"This whole conflict," the foreign journalist said over coffee, "is a prime time show; the Palestinians provide us with the more romantic story."
Terrorism is a show; it needs a producer and a distributor. Without a certain complicity from the international media, terrorism would not be so effective and might even disappear altogether.
While Hamas is raining rockets and missiles on the Israeli civilian population, and in return, is suffering a high level of destruction and hundreds of casualties as a result of collateral damage, one might ask: "What is the purpose?" The same question is also true of suicide terrorism. The genuine aim seems to be to gather sympathy while terrorizing the enemy, with an audience on an unlimited number of channels.
Casualties, in this show, whether Arab or Israeli, always play for the same side of the conflict: the one they hope will gain the most sympathy for the victims. These are usually Hamas and other terror organizations. In this round, they are mostly of Muslim origin, originate in the Palestinian territories and are funded by Iran and other countries with oil revenues
If a rocket succeeds in going through Israel's anti-missile defense and causing damage to Israel, Hamas is "showing its strength," by hitting the Jewish state. If a retaliation by Israel sadly results in the death of Arab civilians, Hamas is "showing how inhuman Israel is," and therefore how much Israel deserves the world's opprobrium. For Hamas and similar terror groups, therefore, the "show" is always a win-win.
Why is the dirty eye of the camera always playing for the same actors? Let us forget antisemitism, which obviously plays a role in this current equation. Many media outlets even belong to Jews, but they use the same images, often from the same point of view.
The reality is that terrorists, activists, Palestinian fighters or whatever you want to call them, long ago learned the weakness of democracies. In societies where the distribution of power is the key to freedom, freedom of speech is a solid counter-power, capable of revealing corruption, denouncing a policy, and reshaping a system. The media are the real leaders of the free world.
The Second Intifada that began in 2000, for instance, had been prepared a long time before. It took on a religious name, referring to a mosque built on the ruins of the Jewish temple. It was ready to be launched immediately after Yasser Arafat rejected Prime Minister Ehud Barak's offer of 98% of the Palestinian territorial demands in exchange for a lasting peace. The Intifada needed only a "marketing gimmick" before it exploded in the face of the world and led to thousands of casualties on both sides. Arafat found its gimmick: the (innocent?) help and complicity of a French television channel, France 2. Nothing was easier than to post a Palestinian cameraman between an Israeli base and two unfortunate actors, then eventually plant close by a shooter armed with an AK47, and be ready for a big scoop: Lights, Camera... Action!
The image of the supposed shooting of young Mohammed al-Dura, cowering against his father and then falling under fire -- with no blood! -- had more success than any video on YouTube. Never mind that the footage of him lifting his arm to look out after he had allegedly been killed was later shown in French court, and that several minutes of footage are still "missing."
The event was sold as the best of all reality shows. Israel, of course, was the villain, and even the grisly lynching of two Israeli reserve soldiers in Ramallah a few days later did not have the same impact on the world's opinion: they were grown men, not boys, and soldiers who had lost their way, not civilians.
Thanks to the al-Dura show, the Palestinians were able to promote their cause as a fair one, despite a simple and basic principle of philosophy and law: in every action, intent is paramount. There should never be a moral equivalence painted between the deliberate killing of civilians, and a retaliation that tragically leads to casualties among civilians. Yet, in the eye of the camera, there is. A dead child covered with blood is the strong moment of the show. It is no wonder that Hamas is asking the population of Gaza to stay in their homes, while Israel is asking the civilians in Gaza to run away from places it might bomb. I imagine the leaders of Hamas, who are running the show, hiding in the basement of schools, mosques, hospitals, and tunnels, making comments on the latest developments: "More blood. We need more blood."
The media who are pro-Palestinian, when they do not find enough horrific images from inside Gaza, recycle old pictures, Photoshop them, or use footage from other conflicts, mostly from Iraq and Syria. In the current conflict, they are already doing just that.
Pictures and footage from other conflicts, mostly from Iraq and Syria, are being used in the media to depict Israeli "atrocities" in Gaza.
Even though YouTube, Facebook and other social media are useful in building a larger audience for the show, reporters and journalists play their role. Sadly, they do not have a choice. As the journalist went on to explain, "Palestinians have written the scenario of this prime-time piece. As the editors say, 'If it bleeds, it leads.'" On the field, they are urged to send back a "juicy" story that might even make the front page.
Israel also is a democracy, where freedom of speech is absolute, whereas the Palestinian territories are run by a "moderate" dictator at best, and by Islamist tyrants at worst. A reporter is a professional, making a living with by writing up what he sees and hears, his comments, his images. In Egypt, three journalists were recently sentenced, in a politically-motivated sham-trial, to seven years in prison for simply doing their job -- because unfortunately they happened to work for Al Jazeera in Qatar, which is the primary supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, just ousted from Egypt by the current government. Even the "moderate " Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, has been arresting journalists who dare to question his government. Were is the outcry about those violations of human rights?
Which has more telegenic value: the amazing innovations and discoveries by Israeli scientists that lead to better lives for the rest of the world, or the image of a a boy throwing rocks at a tank? Is it even possible to work inside the West Bank or Gaza -- or many of the Arab and Muslim states, and even much of Europe -- and yet promote a contrarian point of view such Israel's, or even a balanced view? Regrettably, the answer is no.
Reporters risk theirs lives. In the West Bank, they are taken in hand by Palestinian "translators," fixers trained to escort journalists the same way that in the Soviet era, sputniks, or "minders," were trained to promote communism, and to make sure that the tourists and journalists saw only what the government wanted them to see, and, even more, that thy did not see what the government did not want them to see. It is shocking to see illegal immigrant children penned in cages near the southern border of the U.S., but that there is no access allowed or freedom to speak to them. There is, however, one small difference: in the Middle East, reporters are threatened, except in Israel. Their choice becomes a simple one: promote the Palestinian point of view (or whichever), or stop working in the West Bank (or wherever). Keep the eye of the camera dirty, or lose your job.
When making one of my documentaries, the Palestinian who was leading my crew offered me a scoop. As I was French, he trusted me to be on the Palestinians' side. "You know," he said, "what pays well? When an Israeli soldier kills a child. Are you interested?" he continued. "We can arrange that. For $10,000, I can organize everything." Was he talking of a staging, or the real killing of a child? I did not dare to ask. I still nurture hope, despite the facts, that people would not willingly sacrifice children just to promote a show.
But as the foreign journalist concluded, "All the editors tell you: they are not interested unless it has an anti-Israeli angle."
Everything in Palestinian society is designed to promote martyrdom. If the program were not so effective -- if the media were not making money from the most horrifying scenes, and if reporters were really free to do their work in the Palestinian territories honestly -- such savagery would not exist. If the journalists did not know that they could count on the complicity, forced or not, of freelancers, providing international agencies with valuable "scoops," terrorism on the mass scale it has grown to of late, might not even happen.
If freedom of speech existed in Palestinian territories -- or any Muslim country around the world -- facts would be promoted, rather than erotically violent images. While wishing all the best for the Palestinian people -- a transparent and accountable government that will improve the lives of its people -- it is probably safe to say that the "Palestinian cause" would have lost most of it support a long time ago. They would have had no other choice but to pursue peace. This show should not go on. How can it be stopped?
Pierre Rehov is a journalist, documentary filmmaker and entrepreneur based in the Middle East.