To publish or not to publish? That was the question asked in
Israel again and again this week ever since the brutal massacre of
the Fogel family in Itamar last Friday night. To respect the dead and conceal the pictures or distribute the horrific images in the hope that the West won't be able to look the other way from yet another brutal attack by Palestinian terrorists.
After a great deal of consideration and indecision, the Israeli government – through the Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs – decided to deviate from its usual custom and distribute photos from
the heinous attack to any media outlet interested in taking them.
It's a shame that one important issue wasn't taken into account: The 'target audience' of the shocking pictures – Western media and their followers – didn't really want to see them.
True, the tsunami in Japan and
the threat of a nuclear disaster were naturally the main headline and lead news story around the globe. But so far, Minister of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Yuli Edelstein's claims
that the pictures would force the foreign media to deal with the horrendous attack have not materialized. The images have done nothing more than prove that a vast divide exists between the way Israelis feel about the massacre and the the global attitude towards one of the most shocking attacks in Israel's history.
So minister, for your information: The prejudice towards Israel, at least in Europe, is sadly going strong – much more so than any gruesome pictures you insist on publishing. Incidentally, the Foreign Ministry directed Israel's embassies not to distribute the Itamar massacre photos so that they wouldn't be taken for government propaganda. And yet, embassies were given the go-ahead to offer assistance to private sources wishing to distribute the images.
"Some missions asked what to do," a Ministry source said. "Our unequivocal response was not to distribute them under the aegis of the government, consulates or the embassy. As soon as the government pushes for their publication, it seems like propaganda even if the pictures are truly shocking."
For the pictures to really touch readers' hearts and shock them, we first need to share the whole story," explains Giulio Meotti a reporter with Italy's 'Il Foglio' newspaper. "But reports of the murder in Itamar were minimal. The Italian media emphasized the fact that this was a settler family with a hidden message that the murder was permissible."
Indeed, a review of Italy's newspapers from the last few days suggests the sad fact – that the murder in Itamar hasn't penetrated local public opinion. The horrific pictures did little to push the story into the public arena, because no one would publish them.
"In order to publish tough images you really need to be a brave editor," says Meotti, who made it clear that no one in Italy would have the guts to disrupt an Italian family's dinner with those kinds of pictures. The Italian media, much like its international counterparts, suffers from prejudice against Israel. A good picture is a dusty teddy bear placed by Hezbollah at the scene of sites bombed by Israel. The photos from Itamar just interfere with the story the European media is trying to tell."
Just another attack? Fogel family funeral (Photo: Reuters)
In the absence of media coverage of the Itamar massacre story, we sent a link to the pictures to some of Italy's media outlets. We received one response from an Italian journalist considered fair in her coverage: "Unfortunately there is no end to the horrors humans are capable of. But I think answering one horror with another does little to promote hopes for peace."
In response to the question of when did you see an Israeli come into a Palestinian house and butcher a child with a knife, the reporter answered: Is bombing citizens more ethical than stabbing children in their beds? To me the two are equally atrocious."
The reporter's statements indicate clearly that a majority of the European public sees no difference between a legitimate act of self-defense and a terror attack. When this is the popular view in the European media and public, it is naïve to think that a series of pictures, as shocking as they may be, would bring about a change in public opinion.
Expecting Israel to get media coverage that is slightly more sympathetic than usual in the British press due the distribution of the photos shows that our understanding of the recipient is severely lacking. For Britain's day to day reporting of the conflict is favorably disposed towards the Palestinians and Israel usually fails to get much, if any, positive attention.
The domestic debate that arose in Israel over the publication and distribution of pictures from the brutal murder wasn't echoed in the British media. You won't find the pictures themselves in any of the major national papers that usually offer daily coverage of everything happening in the Middle East.
The influential Evening Standard newspaper did report the murder and even included pictures of the murdered children, but the article also included a detailed explanation of the fact that the family was a settler family, living in "occupied territories not recognized by the UN." Moreover, the newspaper made sure to emphasize that the area where the murdered family's home is located is intended to be included in the future Palestinian state.
Illegal home? Itamar murder scene
Thus, an article about a heinous murder is transformed into a laconic accounting of the killing of people living in illegal areas. The reader is left to make the connection.
The BBC went one step further and even qualified the fact that the attack was a murder. The headline of the story published on its website was "Israel in manhunt against 'Palestinian murderer.'" Here too the fact that the family was from a West Bank settlement is emphasized at the beginning of the article.
Meanwhile, the murderers' origin is written with qualifications. Official (Israeli) sources say the Palestinians are responsible for the murder, the report stated, maybe because the journalist assumed there are other responsible parties. The incident's details were also ascribed to the Israeli media as if the BBC was trying to avoid taking any responsibility for the details.
A great deal of the report was dedicated to the illegitimacy of the Itamar settlement. Settlers are considered illegal under international law, a claim Israel refutes, noted the article.
While most European countries minimized their reporting of the Itamar massacre, France was a mixed bag. Here, side by side with the apathetic majority, serious publications allotted the Fogel family tragedy a more prominent place. Le Figaro covered the terror attack extensively with nearly half a page devoted to the article, which included more than just the usual quotes from news agencies.
"Israel shocked after settler family murder" read the Le Figaro headline. "National mourning in Israel," wrote the journalist who went on to describe the horrors of the house in Itamar. And yet, the secondary headline swiftly moved on to state that "following murder Netanyahu gives green light to West bank construction." Inside the article the reporter noted that Netanyahu was attempting to calm the settlers down. Yet this report was the exception that proves the rule. For the most part there was little coverage of the attack.
From Spain's perspective the terror attack in Itamar left its bloody mark within Israel's borders. The bloody massacre was widely reported in most of the local media outlets – but those who expected outrage over the pictures were left underwhelmed – as the pictures received little or no coverage. It is also difficult to ignore the fact that the story about Israel's decision to build 400 new housing units received the same amount of coverage as the massacre.
Scandinavia is very careful when it comes to publishing controversial pictures. Israeli sources in Scandinavia noted that Israel's restraint – even when dealing with a despicable murder like the one in Itamar – influences Scandinavian media and the Scandinavian governments in a positive way, more than any shocking pictures ever could. But there was little if any coverage of the event in most Scandinavian media outlets.
Menachem Gantz (Rome), Yaniv Halili (London), Lior Zilberstein (Paris), Maya Mahler (Barcelona), Yigal Rom (Copenhagen) and Itamar Eichner contributed to this report