The Israeli government’s strategy is: blame Palestinians first, repeat the message then “prove it” later.
In the very first hours of Shireen Abu Akleh’s killing, the Israeli propaganda machine went to work on a deflection strategy.
First, The Israeli Foreign Ministry posted a short video that was filmed that morning by Palestinian militants in a residential neighbourhood, in which the men were heard saying that they had “shot a soldier”.
Later, Prime Minister of Israel Naftali Bennett claimed that since no Israeli soldier was injured in Jenin that day, the footage was evidence that the militants had mistaken Abu Akleh.
An initial investigation by the Israeli army has shown that Abu Akleh was about 150 metres away from Israeli forces when she was fatally shot in the head, according to Haaretz.
Most importantly, B’Tselem center said, that the GPS coordinates of the locations in the two video, as well as an aerial photograph of the sites demonstrate that the shooting depicted in this video could not possibly be the gunfire that hit Shireen Abu Akleh and her colleague, because they are about 300 metres apart and separated by walls and buildings.
The next day, Israel’s military chief scaled back his assertions stating: “At this stage, we cannot determine by whose fire she was harmed and we regret her death”.
Three days later, Israel ordered an investigation into the conduct of its officers who attacked pallbearers at the funeral of Shireen Abu Akleh in Jerusalem.
According to Israeli journalist Barak Ravid, “there was an urgent consultation of the National Hasbara (PR) Headquarters together with representatives of the Prime Minister’s Office, the Foreign Ministry and the Israeli Defence Forces. They decided that the main goal was to try and fend off the narrative that was emerging in the international media, according to which Abu Akleh was killed by Israeli fire”.
Given the egregious nature of the aforementioned propaganda, saying that Bennett is merely ‘sharing fake news’ can be classified as euphemism. This in fact, is a systematic policy used by the Israeli PR machine.
The mainstream international media fell into that trap of the official and non-official Israeli propaganda channels, evolving their narrative according to the changes in Israeli news.
For example, the New York Times’ first headline was ‘Shireen Abu Akleh, Palestinian journalist, dies aged 51,’ implying she had passed away of natural causes or an illness.
Later, they released a correction for “misstating” Al Jazeera’s statement on Abu Akleh’s killing, after initially reporting incorrectly that Al Jazeera had said Abu Akleh was killed in “clashes”.
Reuters international agency also originally reported the beating of Palestinian mourners carrying Abu Akleh’s casket as “clashes between mourners and police”. The headline was only later changed, as the videos gone viral on the internet did not reflect clashes in any capacity, rather showing Israeli police lunging towards Palestinians during the funeral procession.
In other coverage, the direct quotes from journalists who were eyewitnesses to Shireen’s killing were reported very far down in the article, reducing them in significance whilst amplifying misinformed narratives.
The constant obfuscation of the truth in Abu Akleh’s murder is eerily reminiscent of Muhammad Al Durrah’s case.
In 2000 Al Durrah was 12 years old when the Israeli forces shot him dead on live TV, in Gaza. The Israeli army initially took responsibility, but the Israeli government manipulated the news pushing the army to change its position in 2005.
The Israeli government even commissioned a report on the incident and the confusing response were detrimental to Israel’s global reputation.
All the propaganda that aimed to exonerate the Israeli army lead many to believe that the whole incident was a hoax.
Bias against Palestinians is not a bias
There is a shameful pandering to the Israeli government, and fear surrounding upsetting and being accused in turn of being “antisemitic”. As such, international media often operates in a manner playing it safe, resulting in manipulated headlines that whitewash the occupation’s brutal face.
For this reason, it is widely believed that western journalists do not parrot the Israeli narrative about Shireen from a professional aspect, in order to show two sides of a story, rather they do so because they want to be politically correct.
In Shireen’s case, various mainstream western media outlets ignored a very condemnatory fact that the Israeli army has been raiding Jenin for over 6 months.
After every invasion, the occupation’s media announces the Palestinian deaths and casualties as part of the army’s operations. Upon the killing of Abu Akleh, however, an internationally renowned correspondent, widely respected and an American citizen, their apparent transparency was nowhere to be found; substituted instead with disinformation and denial.
Had mainstream western media outlets working on Abu Akleh’s story done their homework, reading the news but one month back, they would have reported accurately — that this she is not the first victim by the Israeli army. Unfortunately, they preferred parroting the Israeli narrative.
“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it”.
The Israeli government knows this lesson by heart. Their strategy is crystal clear: blame Palestinians first, repeat the message then “prove it” later, if you want to keep the international community on your side.
Sara Abu Alrob is a Palestinian journalist and podcast producer based in the West Bank.