Israeli attack on Gaza flotilla: what really happened?

Journalists will need to be careful how they report the developing story of the deadly clash between Israeli military forces and a flotilla of aid ships that were headed toward Gaza. The Israeli government says that its forces were fired upon as they boarded the ships. A spokesperson for the aid flotilla denies it. Diplomats from Turkey and other countries are registering disapproval of Israel. There are calls for UN action. Protest demonstrations are in the works. The Israelis defend their actions and accuse the aid flotilla organizers of links with terrorists. Critics say Israel used disproportionate force against civilians. What really happened and what are the facts behind this incident? That is what journalists need to stay focused on. They need to be careful not to be manipulated by either side, but that may not be easy. If there were no independent journalists aboard any of the ships, reporters will have to rely on statements by both sides, and the trick is figuring out how to present those viewpoints fairly and as objectively as is humanly possible.

Based on my experience covering the Middle East for Newsweek and CNN, we are likely to see the Israelis make full use of their communication skills to spin the story their way. If the past is any guide, the Palestinians and their supporters will put out a confusing, conflicting story, will fail to provide English-speaking spokespersons who give a clear account, and may miss an opportunity to influence public opinion in the United States, although so far they may have aroused sympathy in other countries such as France. Already you can see how the Israeli version of what happened is influencing news coverage. The headline for the lead AP story Monday morning said: “Israel blames organizers for flotilla deaths.” The story quoted Israeli officials, and had no quotes from the other side. This could be due to AP bias or the lack of usable quotes from the other side at that time. As for possible bias, in my experience, American journalists or their editors often worry about appearing to be unfair to Israel, and tend to place heavy weight on official Israeli versions of incidents. The same AP report had a caption on a photo of Israeli troops aboard one of the ships. It said the photo from a Turkish ship “purported” to show Israeli troops. Would the AP say “purported” when using a comparable Israeli photo? I wonder.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Israeli attack on Gaza flotilla: what really happened?

  1. Celeste Whiting

    Interestingly, the flotilla organizers and the IDF are each claiming they did not provoke the violence. The activists claim they were coming in peace with humanitarian aid and the IDF says they were boarding the ships in a police action, implying not a military action. Yet, the actions of each in the context of the blockade and history of the Gaza conflict can each be seen as provocative. Soldiers boarded non-military vessels in international waters. Humanitarian activists steered a course directly toward Gaza. Surely the activists expected conflict. Surely the IDF expected the activists to defend themselves in international waters. If the activists sought to create news, they succeeded. If the Israelis sought to provoke and discredit activists who claimed to be non-violent, they were less successful.
    And still, we really don’t know what happened.

  2. I think that’s a good analysis of the situation and what may have happened, although we still don’t know.

  3. Aalaa

    I will admit from the beginning that I have biases on this issue. However, I appreciate how wonderfully you phrased exactly what is happening with the news coverage. It is quite sad to realize that the failure to have one spokesperson by the Palestinian supporters will probably occur again and again. It is, for me, very disconcerting to absorb the way Israel can change its story time and again with different claims and “facts” about the attack and how it happened, but then again, if you can get away with changing the story (which in time will bring sympathy/support for ‘justified’ actions), why wouldn’t you? And if the opposite side cannot gather in a unified manner to issue their own strong stance, then much blame lies on them as well. It seems like the conflict between Israel/Palestine is a very hard one to cover, and one in which many will have problems with..including myself.

  4. “Would the AP say “purported” when using a comparable Israeli photo? I wonder.”

    I don’t. I *know* they wouldn’t, and so does everyone here.

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