When Truth is a Casualty of War

Why has truth become the first casualty in the media’s coverage of Israel?

By Rolene Marks

There is something about covering Israel that causes the global media and even some of the most reputable journalists to take leave of their senses. This phenomenon doesn’t happen with coverage of any other conflict or country but is reserved exclusively for Israel, the nation state of the Jewish people.

There have been numerous examples of this but perhaps the most topical of all is the recent shooting of Al Jazeera journalist, Shireen Al Akleh, who was killed in a heavy exchange of gunfire while covering an Israeli counterterror operation in the volatile town of Jenin in the West Bank.

The loss of life is incredibly sad and regrettable and our thoughts go to her family and loved ones. It is imperative that in a democracy like Israel, we have a free press and no matter what our opinions about Al Jazeera are, we have to maintain their right to report. For the many war correspondents that cover conflicts around the world and take an enormous risk doing so, it is important that they are able to work as safely as possible.

But Shireen Abu Akleh was killed in the crossfire.

Caught in Crossfire. Covering a conflict situation in Jenin for the Arabic-language channel Al Jazeera, Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was killed by a single bullet, the source of which remains undetermined.

The response from the global media was outrage, anger and the usual, expected, reflexive blaming of Israel for firing the fatal bullet.

The next casualty was the truth about what actually happened.

Nobody waited for proof of whodunit but they immediately jumped to conclusion faster and higher than an Olympic athlete competing for a medal. Israel, having learnt the brutal lesson taught by the Mohammed Al Dura case where the IDF immediately accepted responsibility for the killing of the little boy but on closer investigation it was found he was killed in the crossfire by a Palestinian bullet, called for a joint investigation. The Palestinians refused.

To date, the Palestinians have refused to hand over the fatal bullet and Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, under international pressure to cooperate with an investigation, has said “international organisations” may take part but not Israel. He omits to say which organisations or how much participation they may have. The Palestinian medical examiner who carried out the autopsy on Al Akleh said that it was impossible to draw conclusive results.

But this did not mollify the global media who still maintain Israel is responsible. Not only has the global media bared its teeth for Israel but they also forgot to mention a very import thing – the context in which this exchange of fire took place. Since the beginning of March, Israel has endured a wave of terror that has seen 19 people killed. Several of these attacks have been planned and carried out by Palestinians from the town of Jenin in the West Bank. Jenin is a hotbed of incitement and terror activity and even the PA have lost control. The only way to root out terror, is for IDF security forces to engage in counterterror operations. This was the reason there was an exchange of fire. Al Akleh’s death could have been accidental and a horrible mistake.

This did not matter to the media and as a result, the public are only receiving half a story.

Al Akleh is not the only journalist to die in conflict but she is the only one whose name we know and inspires hashtags. She is the only journalist whose death managed to convene a meeting of the UN Security Council where a unanimous vote on a resolution called for “an immediate, thorough, transparent, and impartial investigation into her killing.”

According to diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity, the negotiations on the text were particularly arduous.

The United Nations did not convene an emergency session for Jewish Wall Street journalist, Daniel Pearl, who was kidnapped by terrorists in Pakistan and brutally beheaded after uttering his famous last words, “I am a Jew”.

UN’perturbed. The Jewish reporter for The Wall Street Journal, Daniel Pearl, who was beheaded by Muslim extremists in 2002 in Pakistan never received the same instant  concern  and calling for action from the United Nations  as it  has shown for the probable accidental killing of the Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh. The indifference to the Jewish reporter’s murder was further exposed last year in 2021 with the deafening silence of the world when  the Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered the release of the British national who was convicted of kidnapping and murdering  Daniel Pearl.

The International Federation of Journalists recently published statistics where they claimed between 1990 and 2020, 2,658 journalists were killed in war zones. In recent years, Syria has become the deadliest conflict zone but can anyone name a journalist killed in Syria? Twelve Al Jazeera journalists have been killed during this time and seven were killed in Syria, two in Iraq, one in Yemen, one in Libya, and the last one being Al Akleh.

There have been 340 killed in Iraq and hundreds in other parts of the world.

Taking Aim – at Israel! Despite showing any similar attention to the many journalists killed while covering conflicts around the world – notably over 23 already in the Ukraine –  United Nations Security Council (UNSC), with Israel as the unproven accused, unanimously denounced the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh calling for “an immediate” investigation” into her death. Additionally, the UN Human Rights noted that it might constitute a war crime.

At least 23 journalists have been killed in Ukraine since the brutal invasion by Russian military forces. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least seven of those deaths took place while on assignment.

Media’s Lens – a Selective Focus. While the tragic death of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu-Akleh has received non-stop news coverage and UN debate, scant such attention for the over 23 journalists from around the world killed during Russia’s seven-week war in Ukraine.

Covering conflict as a war correspondent is perilous work. We owe a debt of gratitude to the brave journalists, camera crews, producers and everyone risking their lives so that we can know the truth and facts about what is happening in conflict zones around the world. We owe it to them to pursue the truth when it comes to the circumstances surrounding their deaths.

 If not, the truth becomes another casualty of war.

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

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