Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Murderers into Martyrs: How lies that turn terrorists into innocent victims are fueling the current wave of violence in Israel

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Last week 13-year-old Ahmed Mansara, a Palestinian from Beit Hanina, was rushed to hospital from the nearby neighbourhood of Pisgat Ze'ev. Palestinian sources were quick to claim the 13-year-old had been ‘executed' in cold blood by Israel. This message has been disseminated even by Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, in a speech he gave on Wednesday night (14 Oct.) in Ramallah. He not only blamed Israel for supposedly "executing" Ahmed, but also threatened to turn to the international court in The Hague.

Ahmed, however, was not executed. In fact, he is alive. Photos of the 13-year-old, fully conscious and recovering in Israel's Hadassah hospital emerged on social media on Thursday 15 Oct. He was hit by a car while fleeing after carrying out a stabbing attack with his 15-year-old cousin Hassan that was caught on security camera. Their main victim: a Jewish 13-years-old child from Pisgat Ze'ev, who was critically injured. (Hassan, who rushed at security forces with a knife, was shot dead.)

This incident is an example of the most recent trend in Palestinian propaganda rhetoric: the language of "executions", which attempts to present Palestinians always as innocent victims and Israeli Jews as perpetrators, regardless of facts and context. In this case, even when a 13-year old Israeli Jewish child is stabbed while riding his bicycle, his attackers are the victims.

Israeli journalist Shmuel Rosner described the problematic media reporting and public portrayal of the incident, and its effects:

"It is the saddest story - heartbreaking, really - about both boys, condemned by circumstances to have such a fatal meeting. The stabbing attack was a clear-cut case, you'd think. Two young Palestinians from Beit Hanina took a knife and, with ill intentions, attacked first a man, then a child riding his bike in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Pisgat Ze'ev. What's not so clear-cut: Palestinian media reports and social media reports described the affair as an Israeli execution of a Palestinian boy. They used the photo of the attacker lying on the ground after he was stopped as the tool with which to incite the next day of horror."

This manipulation was also evident when Palestinian spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudeineh compared the killing of Hassan during the stabbing attack, as he was lunging at a police officer, to the death of Muhammad al-Dura, a Palestinian child who, according to Palestinian claims, was shot by Israeli soldiers in Gaza on September 30, 2000, during the Second Intifada, under unclear circumstances. Al-Dura has since become a Palestinian symbol of innocent victimhood, and this title is now bestowed upon a teenage attacker whose guilt seems incontrovertible - he too, in Abu-Rudeineh's eyes, is innocent. Pictures of Hassan and al-Dura side by side, as victims of two waves of violence, were circulated on social media.

The disinformation and lies about Palestinian attackers and their portrayal as victims have often gone unchallenged and unchecked on global media outlets. For example, in a report on the US-based "All Things Considered" on National Public Radio (NPR) on 13 October, Emily Harris interviewed Qassam Badran, the father of Ishaq Badran, a Palestinian teenager who was shot dead after stabbing two Jewish Israelis in Jerusalem. In the interview, Badran said that his son was motivated by a video of the killing of a female attacker in the Old City, and the manner in which she supposedly was stripped of her headscarf and then shot dead.

But, according to Harris, Badran denied that his son set out to commit a revenge attack - instead he insists that his son was being harassed by Israelis, and spontaneously picked up a knife from a juice stand in self-defence before being shot. The rest of the report also humanised the teenage stabber.

Harris did not question the father's version that his son was killed while wielding a knife in "self-defence"- contrary to available video evidence. Furthermore she also failed to point out during the interview that it is contradictory to claim both that Badran acted spontaneously in self-defence and was simultaneously supposedly motivated by the removal of the headscarf of a female terrorist, or that Badran's claims about that attack were also false. The female attacker he was referring to, Shoruq Dwayat, was not killed. She is recovering in hospital - while the removal of her headscarf during the attack remains an unsubstantiated rumour spread on Palestinian social media.

The case of Asraa Zidan Tawfik Abed, an Arab Israeli female stabber who carried out an attack at a bus station in the city of Afula on 9 Oct, received similar manipulative treatment - a transformation from perpetrator to victim. Following the attack, a video of the incident was spread on social media, alleging she was shot down without the chance to surrender. Dutch public broadcaster NOS only showed 13 seconds of the 52 second video, only showing several uniformed officers surround an Arab woman before opening fire on her. The parts that were edited out show Abed holding a knife and making stabbing motions, while officers shout at her to drop her weapon. Importantly, the omitted footage also shows Abed alive at the end of the incident.

According to JTA, when Marcel Gelauff, chief editor at NOS News, was asked about the story he defended his network's coverage of the incident claiming that it was not aiming to provide "a clear and detailed picture", but rather "an impression of a few events."

In other words, facts and context do not matter, only ‘impression' matters. NOS is not an exception: the Daily Mail covered the Afula footage under the headline "Amateur footage shows Palestinian woman executed in Afula." The word "executed" was later changed to "shot". The story included 39 seconds of the video, which apparently was enough to show the standoff with Abed, but not enough to confirm that she was still alive at the end of the event.

Simon Plosker, managing editor of HonestReporting.com, also described this recent inversion of victimhood: "Palestinians who are carrying out the attacks are being portrayed as victims who are presumably being driven to desperate measures by Israeli policies." That is, if they are even portrayed as attackers as all, not as victims of Israeli aggression.

International, especially European, media tended to avoid labelling attackers as ‘Palestinians'. In this manner, a BBC story about a Palestinian who was killed by Israeli security forces after stabbing two Israelis to death was published under the headline "Palestinian shot dead after Jerusalem attack kills two," failing to mention the simple causal link: that the Palestinian who was shot was the attacker, while the two killed were his Jewish victims. After many complaints and multiple versions, the BBC changed the headline to "Jerusalem: Palestinian kills two Israelis in Old City."

The application of this manipulative rhetoric leads to an inversion of reality by creating a moral equivalence between perpetrator and victim, and creates an absurd situation in which any attempt to protect human lives by stopping an armed attacker in the act of carrying out a stabbing rampage on completely innocent civilians on the street is criticised as an ‘execution' and a crime, and Israel is labelled as the aggressor.

The absurdity of the situation was perhaps best articulated by Rosner in an anecdote:

"I phoned Ziad Abuzayyad, a Palestinian politician, for an interview that didn't turn out very well. ‘Why are you only asking about the Jews that were killed?' he asked me when I opened with a question about the stabbing that had taken place just minutes earlier. ‘You do not ask about the Palestinians that were killed. You are not objective. I cannot speak to you,' he said."

He also observed how the lines between perpetrator and victim are being blurred, and roles are inverted:

"A highly disturbing characteristic of the new ‘situation' is that facts are no longer facts. Israelis - that is, Jewish Israelis - feel attacked, terrorized. Palestinians - that is, Palestinians from the occupied territories and Arab Israelis - feel attacked, terrorized."

At least in the case of Ahmed Mansara, we now know the facts. Ahmed, now recovering from his injuries- not executed- said what Abbas and the Palestinian propagandists conveniently forgot to mention- "I went there to stab Jews", he admitted.

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