woensdag 1 september 2010

Israeli Military Fighting for the Narrative, Online

(article by guest author Yermi Brenner)
A six ship flotilla, challenging Israel's naval blockade of Gaza, was intercepted by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) on May 31st. The flotilla's lead ship - Mavi Marmara - was carrying more than five hundred people. Nine of the Mavi Marmara's passengers were killed when Israeli soldiers forced their way on board and took control of the ship.

The incident was documented by passengers and journalists on board the ships, and by military film crews in helicopters and nearby boats. As soon as the takeover was complete, soldiers confiscated (nearly) all the footage that was filmed during the raid. The confiscated footage, along with the military press footage, has since been held by the IDF Spokesperson Unit (IDFSU), which has released only parts of it, in short edited clips.

The video report I prepared does not investigate the events on board the Mavi Marmara. There are plenty of committees/probes/inquiries who will look into that. Instead, I focused on how the Israeli military used online tools to deliver its narrative of the events, to the global audience. This report offers a rare peek into the IDF Spokesperson Unit, which is a key source of information in the Middle East, for journalists and news consumers.

The report shows how the Israeli military uses internet tools to its advantage. But the New-Media is also challenging the military's Spokesperson Unit. There are Bloggers for example, who function as independent watchdogs journalists, raising important questions and spreading valuable information online. In the days after the flotilla incident, American blogger Max Blumenthal took it upon himself to follow - and question - the IDF Spokesperson Unit's (IDFSU) press releases. On June 3rd, Blumenthal exposed how the IDFSU was forced to retract claims of flotilla passengers having links to Al Qaeda since it did not have any evidence. On June 4th, Blumenthal proved an audio transmission from the incident - distributed by the IDFSU online - was edited before being released to the public. Blumenthal's post led the IDFSU publishing another clarification. A few days later, Blumenthal again created doubts regarding an IDFSU press release:
"...The IDF Spokesman's Office distributed a photo of a bearded Muslim man with a knife surrounded by reporters. Daylight was pouring in from a window or door behind the reporters... The IDF apparently told Haaretz that the photo was taken immediately after its naval commandos raided the Mavi Marmara and other flotilla ships... Yet the raid was conducted under the cover of darkness. How could a photo obviously taken during daytime have portrayed an event that took place during the late evening?" (Posted by Max Blumenthal, June 8th 2010)
As reported by Blumenthal and seen in the screen shot below, inaccurate information provided by the IDFSU was published in Haaretz a few hours after the incident:

Blumenthal was not the only New-Media agent that was challenging the IDF's messages. Filmmaker/Activist/Blogger Lara Lee filmed on board the Mavi Marmara during the raid, and managed to smuggle out sixty minutes of footage. Lee's raw video doesn't document the violent confrontation and shooting that took place, but clearly shows wounded passengers and soldiers in long uninterrupted stretches of the event.

What Do YOU Believe?
Over two months have passed since the incident, and it is still not clear what exactly took place on board the the Mavi Marmara. There are few basic facts that are universally agreed upon:
  • Nine of the ship's passengers were killed in the incident as a result of gunshot wounds - and about thirty others were wounded.
  • Ten Israeli soldiers were wounded, three of them were temporarily captured by the passengers.
  • The incident occurred on international waters, about 120 km off the coast of Israel.
  • By 6 A.M. local time, the soldiers controlled the entire flotilla, and were escorting it to Israel. The passengers were taken into custody, and released within 72 hours.
The IDF's narrative of the incident - presented by its Investigative Committee - states that soldiers used live ammunition only after they were shot and attacked with knives and poles, and only in self-defense. The counter argument, presented in interviews with Mavi Marmara passengers, is that the soldiers fired live ammunition before boarding the Mavi Marmara. Passengers have claimed the Israeli soldiers that boarded the ship were not shooting in self-defense but rather massacring peaceful activists.

The incident is currently being investigated by a U.N. probe, and by an Israeli special public commission. But even more interesting for me is to learn what people from around the world believe happened on board the Mavi Marmara. I am making a short investigation of my own, using your comments in the space below. Please take the time to explain what you believe took place when the Israeli soldiers confronted the passengers.

To get things started, I will offer my guess:

I think the Israeli military's intention was to take over the ship without using live ammunition. The passengers on board the Mavi Marmara tried to prevent the soldiers from boarding, so the Israelis fired tear gas and rubber bullets at them. As soon as the soldiers managed to board, they encountered life threatening violence, and only then they began using live ammunition. When three wounded soldiers were taken below deck by the passengers, the military forces increased their use of live ammunition. I suspect that not all of the victims were killed in self-defense. It was not a preplanned massacre, but rather a panic reaction by Israeli soldiers who faced a violent resistance they were not ready for.

So, what is your take on these events? What do you think is an accurate picture of what actually took place?

Q&A: Israeli Deadly Raid on Aid Flotilla, BBC
Bias Reporting by the Washington Post, Max Blumenthal, June 5th 2010
Israelis' Reaction to the Flotilla Incident, Foreign Policy, June 10th 2010
How Israel's Propaganda Shaped U.S. Media, Salon, June 4th 2010

Yermi Brenner is an independent Video Journalist reporting about what's happening in Israel beyond the headline news. He works for The Video Journalist Movement (VJM) and occasionally for Israeli media. He was born in a secular Kibbutz 40 km south of Tel Aviv.

(Zie "Archive juni" voor een aantal andere artikelen over de aanval op het hulpkonvooi)

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