out this Times piece. 

For an alternate view on why air strikes were chosen over peaceful negotiations, see this recent interview with writer Ali Abunimah, who reminds viewers the Israeli air force–not Hamas–has killed the vast majority of civilians by dropping  what he claims is the equivalent of the Hiroshima bomb on Gaza:

Source: The Washington Post

By now much of the world has heard about at least 16 Palestinians killed when a school was shelled yesterday in Gaza. Far less clear for American readers is who did the shelling. While foreign papers like The Guardian said the shells clearly came from Israeli tanks, US news organizations such as AP and The Washington Post have been very careful not to assign blame to the Israelis, extensively entertaining Israeli theories that Hamas had killed its own people. Of course anything is possible, but let’s look at how the Post investigated this issue.

In its article yesterday, the paper actually gave Israeli officials 12 times more space to express their opinions than Hamas officials. Let’s add them up, line by line.

1.) A senior Israeli military spokesman, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, said Thursday night that “there was a possibility” shells from Israeli forces­ struck the U.N.-run school in the Gaza Strip. 
2.) But he also suggested that Hamas mortars or rockets could have been responsible. 
3.) The Israeli army was investigating the incident “to see what exactly caused the deaths and injuries,” he said.
4.) Early Friday, an Israeli military spokesman said as many as 10,000 protesters “were rioting violently.” 
5.) They hurled “burning tires, molotov cocktails, rocks and even fireworks” at soldiers and border police. 
6.)After riot-dispersal measures failed, the spokesman said, the soldiers fired live rounds into the crowds, killing at least one protester. 
7.)The spokesman said the military was looking into the report of a second death.

Finally, half way through the story, we get one quote from a Hamas official to balance all the above, suggesting Israel was guilty not Hamas and that it had attacked the school:

1.) Hamas spokesman Fauzi Barhum called the attack a “war crime” and said it showed that even U.N. shelters “are not immune to Israeli aggression.”

But then it is back to Israeli officials:

8.)The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) released a statement Thursday evening that helped explain why its forces might have hit the UNRWA shelter.
9.)“From initial inquiries done about the incident, during the intense fighting in the area, militants opened fire at IDF soldiers from the school area,” the statement read. 
10.)“In order to eliminate the threat posed to their lives, they responded with fire toward the origins of the shooting.”
11.) “Hamas prevented civilians from evacuating the area during the window that the IDF gave them,” the Israeli military countered.
12.) If some of the militants’ mortars aimed at Israel fell short, as Israel has suggested, they could have had “devastating” impact on the ground, said Miri Eisen, a retired Israeli military colonel and former military intelligence officer.
So why is this story so unbalanced? Many readers will walk away thinking Israel was the rational actor here, perhaps even the victim. But what if a large number of Israelis had died, would we hear 12 times more quotes from Hamas suggesting the Israelis had killed their own people? Would we hear anything from Hamas at all if Israelis were killed instead of Palestinians?
Speaking at the American University of Beirut a few years ago, a great Washington Post national reporter and Pulitzer Prize winner Dana Priest told Lebanese students: “Good journalism gives a voice to the voiceless.” But when it comes to Israel, it seems the Post and other US papers are focused on giving a voice to the powerful–in this case, one of the most powerful militaries in the world.

Lebanese TV channels are often at war with one another and the battles go far beyond ratings. They range from routine verbal insults and propaganda attacks to actual war as some channels were physically shut down during the 2008 clashes between rival forces allied to various stations. 
That’s why it was really surprising to see all 8 Lebanese channels united in a call for solidarity with the people of Gaza, with nearly 600 now killed as a result of Israeli bombing, shelling and neighborhood pulverizing.  The broadcasters aired coordinated video packages and read a poem by Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish.
It was especially surprising to see the arch rivals Future TV and Al Manar TV in a side-by-side anchor reading session: 

Future TV was actually burnt and shut down by supporters of Al Manar during the 2008 Beirut clashes, as I reported for Variety at the time.
Burnt Future TV offices in 2008. Photo: Menassat.

Gunmen with Amal, which is associated with NBN TV, take over Future TV offices in 2008. See full post.
Watch yesterday’s rare joint solidarity broadcast here.

Violence toward Palestinians continues to be downplayed or completely omitted by “The Paper of Record,” i.e. The New York Times. 
Yesterday, I reported how dead Palestinians have no names in the Times’ coverage, in contrast to dead Israelis who are described in personal, humanizing detail including ages, full names and schools they attended. 
But today, the six dead Palestinians and 400 arrested, had no mention at all in a piece by the same author, Elizabeth Kershner. Instead we are vaguely told about “clashes” and “the killings on each side” which dilutes any specific responsibility in the Palestinians deaths or arrests:  
Contrast this to the very specific naming of the killed Israelis once again today:
Why does the Times have so much difficulty naming dead Palestinians? 
Why do Palestinian deaths and arrests fade so quickly from the headlines, while Israelis ones remain, week after week?
We are told in a subsequent paragraph that “Hamas said seven of its militants were killed” but the paper does nothing to verify any details about these deaths, including the age of those killed or what they were doing at the time despite a total of five Times reporters working on this story. By simply identifying them as “militants” their deaths are made inconsequential. 
Even worse is that the Times reporter downplays violent Israeli language, after a police spokesman shockingly calls the brutal murder of a 16 year old an act of “nationalism”
The reporter goes so far as to explain away the very violent language as a technical reference to a previous killing.
Can you imagine if a Palestinian police spokesperson called the killing of an Israeli child a “nationalistic” killing? Can you imagine the headlines and demonization that would generate? One can even imagine talk of sanctions against the Palestinian government. 
I wonder if Kershner would have explained it away. Would she have written that labelling the killing of a Jew “nationalistic” as an innocent reference to previous events?
Finally Kershner further whitewashes the idea that violence toward Palestinians could be widespread in Israeli society. Instead, again she invents a more innocent reference, calling Israeli violence marginal, part of a “nationalist fringe”
But as the writer Ali Abunimah pointed out, the violence toward Palestinians is not marginal in any sense but spoken loudly by members of the ruling party in Parliament who have incited hatred and legitimized killing. These include Knesset member Ayelet Shaked who advocates war against “the entire Palestinian nation” including women and children, whom she references as “snakes.”

Of course anyone who has studied the living conditions of Palestinians will know that violence is pervasive and daily under military rule, from the brutality of soldiers to armed settlers to the speeches produced by the office of the Prime Minister, which trickles down to very popular hate pages in Israeli social media as also pointed out by Abunimah’s work.  

So how does the world’s most famous newspaper pick its editors and reporters? Do they research the context of the countries they report on? Or does it pick the type of people who omit deaths based on ethnicity, fail to see a system of daily violence and injustice, explain away hate speech as marginal– and worse still– accept terms heard with their own ears from police spokespersons like “nationalistic” murder. 


By now the whole world knows the names of three Israelis killed in the West Bank last week. And thanks to yesterday’s New York Times (as seen above), we also know their family names, their ages, what they where doing at the time and even what type of religious school they were attending. But why did the Times fail to report anything personal about six dead Palestinians mentioned in the same article? (see right column). Why do dead Palestinians not have names?

When the three Israelis were first abducted, the story made international headlines for weeks. But when 400 Palestinians were abducted, this was just a detail, barely a one sentence footnote buried in the bottom of an article for background.

Double the number of Israelis killed, over 100 times the number of Israelis kidnapped. How many more  multiples of Palestinians need to die or become abducted to cause the New York Times to print their names, ages or anything humanizing about them?


I recently stumbled upon a familiar sight at a Middle Eastern art exhibit in Chelsea, New York. It was a view anyone living in Lebanon during the 2006 war may have seen.

The piece by Ali Cherri was projected on the wall at the center of the gallery:

The viewer watches a slide show, revealing military ships appearing on the horizon.

First one:

Then two:

Then three:

The rhythm of the slides bring back the mix of monotony and fear we felt during those days. The ships–most of them from the US Navy- were evacuating American and European nationals during a brief truce.

Watching it was a bit agonizing for those who would not go. All day long ships would disappear and reappear. Tens of thousands of people had been evacuated by the time it was over after about a week. And everyday we wondered anxiously what was in store for us when it ended and the bombing resumed.

The piece was also accompanied by an audio recording of a message by the Israeli military, which had infiltrated the Lebanese radio waves and played the following message.

I too photographed and video taped the ships at the time but the footage seemed so mundane I never really used it.

Looking at the price tag suggested for these few slides, I really wish I had!

You can bid on this piece and watch Ali’s full slideshow and audio here. And you can view all the Middle Eastern works in the auction which will benefit the New York-based Alwan for the Arts, a non-profit which regularly brings Arab and regionally-focused film screenings, lectures, book readings and other great events to the city.