Flotilla Propaganda War
In the nearly two weeks since Israeli commandos raided a Gaza-bound flotilla, a propaganda war has been waged on the internet. Dana Goldstein lays out the competing claims.
Nearly two weeks after Israeli commandos stormed a Gaza-bound flotilla and killed nine activists, audio, video, and photographic material documenting the early-morning raid continues to trickle out onto the Internet—where it is instantly dissected and vigorously contested.
When the Israeli army raided the Mavi Marmara on May 31, it confiscated cameras and digital memory cards, including some belonging to the 16 journalists on board the ship.
The second version of the same image…is not cropped. In the bottom right-hand corner of the full-frame photo, you can see one of the passengers is holding a knife.
• Peter Beinart: Why Israel Is Isolated • Henning Menkel: My Gaza Flotilla Diary According to IHH, the activist group that helped organize the flotilla to protest Israel’s blockade of Gaza, the IDF destroyed this photo and video equipment and then mailed the refuse back to Turkey. Meanwhile, using YouTube and Flickr, Israel released a trickle of edited and highly disputed photographic, video, and audio evidence intended to bolster its accounting of the events: that Israeli soldiers had been met on board the Mavi Marmara by a militant Islamist “lynch mob,” not peaceful protestors, and that they had only opened fire after several soldiers were attacked by the ship’s passengers.
Disputed video released by the IDF
But two Turkish journalists on board the ship managed to either smuggle their work back to Turkey or recover it from damaged memory cards: Adem Ozkose of Gercek Hayat magazine and Sefik Dinc of the newspaper HaberTurk. After the IHH posted Ozkose and Dinc’s photographs on its Flickr page and emailed some of their images to dozens of press contacts last Sunday, including the London-based newswire Reuters, the images became the source of heated debate.
Supporters of the Free Gaza movement honed in on several of Dinc’s images; one depicting a doctor aboard the Mavi Marmara tending to an injured IDF soldier, and another showing an activist shielding a wounded soldier from the prying lens of a photographer. Their interpretation? These were peaceful protestors committed to nonviolence.
The New York Times’ Robert Mackey tracked down the doctor in the photo, Hasan Huseyin Uysal, who confirmed its authenticity and said none of the soldiers’ wounds was serious. “I had our dead bodies and injured people lying in front of me and I was treating the soldiers that actually killed and wounded them,” Uysal told the Times. “None of our friends in the center approached to harm or hurt them. Our injured people were lying on the ground, but I rested the soldiers on our chairs.”
Meanwhile, on Sunday, conservative blogger Charles Johnson, who runs the website Little Green Footballs, posted two versions of a photograph by Ozkose released by the IHH. In the first version of the image, cropped by Reuters, an Israeli soldier is lying on the ground aboard the Mavi Marmara, his right eye open wide in fear as he is surrounded by a group of people. He appears to be bleeding from two wounds, one under his right arm and the other near his right hip.
The second version of the same image—the file emailed to Reuters and other media organizations by IHH—is not cropped. In the bottom right-hand corner of the full-frame photo, you can see one of the passengers is holding a knife.
Johnson told The Daily Beast that after he noted the discrepancy and speculated in a blog post that an ideologically-motivated Reuters editor might have cut the knife out of the image in order to portray the activists as less threatening, his website was flooded by nearly 2,000 hits from Reuters’ Canary Wharf offices in London. (Johnson tracks the IP addresses visiting his site and is familiar to Reuters; during the Israeli war against Lebanon in 2006, he exposed a Reuters photo of Beirut manipulated to create the appearance of more severe damage to the city.)
Reuters immediately un-cropped the image on its website. It said the photo had been edited in-house, but would not give any other details about where the photo was edited or by whom. “The images in question were made available in Istanbul, and following normal editorial practice were prepared for dissemination which included cropping at the edges,” the company said in a statement.
Johnson, though, remains unconvinced. “I don’t think Reuters as an organization deliberately did that for political reasons,” he said. “But I know they rely on stringers, and since those photos came from Turkey, I have to ask if someone from Turkey did it.”
What’s clear is that the existing photos and video of the raid and its aftermath don’t tell the whole story. There is no continuous video footage of the incident from beginning to end that could demonstrate exactly how the violence began and escalated. If such footage exists—filmed by the IDF, by journalists aboard the flotilla, or by the activists themselves—it is now in the hands of the Israeli government, and may never be made public.
Absent a more complete, objective narrative of the events, eyewitness accounts are likely to be dismissed by partisans as hearsay, while individual photographs are accused of lacking the context necessary to draw conclusions.
As Johnson said, “Propaganda is not a game of big wins. It’s a game of inches.”
Dana Goldstein is an associate editor and writer at The Daily Beast. Her work on politics, women's issues, and education has appeared in The American Prospect, Slate, BusinessWeek, The New Republic, and The Nation.