Countering Bias and Misinformation mainly about the Arab-Israel conflict

Letter to International Herald Tribune re misleading photo caption and headline

DEIR YASSIN - startling evidence
About Maurice Ostroff

A response to the article in the right hand column below


An open letter to Mr. Arthur Brisbane,
Public Editor,
The International Herald Tribune and NY Times


June 8, 2011 
Dear Mr. Brisbane,

Headlines and photos distort the facts

Because I admire the general high quality of the International Herald Tribune, I was extremely disappointed by what I consider an aberrant breach of the code of ethics of the US Society of Professional Journalists which requires that headlines must not misrepresent, nor should they oversimplify, nor highlight incidents out of context.
I refer to the caption to the prominent photograph on the front page of your June 6 print edition relating to the Naksa Day attempt to breach the Syrian-Israeli border that reads, Pro-Palestinian protesters running from tear gas on Sunday after it was fired by Israeli troops next to the border between Israel and Syria near the town of Majdal Shams in the Golan heights. The Syrian Arab News agency reported that 19 protesters had been killed and more than 270 wounded.
The above text creates the false impression that without any provocation, Israeli troops fired on peaceful persons who were protesting in favor of Palestinians. The contradictory facts are 


1) The protesters were not peaceful nor were they acting pro-Palestinian. They were attempting to forcibly breach the Israel-Syrian border.  Al Jazeera confirmed that Israeli fire was not unprovoked but was directed at efforts to cut the fence. I quote "We were trying to cut the barbed wire when the Israeli soldiers began shooting directly at us," Ghayath Awad, a 29-year-old Palestinian who had been shot in the waist, told the AP news agency.


2) Highly relevant, but unmentioned in the IHT report, The Reform Party of Syria (RPS) reported that the Assad regime had paid each of the participants $1,000 and $10,000 to their families should any of them succumb to Israeli fire   In fact it is surprising that the media have failed to inform their readers about this highly relevant organization, especially since foreign reporters are not allowed in Syria.


3) The report in the IHT print article of June 6, that 19 persons were killed should have been qualified by mention of the unreliability of casualty figures quoted by Syrian sources in the absence of foreign reporters who are not allowed in Syria. In fact this figure of 19 in your print edition is contradicted by your own Internet edition published on June 5 in which the number killed is quoted as 22. The casualty reports vary widely, for example   RTTV (Russia Today) reported that Syrian television claimed that four people were killed and Al Jazeera reports at least 23 people killed.


Headlines and photos don't merely report the news. They influence how we evaluate it and influence our decision whether or not to read the accompanying full text. Our impression of the relative importance of headlines and photos is colored not only by the content but, more persuasively, by their size and position. They assume greater importance in today's world because the sheer volume of information via newspapers, radio and TV, augmented by the plethora of Web sites and blogs, is overwhelming. Few of us manage to completely read more than a small selection of the articles we come across. For the rest, we skim the headlines and pictures. 
In view of the general high standard of the International Herald Tribune, I hope that my impression that the above example is an aberration is correct and that your journalists and headline writers will be regularly reminded of the need to suppress their personal prejudices and strictly observe the code of ethics of the US Society of Professional Journalists.
Maurice Ostroff


International Herald Tribune          Monday June 6, 2011


Israelis fire on protesters near Golan Heights

Syrian agency reports 19 demonstrators killed on anniversary of '67 war 

Israeli forces fired at protesters on the Syrian frontier Sunday after protesters tried to breach the border for the second time in three weeks.  


Wave after wave of Syrian and Pales­tinian protesters from Syria ap­proached the frontier with the Israeli ­controlled Golan Heights. Israeli sol­diers opened fire at activists who crossed a newly dug trench and tried to breach the border fence near the Golan town of Majdal Shams.


The Syrian news agency SANA report­ed that 19 protesters were killed and more than 270 wounded. Citing the direc­tor of a Syrian hospital in the border town of Quneitra, the agency said that two of the dead, aged 19 and 29, had been shot in the chest and the head respectively. 

An Israeli military spokeswoman, speaking on condition of anonymity un­der army ru1es, said that "despite nu­merous warnings, both verbal and later warning shots in the air, dozens of Syri­ans continued to approach the border."


She said the soldiers tried to disperse the crowds with nonlethal means, in­cluding tear gas, but that did not deter them. The Israeli forces were "left with no choice," she said, "but to open fire at the feet of the protesters in order to de­ter them from further actions."


In the West Bank, there were clashes between Israeli soldiers and scores of Palestinian youths who tried to march on the Qalandia checkpoint, the main gateway between Ramallah and Jerusa­lem. Some of the youths had slingshots


and hurled stones at the soldiers. The soldiers fired tear gas and, according to some reports, rubber bullets.


But the borders with Gaza, Lebanon and Jordan were quiet as governments there prevented protesters from reach­ing the frontier.


Conversely, the thousands of protest­ers at the Syrian border, which cannot be approached without government ac­quiescence, appeared to reflect a calcu­lated strategy to divert attention from the uprising there. President Bashar al­Assad, who is facing the greatest chal­lenge to his family's ru1e in four decades, also opened the border three weeks ago; four Syrian protesters were killed then.


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed' 'extremist elements" for trying to break through Israel's borders.


"We will not allow them to do so," he said at the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, adding, "I have instructed the security forces to act with determina­tion, with maximum restraint, but with determination to maintain our sover­eignty, our borders, our communities and our citizens."


In Gaza, only a few dozen Palestin­ians  tried to walk to the Erez checkpoint on the border with Israel, but Hamas forces stopped them well before the crossing and they dispersed peacefu1ly.


Israel had braced for clashes after Pal­estinian activists in the region called for protest marches on Sunday to mark the . anniversary of the June 1967 Middle East war, which Palestinians call the "na­ksa," or setback. The Golan Heights, the West Bank and Gaza were among the territories Israel captured in that war.


There were also calls for Palestinians in Lebanon to march at the Israeli border, but activists there canceled those plans after the Lebanese authorities declared the border area a closed military zone.


The confrontations Sunday echoed the events of May 15, the day Palestinians mark as the "nakba," or catastr'o­phe, of Israel's establishment in 1948. Taking a cue from the so-called Arab Spring movement, organizers in mu1­tiple countries and territories called for a coordinated action against Israel, and huge crowds of Palestinians responded.


They clashed with Israeli troops on four fronts, and breached the border be­tween Syria and the Golan Heights for the first time in more than 30 years. At least 14 protesters from Lebanon and Syria were killed, stoking outrage in Pal­estinian camps across the region and in­tensifying pressure on Israel to create the conditions for a return to peace talks 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed "extremist elements" for trying to break through Israel's borders.

 The Israeli military had been prepar­ing for a repeat of the May 15 protests, and Israeli television reports showed soldiers fortifying fences and bu1ldozers digging trenches and laying barbed wire along the borders in the north.


On Saturday, Palestinian officials signaled another possible source of pressure on Israel, saying they wou1d accept a French proposal to attend a peace conference in Paris next month with the aim of restarting negotiations based on the broad principles laid out by President Barack Obama last month.


Mr. Obama said that talks shou14 be for a future Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps. He also suggested that talks shou1d focus first on the issues of borders and security, and deal later with the con­tentious issues of the status of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees of the 1948 war and their descendants.

The Palestinian president, Mahmoud


Abbas, said that in principle, the French proposal was acceptable. He told the Reuters news agency on Saturday that under the plan, neither Israel nor th Palestinians wou1d carry out "unilateral actions." The Palestinians have demanded a freeze in Israeli settlement building, while the Israelis oppose Palestinian plans to bypass negotiation and seek recognition for statehood the United Nations this fall.


There has been no public response to the French plan from the Israeli side, but Israel has previously rejected talks based on the 1967 lines. Moshe Yaalon the minister for strategic affairs in the Israeli government told Israeli television on Saturday that Israeli leaders would discuss the French proposal this week.


In a sign of growing frustration in Gaza, travelers tried to force their way through a crossing on the border with Egypt that was temporarily closed Saturday, a week after the new Egyptian government declared it open permanently.

Officials of Hamas, the Islamic militant group that ru1es Gaza, said they had not been told in advance about the closing. Egypt said it was a result of delays in renovation work that should have been completed on Friday.

Dozens of Palestinian travelers gathered in front of the closed gate leading to the Egyptian side of the crossing  in the morning. Peering through bar wire next to the gate, they realized t it wou1d be impossible for buses to pass through because of the work on the other side. After waiting for three hours the travelers forced open the gate and entered the Egyptian section. Egyptian police persuaded them to return peacefully.


Rina Castelnuovo contributed reporting from Majdal Shams, Golan Heights, and Fares Akram from Gaza.













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