Pallywood , a portmanteau of “Palestinian” and “Hollywood”, is a coinage that has been used by some pro-Israeli media watchdog advocates, among others, to describe “media manipulation, distortion and outright fraud by the Palestinians and other Arabs … designed to win the public relations war against Israel.” The incidents of the Muhammad al-Durrah tapes and the 2006 Lebanon War photographs controversies (dubbed “Hizbollywood” or “Hezbollywood”) are notable events which have been cited as examples.
The term has been publicized in part by Richard Landes, as a result of an online documentary video he produced called Pallywood: According to Palestinian Sources, alleging specific instances of media manipulation. The term is considered by some to be a racist ethnic slur and a conspiracy theory, as it associates the Palestinian people with the telling of lies and the deliberate staging of their own suffering and death.
In his video, Landes shows Arab-Israeli conflict-related footage that was taken mostly by freelance Palestinian video journalists. He argues that systematic media manipulation (which he dubs “Pallywood”) dates back to at least the 1982 Lebanon War, and argues that broadcasters are too uncritical of the veracity of Palestinian freelance footage.
He focuses in particular on the case of Muhammad al-Durrah, a 12-year-old Palestinian who was widely reported to have been killed by Israeli gunfire in the Gaza Strip on September 30, 2000 at the beginning of the Second Intifada, and uses footage from Pierre Rehov, one among the few reporters who dared reporting the truth from the Palestinian Territories. The so called ” killing of Muhammad al-Durah ” was filmed by a Palestinian freelance cameraman and aired on the France 2 television channel with narration by the veteran French-Israeli journalist Charles Enderlin, who was not present at the incident. It made worldwide headlines and the conduct of the Israel Defense Forces was heavily criticized internationally, severely damaging Israel’s public standing on the world stage.
The term “Pallywood” refers to the staging of scenes by Palestinian journalists in order to present the Palestinians as hapless victims of Israeli aggression. They are able to succeed in this endeavor in large part due to the credulity and eagerness of the Western press to present these images, which reinforce the image of the Palestinian David struggling valiantly against the overpowering Israeli Goliath. Pallywood has led to astonishing lapses in Western journalistic standards in which badly staged scenes regularly appear on the news as “real events.”
MAJOR STAGES IN THE EMERGENCE OF PALLYWOOD
1982: Lebanon invasion
The earliest clear signs of an emerging Pallywood come from the Lebanese invasion of 1982. There, for the first time, the media seems to have embraced an openly hostile stance towards Israel, which led to a widely discussed article entitled “J’Accuse” (Commentary, September 1983), by Norman Podhoretz who charged America’s leading journalists, newspapers and television networks with “anti-Semitism.” The alleged hostility was characterized by the following incidents:
– Using Arafat’s brother, Fathi Arafat, head of the Palestinian Red Crescent, Palestinian sources claimed 10,000 dead and 600,000 refugees from the Israeli onslaught. Without checking to see how many people lived in southern Lebanon (300,000), the media repeated these figures constantly (pp. 300-301), until they became widely accepted.
– Reporters comparing the siege of Beirut with the Nazi siege of Warsaw. Of all the sieges of cities in 20th century warfare, it would be harder to find a more inappropriate one, and yet the analogy between Israelis and Nazis seems to have had an almost irresistable lure to some journalists. Among the most aggressive reporters was Peter Jennings. For a discussion of his work, see here and here.
– The use of clearly false images by a press eager to believe the worst of the Israeli army, including images of areas devastated in the civil war between Palestinians and Lebanese, dead babies that were not dead, etc (pp. 353-389).
– Coverage of Sabra and Shatilla massacres that left many under the impression that Israeli soldiers had massacred Palestinian refugees, and failed to inform people of why the Phalange wanted to take vengeance. Everyone has heard of Sabra and Shatilla; Only recently have people started to hear of Darfur. The stark contrast between the hundreds of dead at Sabra and Shatilla and the over ten thousand dead at Hama, a town in the heart of Syria, the same year, illustrates both the medias penchant for reporting any Israeli misdeed no matter how removed direct culpability, and the power of intimidation and (no) access journalism to silence them on matters of Arab misdeeds (see Thomas Freidman’s, From Beirut to Jerusalém, chap. 4.)
– Use of streaming text below footage informing the viewer that the footage had been viewed by “Israeli military censors.” No similar indication of the role of Palestinian “authorities” in controlling the images emanating from areas under their control ever appeared. For a discussion of the press’s differential treatment of formal Israeli military censorship and informal but pervasive Palestinian censorship via intimidation and violence.
– Reluctance of the press – especially the “resident” reporters to reveal the extent of PLO brutality in the “state within a state” in southern Lebanon.
Given the eagerness of the Western press to report the worst of the Israelis, to avoid reporting on the worst of the Palestinians, their susceptibility to intimidation and the murder of journalists who displeased the PLO, and their remarkably shoddy standards in sifting real from confected evidence, Palestinians clearly understood that they had a valuable ally in the Western media based at the Commodore Hotel – “Chairman Yasser’s Best Battalion”
Poisoning of Palestinian Schoolgirls, Jenin (West Bank), March, 1983
A year after the Lebanese media debacle, Israel found itself the object of an extensive, premeditated fraud in which a number of Palestinian girls at middle school claimed to have been poisoned by “the Israelis.” The story immediately became an international scandal, with each nation reporting such a variety of details that the tale ended up resembling a version of Rashoman. None, however, questioned the veracity of the reports of poisoning, nor of the accusations of Israeli guilt. Only after a lengthy investigation did it turn out that there were no girls poisoned, and that PLO operatives had encouraged and bullied the girls and the hospital officials into cooperating.
The most interesting element of the story from the perspective of the media coverage reveals the following breakdown:
– The Israeli press took the accusations seriously and only after a medical investigation did they conclude that these were false.
– The Palestinian and Arab press immediately assumed they were true and used them to incite hatred and fear of Israelis. No amount of counter-evidence brought a change in coverage.
– The Western press presented the accusations as probable if not true (Europeans far more aggressive than Americans), and when the evidence of staging emerged, ceased to cover the incident, leaving the Israelis between libel and silence.
The accusations of Poison constitute the first clear-cut case of Pallywood: atrocities staged by Palestinian activists, depicting the Israelis poisoning innocent Palestinians, done for the sake of – and embraced by – both local and foreign press.
The First Intifada, 1987-91
During the first Intifada, the media turned the West Bank into a feeding frenzy of Israeli brutality against what was often characterized as non-violent resistance. Here for the first time, we find an open collaboration between cameramen who were either informed of the imminent occurrence of, or had paid for, action sequences that they could photograph.
Staggering from the negative press, and uncertain as to how to quell the violence, Israeli authorities sometimes closed the territories to foreign press. These latter often supped drinks at the American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem while they gave cameras to Palestinian stringers to bring them action footage. This probably marks the first time that Palestinians with Western equipment were able to feed the news agencies images that they and the “street” staged. For an interesting analysis of the media’s handling of the first Intifada and the ways in which, focused on a particular story line (the Israeli Goliath vs. the Palestinian David), see Jim Lederman, Battle Lines.
There has also been in recent times an increasing number of web/newspaper articles that have described and denounced the manipulation of the media by Palestinians, and the anti-Israel bias of many in the western media.
– Recently a Palestinian filmmaker, producer of “Jenin, Jenin” admitted falsifying scenes in order to make Israelis look bad.
– Jeff Helmreich has documented a pattern of violation of professional journalism codes that dominate the reporting of Israel and the Palestinians.
– In an interview media analyst David Bedein has argued that for the past twenty years, the Palestinians have outmaneuvered the Israelis in framing the conflict for the world media.
– Josh Muravchik denounced the lousy job of the Western media covering the intifada and denounced the mechanical even handedness in reporting the conflict that gives the upper hand to authoritarian societies.
– Stephanie Gutmann, in “The Other War: Israelis, Palestinians and the Struggle for Media supremacy” argues that Israel has floundered on the battlefield of editorial pages, television screens and the Internet.
The second “Al Aqsa” Intifada, October 2000-2004
The outbreak of the second round of Palestinian violence against Israel came, ironically, in the wake of peace negotiations in which, according to the most credible sources, the Israelis offered the vast majority of the West Bank and all of the Gaza Strip (including the evacuation of settlements) in exchange for an end to the war between the Israelis and the Arabs. For a brief moment Barak and the Israelis actually got some sympathy in the world arena, and Arafat was weathering a rare period of disapproval from the world community. But once the violence broke out, and Israel could be blamed, and especially once pictures of Muhamed al Durah showed on TVs around the world, opinion shifted dramatically and decisively.
Perhaps the best way to understand how Pallywood was able to have such success at this juncture is to examine what happened on September 29, the day after Sharon visited the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif. That day, news agencies reported violent clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinians enraged by Sharon’s visit. AP published a photograph of a young man, bloodied and kneeling in front of an angry Israeli brandishing a baton.
Now it doesn’t take an insider to know that something is wrong here. There are no gas stations anywhere near the Temple Mount, so the location is clearly mistaken. But the mistakes far exceed mere location, and a closer look suggests that the Israeli soldier seems to be yelling at people beyond the wounded man. The man wounded in the picture is not a Palestinian, but an American Jew, a seminary student, who was dragged from his car by an angry mob of Palestinians and almost beaten and stabbed to death. (It took him months in the hospital to recover.) The Israeli is then not beating the boy, but protecting him from the mob, which is the object of his anger and attention. Among other papers, the New York Times, without checking any of these facts, ran the picture with the caption.
Nothing illustrates better the problem of paradigmatic expectations influencing what we see and how we register it. The Palestinians are the victims, the Israelis the victimizers. The picture illustrates JP: aggressive Palestinians initiating violence against civilians in Israel, and Israeli restraint (the soldier does not even use a gun to chase the murderous crowd). The caption re-reads the photo so it accords with PCP: aggressive Israelis viciously attacking unarmed Palestinian demonstrators on the third holiest site in Islam.
It took the NYT 4 days to acknowledge the error identifying the victim as “Tuvya Grossman of Chicago” and a week to do a story on the beating. But by then the damage had been done. Not only was the PCP firmly set in place, but also the picture had become an emblem of Palestinian victimization. Despite this subsequent retraction, therefore, as in the case of the poison accusations of 1983, Palestinian and Arab media and their PCP2 supporters have continued to use the picture as part of their Palestinian victim narrative. To this day, Tuvya Grossman’s picture adorns a poster calling on everyone in the world to boycott Coca Cola in order to stop Israelis from killing Palestinians like this man.
With such a powerful storyline affecting (and transforming) the very nature of the evidence that our MSM presented to us at the outbreak of the violence in the Fall of 2000, is it surprising that the following day, they responded so eagerly to yet another piece of evidence that supported their PCP grand narrative – the case of Muhamed al Durah?
PIERRE REHOV’S DOCUMENTARIES DEBUNK MOST OF THE MYTHS
For over 10 years, since the uprising of the second Intifada, Pierre Rehov has set out to debunk most of the mythologies which poison the political situation of the Middle East. While a large majority of international media correspondents are in a situation which does not allow them to tell the truth about the Israeli-Arab conflict, due to threats and pressures, Pierre Rehov has been working as an independent producer and director, and took many risks to expose the propaganda machine behind the fake news that you see every day on your television, in magazines or newspapers. The result? Eight exceptional documentaries, made of original footage, which will give you a final, but so different slant on the Middle East Conflict. Among them, ” The road to Jenin ” which features amazing scenes of blatant attempts to fool media.
IS THERE AN ISRAELI EQUIVALENT TO PALLYWOOD?
“Don’t the Israelis also do fictional news?”
Every country’s media spins the news in its defense, and plays with a margin of judgment in what it may present to the public.
There are analysts who argue that Israel is far superior in manipulating the media:
– Delinda C. Hanley, News Editor of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, argues that Israeli spin-doctors have been successful in portraying in the American media the victims (the Palestinians) as the aggressors in the conflict.
– Alison Weir, founder of If Americans Knew argues that the Western media, particularly American, have been consistently pro-Israeli in their coverage of the conflict. She calls it a “pervasive pattern of distortion.”
– Daniel Dor, from Tel Aviv university, in “Intifada Hits the Headlines,” (2004) argues that the Israeli press has aligned itself with the propaganda coming from the Israeli establishment. To him, in times of conflict the press in liberal democracies plays a “role not totally dissimilar to that of the press in non-democracies.” (Page 168) For a brief excerpt of his book read here.
But the differences here are so large as to demand particular attention to this issue:
– The Israelis do not fake images of injury; on the contrary, deep taboos prevent the Israeli press from showing pictures of dead bodies.
– Nor do the Israelis constantly show images designed to arouse hatred, unlike Palestinians. Compare the coverage given in Israel to the stunning footage from the Ramallah lynching of Oct. 12, 2000 with the constant repetition on TV and in the school curriculum of the footage and of reenactments of the Muhamed A Durah affair two weeks earlier.
– The Israeli press constitutes one of the most self-critical presses in the world. Mistakes rarely pass undetected and undenounced. When the IDF accused the UN of using their ambulances to move Kassam rockets and the evidence failed to provide proof, the Israeli press denounced the mistake sharply: “Israel behaved with reckless haste and injured its pretensions to superiority over the Palestinians with regard to credibility.”
There is no equivalent in the Palestinian – or Arab – press of Gideon Levy and Amirah Hass, journalists for Ha-Aretz. This element of self-criticism is, for the most part, absent in the Arab media. For an enlightening example, read here and here.
– Even organizations denounced by the other side as “propaganda” sites, like Palestinian Media Watch and MEMRI, are scrupulously honest in the material they post from the Arab world, in their translations, even careful not only to post the negative comments in the Arab press, but also the positive ones.
– To make the facile, “even-handed” comparison misses a major distinction between the rough and tumble criticisms of a free press in Israel and the intimidation and high propaganda content of the press in Arab authoritarian societies. If one cannot understand these differences, one cannot understand the value and importance of self-critical free press sustaining civil society. Tolerance for criticism and for variant viewpoints marks the commitment to civil society.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO DENOUNCE PALLYWOOD?
– Pallywood distorts Western and Middle Eastern public opinion.
– Aggravates the narrative victim/victimizer, dominant in both Western and Middle East Media, that prolongs the conflict
– Perpetuates the David (Palestinians) Vs Goliath (Israel) narrative.
– Contributes to the demonization of Israel/rise of anti-Semitism
– An accurate and fair MSM are crucial for a healthy civil society.
– By its sheer drama Pallywood leads to Western romantization of the Palestinian struggle and justification of the most atrocious methods to achieve their aims.
“They’re beautiful, highly trained and deadly. They are the female suicide bombers.” Australia’s New Ideamagazine, April 7, 2003.