The first images of the clashes aboard the Mavi Marmara
early Monday morning were broadcast by Al Jazeera English, which had an embedded journalist, Jamal Elshayyal, aboard the ship. What is remarkable about the footage is that the only attack it depicted was of the passengers upon the Israeli commandos, using bars and knives. The footage did not show the soldiers shooting. Yet the images were described as an Israeli attack.
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The images were beamed around the world, inciting a mob to storm the Israeli embassy in Turkey, enraging anti-Israel crowds throughout the Arab and Muslim world, and inflaming Western public opinion. Yet the footage did not depict what Al Jazeera claimed it did, and in fact Israel was later able to use the same images to show the violent way in which its troops were confronted (the other five ships were stopped without incident).
Similarly, the infamous footage of 12-year-old Palestinian Muhammad Al-Dura at the start of the second intifada in September 2000 did not actually show the boy or his father being shot by Israeli troops. Charles Enderlin, the journalist who reported that Al-Dura had been shot and killed, was not actually present on the scene. He relied on the explanation provided by the embedded Palestinian cameraman who filmed the event:
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It is often said that images matter, which is why Israel is losing the public relations battle. But images are not all that matter. With the Gaza flotilla, as with the Al-Dura incident, what matters most is how images are interpreted by their audience. Millions have watched these images in the belief that they are seeing something that does not actually appear in the footage. They believe what the embedded journalists tell them.
Starting with the Gaza war, Israel has pushed back by providing its own footage, filmed by Israeli soldiers and broadcast on the Israel Defense Force’s YouTube
channel. These videos disprove false claims by Israel’s enemies. Yet they lack an independent voice to verify and interpret the images in real time for a mass audience. (Richard Goldstone ignored them completely in his defamatory U.N. “fact-finding” report
on the Gaza conflict.)
In the media, as on the battlefield, terrorists are using asymmetric warfare. Democracies rarely push journalists to the front lines, even when embedded with military units. Also, journalists embedded with U.S. or Israeli forces are expected, and expect themselves, to be objective. That is not the case for journalists who embed themselves with terrorists and their sympathizers. They do not cover events; they interpret them. With a purpose.