Yuli Edelstei
Yuli Edelstein Photo by Michal Fattal
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On June 18, 2002, a suicide bomber blew himself up on the number 32 bus at the Pat Junction in Jerusalem, killing 19 people. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon arrived at the scene of the attack and asked the people from the Zaka organization (which retrieves body parts after terror attacks ) to arrange the body bags in a row, enabling the press to photograph them in a way that would convey the enormity of the horror. The Zaka personnel, who place the dignity of the dead before any public relations considerations, agreed to the request, as it did not involve exposing the corpses, but with a heavy heart.

The next time dead bodies were used for such informational purposes was in January 2004, after the terrorist attack on the number 19 bus on Jerusalem's Gaza Road, when the Foreign Ministry released footage taken at the scene before the corpes were removed.

Two days ago, the Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs released horrific photographs from the scene of Friday night's terrorist attack in Itamar. The photos show the stabbed and bleeding bodies of the members of the Fogel family, with only the faces blurred, as per their relatives' request. Minister of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Yuli Edelstein is the one who made the unprecedented decision to release them.

Do you think this sort of publicity can change Israel's image?

People who deal more with information sent quite a few supportive messages. I know that on the Internet the images are really catching on and circulating. It's hard to talk about in terms of success, because we all understand that this is an unbelievably heinous crime. But it does have an important impact.

How did the decision to publish the photos come about?

From Saturday night, when I found out about the terrible event and everything that happened, we started checking to see if there was any documentation and what has happening with it. I started receiving reports that the family apparently would not object [to publishing the images]. I sent messengers to the family to make sure that nothing was done in the heat of the moment. The family had some deliberations and they decided to agree.

On Sunday morning, we held a professional consultation with people from the Foreign Ministry and from the Prime Minister's Office. Not everyone thought the way I did, that the photos should be published, but everyone was starting to realize that, in this case, it was necessary to act in an unusual manner. The majority felt that since all red lines had been crossed, it would be impossible to just carry on normally, and so we decided to publish the photos.

Every time the topic of public relations and information in Israel and abroad is raised, I'm always asked - why don't we publish the photos? I say with a bit of cynicism that I can already answer this question in several languages. I always explained that there was the matter of the family and a desire not to cause further suffering - and also that we are not like them, we are not like the Palestinians.

So are we like the Palestinians now?

No, there is a huge difference. They have no problem issuing such photos a few minutes after the incident, without asking the family and without blurring anything out. It is also needless to say that, in some cases, fabricated images are released too.

Israel always criticizes the Arab press for airing photos of damage from IDF attacks in an endless loop, which leads to incitement and hatred. What is the difference here?

There is a big difference. I remember photos of a girl being brought into a hospital in Gaza without a stretcher, of course. They held her in their arms so that everyone will see her and air the picture over and over, as a kind of background image. This is something that causes hatred, whose purpose is to incite more than to shock.

I also don't put it on Israeli television and ask everyone to watch it. I have no problem with a journalist who decides not to print the image, but I want him to deal with it on his own and always remember the picture. If he doesn't remember it, then he is less of a person than I thought.

There have been numerous horrific attacks in the past. Why specifically after the attack in Itamar was the decision made to distribute the photos?

It is true that we have experienced quite a few horrors, but at the same time, slaughtering an entire family in their sleep, including children and an infant is, thank God - even according to the standards of these wicked people - something out of the ordinary. There also appears to be an accumulation of things here, with an understanding that words can kill and there must be a response.

Recently, a kind of dialogue has emerged to the effect that IDF soldiers are clearly murderers, rapists and looters. This is the feeling that exists around the world and I'm not speaking about [just] the Palestinian Authority. In this atmosphere, of wild incitement against and demonization of Israel, there needs to be a shocking reaction [to the attack] that will cause people to recognize the reality here. We are not doing this out of hysteria and panic, but in a thoughtful way - to convey this image to the same people who think that words do not kill.

I don't think that every politician who says that Israeli policy is militant incites murder, but the cries that Israel is "an apartheid state" and "a state of occupation" can lead murderers to think that, by carrying out their murderous crimes, they are freedom fighters.

Do you know if the media around the world used the photos?

The emphasis is on the foreign media. I know that in Israel, apart from a few people for whom not everything makes sense, you don't have to convince anyone to use horrific images. I also knew that because of the disaster in Japan and the barrage of reports from there, it would not be a lead photo on the front page of The New York Times. The possibility that the images would not be published was also considered. But the mere fact that an editor or senior analyst would receive the photos and look at them and carry out a discussion - I'm certain that this had an effect, and these are the people who shape public opinion. I am sure that whoever has not lost their humanity, will in the future be more careful with regard to Israel.

In the event of another terrorist attack, should we expect the publication of such photos?

Definitely not after every attack. First of all, the family's wishes will be the determining factor and every case will be considered separately. But at the same time ... we will have to think about the specific sort of documentation. The photos taken this time were taken for the purpose of the investigation, not for the needs of the press. Next time - let there never be a next time and let it never happen - I hope we will be prepared with a photographer who has a media-oriented approach, instead of an investigative focus.