Terrorist theater, WSJ edition

Dr. Allon Friedman is a man after my own heart. He is associate professor of medicine in the division of nephrology at the Indiana University School of Medicine and a student of Palestinian fauxtography. When he saw the photo below published with this article by Joshua Mitnick in the print edition of the Wall Street Journal, he wrote to question its authenticity.

Dr. Rriedman wrote the Journal:

Sir,

I wish to bring your attention to a highly suspicious photograph that was included on page A8 of the WSJ print edition yesterday (12/1/12) in an article entitled “Israel pushes housing after U.N. vote.”

The photograph’s caption states: “A Palestinian girl tries to push an Israeli soldier at a demonstration in the West Bank village of al-Masara…”

Even a brief perusal of the photograph raises a number of troubling observations:

1. The girl’s arms are fully outstretched with her fingertips touching the plastic shield of the Israeli soldier. Judging by her stance and the position of her arms, there is no sense of physical strain on her part nor of force being exerted either by her or the soldier. In fact, the girl does not look like she is trying to push anything. Rather, it looks very much like what one would expect with a staged photo, where someone has asked the girl to walk up to the soldier and put her hands on the shield for a photo-op.

2. In addition, the “demonstration” is odd in that, at least in the photo, there is no sense of urgency or tension at all. Note the soldier in the background who is looking down at something as well as the empty space that surrounds the girl.

In summary, the photo was most likely staged. Unfortunately, there is copious documentation that the Western media frequently publish staged and/or manipulated photos of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Invariably, the photos fit an anti-Israel narrative, like the one I describe here (oppressed child vs. oppressor soldier). Often the photos can be traced back to Arab stringers or photographers who are simply biased against Israel or, on certain occasions, actually on the payroll of Israel’s adversaries.

This would not be the first time that a staged photo was used in the propaganda war against Israel, but it is very troubling that a reputable newspaper like the WSJ has chosen to publish it.

I look forward to hearing back from you about this matter.

Sincerely,
Allon Friedman, MD

The photograph is credited to European Pressphoto Agency. Dr. Friedman did not hear back from the Journal, but he also forwarded his message to the EPA and did hear back from its deputy editor-in-chief. I’m posting the message(s) below verbatim without trying to correct any of their typographical and other errors, but please note that the native language of the deputy editor-in-chief is something other than English. He responded as follows:

Dear Mr Friedman,

thank you for your email. We discussed your points within the management circle, our regional chief photographer in Jerusalem and with our photographer who had covered the demonstration in al-Masara for epa on 30 November 2012. The series of pictures of the event was viewed again and we had talks with our competitors who had photographers at the scene too.

We found that the picture was not staged nor manipulated which would have violated all ethical standards of journalism. epa has a high reputation in photography and is respected as one of the four major news photo agencies in the world. epa doesn’t accept photographers or editors being biased.

According to the photographer at the scene the girl in our picture got close to the soldiers and tried to push her way through. All this happened in a few minutes. Our photographer confirmed to us that he at no point had spoken to the child but simply captured the moment of a spontaneous event.

Another image shows a boy in a similar situation, other pictures show adult protesters standing very close to the soldiers, all this underlines the statement made by our colleague, the accuracy of the caption information we had given and the authenticity of the picture.

When looking at the pictures we noticed an IDF soldier shooting video of the scene which might help you with your further analysis and to verify if the situation, as you suggested, was set-up by the press photographers present.

epa follows closely the reports about photographers who are influenced and biased against Israel or against Palestine which is serious and a matter of concern. All the same our work ethics are based on objective reporting not on opinion. We trust our photographers/editors and appreciate their highly professional work.

[name]
deputy editor-in-chief

Dr. Friedman is not easily persuaded. He responded to our man at the EPA:

Thank you for your quick response. Unfortunately, you have not offered any convincing evidence that the photo I emailed you about was not staged. I would be very interested in seeing the photo of the boy to verify that that photo was not staged as well.

With regards to the Israeli videotape, it would appear to me that it is your company’s responsibility, not mine, to follow up with the Israeli army to ensure that your employees have been acting in an honest fashion, especially given the suspicious photo you disseminated. As you say, epa “doesn’t accept photographers or editors being biased…” I therefore look forward to hearing from you as to whether the Israeli army’s video corroborates your claims about the photo.

Sincerely,
Allon Friedman, MD

I would usually say that we’re not holding our breath for more from our man at the EPA, but he responded as follows:

Mr. Friedman,

epa did all the necessary to establish proof of accuracy and authenticity of the picture therefore we won’t pursue this further.

Please feel free to visit our website www.epa.eu and search for ‘al-Masara’ for the pictures taken during the demonstration on November 30th. No password is required.

Whilst it is clear that epa’s statement isn’t convicing to your we consider that your enquiry has been taken serious, all the necessary has been done to investigate your points and satisfactory answers had been given.

best regards,
[Name]

Dr. Friedman is a man of science, so he has examined the photos cited by our man at the EPA. He writes:

Here is the response I received back from Mr. [Name]. I did what he suggested and got back 10 photos. They ALL look staged to me. The only one that includes a boy — http://www.epa.eu/webgate/preview.php?UURL=536399e0c1e3ed0d403b0967f6061a96&IMGID=50617497 — is laughable for its attempt at authenticity.

The photo is below. Is Dr. Friedman too harsh? I concur with “laughable,” but you be the judge.

UPDATE: A reader writes to make a different point:

I think the issue with the pictures is not whether they were staged or not. It is easy to picture a scenario where an adult tells the kids to go mess with the soldiers, push against them, try to push through them. The photographer is not aware of this and snaps the obvious photo op.

The issue here is the editorial choice of photo to publish. From the photos I see, it seems pretty obvious that people are demonstrating peacefully and there is a police presence standing by on the sidelines. The soldiers are relaxed, you can see some smiling in the background, and even soldiers right next to these “pushing” incidents aren’t paying attention to them. It’s a moot point whether the little girl is described to be “pushing” (maybe not entirely correct, though in a still photo you can’t always tell exactly what motion is going on) or more correctly, “confronting”. The choice by the editors is one which maximizes the big, bad, militaristic Israelis vs. the weak and vulnerable Palestinians narrative, but is not the best representation of the event being described.

I see another bias at work in the selection of all ten photos. All of them but one show the Israeli military presence, and the only one that doesn’t has a caption which includes “…in front of Israeli soldiers (not pictured)…”. The Palestinians are the actors here, they are the ones demonstrating. The Israeli soldiers are a big part of the story, to be sure, but in every single picture/caption?

Responses