Can You See Through The Spin?
Janine Di Giovanni with comments by Rixon Stewart
What follows is an exercise in distinguishing the truth from subtle disinformation. At first glance this report may appear balanced and objective, but somewhere along the line someone has carefully edited it, resulting in a pivotal conclusion being obscured. See if you can spot it (photos added by us).
Bell tolls for peace in ruins of Manger Square
From Janine Di Giovanni near Manger Square, Bethlehem. The Times, April 6 2002
SHORTLY after midday, when devout Catholics traditionally kneel to say the Angelus, the bells began ringing in the besieged Church of the Nativity.
It was an eerie sound in this destroyed place, made more dramatic by the accompanying tank shells and gunfire.
It was eerier still because on Thursday, Samir Ibrahim Salman, 45, a quiet Palestinian Christian and the bell-ringer, had been hit by a single bullet in the chest and died.
Mr Salman was a man who spoke little but climbed the stairs to the tower every day to ring the bells. Now, in the midst of a Bethlehem under siege, someone else had taken his place.
Nearly 200 Palestinian gunmen and civilians crouch inside the 4th century church, one of the most sacred sites in the Holy Land for Christians. They have sought refuge since Tuesday inside this dimly lit building that smells of beeswax and incense.
Weeks ago, during Lent, thousands of tourists queued for hours to place candles and pray at the spot where it is believed that Christ was born.
Now the church is a scene of destruction. According to one Palestinian who has been communicating with the gunmen throughout the siege, the people have some electricity and water, but are running out of supplies.
“They have no food and no medical supplies,” he said. “There are seven people who are very badly injured. One is shot so badly that his leg is nearly severed from his body. You can smell death.”
Four priests did manage to come out by yesterday afternoon, but there are still 40 Roman Catholic monks who have said that they would stay inside to act as protection against the Israelis. Palestinian reports claimed that nine people had been killed in fighting and that a door had been blasted open, but an Israeli company commander, who refused to be named, said that he could not confirm the reports. A young Israeli soldier said that the church was not shot at. “It’s a holy place and we don’t want to shoot holy places,” he said. “When those Palestinian men are inside the church, they are not dangerous. It is only when they are outside that they become dangerous.”
Along Najajerah Street, which leads to Manger Square, there is a terrible stillness that foreshadows chaos. Broken glass from windows shot out by machineguns and grenades litters the street. Cars crushed by oncoming tanks lie on the side of the road. Shopping bags of food are spilt along the road, left by people who have run from gunfire. When the curfew is “relaxed” for an hour to allow the people to come outside and gather supplies, they appear in the street near the ironically named Peace Fountain, wide-eyed, blinking in the sunlight.
A frightened child stands near her mother and has only one word to say as she stares at the destroyed buildings and broken glass. “Yehud,” she says, Arabic for Jew.
“Why do this to my car? Why do this to my house?” cried Samir, a Palestinian whose car had been crushed and whose house destroyed by what he said was a tank shell the previous night.
Broken hydrants spew water; the market has been destroyed, with tables and stands shot up and boobytraps laid by departing Palestinian gunmen. Twitchy, frightened Israeli soldiers hide in doorways. Yesterday afternoon, as we moved closer to Manger Square, a French journalist was shot in the leg by a soldier and slightly injured.
Now, the curfew leaves the town deadly quiet, with Palestinian families hiding behind shuttered doors and window grilles. Occasionally, terrified faces peer out from behind a curtain; then at the sound of gunfire, they pull back. House-to-house searches continue, with Israeli soldiers climbing through doors and windows, sometimes tossing stun grenades before going in.
But perhaps the desperation and the agony of Bethlehem can best be summed up by a hand-lettered sign which the management has posted inside the Star Hotel.
The Star was once a resting place for pilgrims; now it has become a haven for refugees and flak-jacketed, helmeted journalists covering Israel’s biggest military operation since the invasion of Lebanon 20 years ago.
The sign is a pathetic plea to the international press corps for help in bringing medical supplies to the wounded who are trapped inside their houses.
“Dear Journalists: Please when you go to the hospital can you get medical supplies and bring them to the hotel. We need tetanus injections, antibiotic injections; bandages; sedatives; painkillers; antiseptics. Ambulances and doctors are not allowed to move. You are the only people that can help at this moment.” http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/0,,3-258334,00.html
[PICTURE: Sami Abden and the bodies of his mother and brother, who were shot during a fire fight between Israelis and Palestinians. Both of who then bled to death after ambulances were stopped by Israeli troops.]
DID YOU SEE IT?
Note where it says: “on Thursday, Samir Ibrahim Salman, 45, a quiet Palestinian Christian and the bell-ringer, had been hit by a single bullet in the chest and died.” It omits to mention the obvious: namely that such deadly accuracy was probably not the result of a stray bullet but deliberate, maybe even the work of a sniper. Nor does it tell us where Salman was when he was shot. Was he in the Church of the Nativity complex itself or elsewhere in Bethlehem? Was he in fact shot whilst ringing the bells in the Church of Nativity? With The Times we can only assume the worst, particularly after its Middle East correspondent Sam Kiley resigned recently in protest at the way his reports were being edited. Of course there are no outright lies in this report but there are subtle omissions of detail that help obscure the real truth beneath a veneer of balanced reporting.
As Sam Kiley said of his former employers: "No pro-Israeli lobbyist ever dreamed of having such power over a great national newspaper."
So what really happened to Samil Ibrahim Salman? Did an Israeli sniper shoot him whilst he rung the bells at one of Christianity’s most sacred shrines? As it happens a friend in Israel contacted us with the information that Salman was shot by a sniper in Manger Square. The middle aged Christian Palestinian had risen at dawn every day to ring the bells in Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity. However on the morning of Thursday April 4th 2002 he had left his home for the short walk across Manger Square to the church. As he stepped out across the square a single shot rang out and felled him.
Medics say Salman bled for hours in the square before an ambulance, blocked by the Israelis, was eventually able to reach him. By then he was dead.
According to a cousin, Anton, Samil Salman had rung the bells for nearly thirty years but: "he was unaware of the danger. He was a simple man who spent most of his time in the church. He never bothered anybody or hurt anyone," he added.
[PICTURE: An Israeli sniper with the spire of the Church of the Nativity in the background.]
Three things emerge from this: first and foremost is the fact that a simple Christian bell ringer had been deliberately targeted, probably in an attempt to psychologically unnerve the besieged occupants of the Church of the Nativity. Secondly it should be noted that this information was sent to us by an Israeli, outraged by her governments treatment of the Palestinians. In her words: “I cannot believe the Nazis in Israel today killing Palestinians as if they were ‘terrorists’ and the world is standing by. This is worse than the Warsaw Ghetto!” Siriusss
But perhaps most significant of all is the fact that our ‘free press’ is helping to cover these crimes with very subtle distortion, in effect disinformation dressed up as journalism.
However this is not the first time our free press has spun a web of deceit around events in Palestine, nor was it to be the last. In the days following Salman’s shooting Israeli troops and armour entered Jenin and embarked on an action that wrought utter devastation. For 12 days the Israeli army occupied the camp whilst keeping our free press outside the camp’s perimeter, along with medical personnel and relief workers.
When they were finally allowed in they found scenes of horror. According to Terje Roed-Larsen, the UN special envoy: “We have expert people here who have been in war zones and earthquakes and they say they have never seen anything like it,” he told reporters. “It is horrifying beyond belief.”
His comments were echoed by other relief workers, who spoke of the overpowering stench of rotting human flesh in the camp. Whilst a forensic expert noted that Jenin “easily paralleled anything I had witnessed … in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, after the Russian offensive.”
In the process of taking Jenin the Israelis took casualties themselves, losing 12 men in one engagement alone. But according to an Israeli colonel, speaking to the state run Israeli radio: “Many of the fatalities among our soldiers were because we behaved as the most moral army in the world and the most careful army in the world.”
Israeli human rights group B’tselem and survivors tell another story; they accused the army of demolishing houses with civilians still inside. While according to Rory Macmillan, a Scottish lawyer and member of an international volunteer team: “No camera frame is wide enough to capture the scale and awfulness of what has happened in the Jenin Refugee Camp. It is far worse than the TV pictures.”
Others echoed his comments. Although the US based Human Rights Watch found nothing to support claims of a massacre, it did find considerable evidence that War Crimes were committed. Its report, released in early May, gave two examples:
“An impoverished invalid named Kamal Zghair, 57, who slept in the backroom of a petrol station in Jenin, for instance, was shot dead on a major road when he ignored a curfew even though he had a white flag attached to his wheel chair. His body was then run over by an Israeli tank, and could only be identified by a friend from the socks.
“Another disabled man, named Jamal Fayid, who was paralysed, was crushed in the rubble of his home after Israeli soldiers refused to allow his family time to remove him from the house before a bulldozer destroyed it.”
However, we in the West only get the sanitized version of these events. We got the stories and press reports all right but they were so carefully edited that you may not have noticed that one crucial element was missing. In virtually all the reports we’ve seen there were NO PHOTOS of any of the bodies; and in those few that did carry photos the corpses were already neatly wrapped up in body bags.
Once again we were being fed subtle disinformation in the guise of journalism. All it takes is the removal or displacement of a couple of key elements and you can change the entire thrust of a story.
Like they say: a picture says a thousand words and the omission reduced the reports dramatic impact ten fold. In effect the stories were eviscerated, leaving the way wide open for the ifs and buts of the spin doctors afterwards. Even as the first reports appeared the Israelis countered with accusations that the Palestinians were moving bodies INTO Jenin, whilst blocking an official UN investigation into events at the camp.
In closing it should be noted that we have seen some photos of bodies in Jenin and they are horrific, evidence that something truly awful took place there: evidence that our mainstream media is complicit in concealing. Finally you may ask: where are these photos? Well, we are not going to publish them because they are truly obscene. Evidence of that an obvious War Crime has been committed, a damming indictment of the Israeli government, and those of the United States and Britain too.
Sources: The Times May 3rd, The Scotsman April 19th 2002 and Siriusss in Israel.
Last updated 01/12/2003