If the media is the battlefield , the soldiers are the photographers and reporters. Despite advances allowing photographs to be manipulated, their credibility as testimony is decisive.
Israeli policy-makers and shapers of public opinion were therefore quick to declare their intention of cloaking and impeding broadcasts from the flotilla in the hope of filtering the flow of material. And yet it was Al Jazeera that broadcast the first pictures from the Mavi Marmara at the critical moments of the takeover, and set the facts.
A short video shows the armed naval commandos on board. In the belly of the ship - chaos. Masses of people, two of whom are injured or dead, a woman carrying a blood-soaked stretcher. These pictures gave viewers the impression of a mass-casualty attack. The pictures were broadcast repeatedly on networks around the world.
Only many hours thereafter did the Israel Defense Forces Spokesman's Office release the first Israeli version: In contrast to the color and quality of the Al Jazeera footage, the only thing visible were faded distance shots, from high above, in black and white, of black dots running amok.
Very much later an improved Israeli version appeared. Here, once again in black and white, the same goings-on could be seen from another, still blurry, angle: The silhouettes of the commandos could be seen sliding down cables from a helicopter, surrounded by passengers. And then came the harsh scenes with the figure being thrown off the deck and the raised arms bashing away at someone with rods.
Dr. Udi Lebel, a political psychology lecturer at the Ariel University Center, explained that the pictures strengthened the Israeli-Jewish self image of the few against the many, the weak against the strong, victims of hatred and violence. I have no doubt these pictures shocked other viewers.
The chronological order of the broadcast, first of all the Al Jazeera footage of the injured and dead and only afterward the pictures from the IDF Spokesman, is what set the global narrative: The violence of the soldiers was first.
When Col. Ofer Kol, in charge of the IDF's public relations unit, was asked why press photographers were not allowed to cover the events at close range, he explained that the IDF did not want to broadcast photos of soldiers fighting and being injured because their families might be watching. As if there is no such thing as editing or blurring faces.
Although the IDF did not release any stills and most of the material that was filmed by flotilla participants was erased or confiscated, still, the toughest and most terrible photos from our point of view, of injured soldiers, their faces exposed, bloody and humiliated, were released all over the world, and for lack of choice, in Israel as well. There is no way to prevent the leeching of photographed evidence. There is no way to censor more than 600 people, many of whom had cameras.
There are programs today that can recreate pictures that have been erased. The attempt to control information is not new to the security forces. If in the first years of the state every division commander wanted to have a photographer along to immortalize his heroism, today only "embedded" photographers, under the strictest supervision, are allowed into a conflict zone.
The people with the authority to decide what will be documented and broadcast to the people do not want a free press. The populist image of the leftist and Israel-hating media has sunk in everywhere. To the army - from the least of the privates at a roadblock who shouts "no pictures!" to the senior officer who signs, as if it were nothing, an order closing an area to the press by making it a military zone - to the police and the Shin Bet security service.
And every private security guard, every violent settler and every citizen is certain that it is his or her duty to block the camera's lens.
A press card, granted by the Prime Minister's Office after a security check, is not worth the plastic it's printed on, and often sparks hateful reactions.
More and more frequently we Israeli press photographers prefer to present ourselves as amateurs to avoid conflict. While in every Western democracy a press card opens doors, in Israel it opens only museums.
Not one organization sees to our rights. Not even the newspapers. Not even ourselves. Those who seek to cover the eyes of the people will find that they have made them blind.
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