Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Putting things in perspective





DBK at Blanton's and Ashton's posted the backstory about this image, and I thank him for it. On the surface, it seems that these Israeli girls are being taught to hate, and throughout the leftist Blogsphere, it appears this is a relatively current photo.

But it isn't current. This article by Lisa Goldman at On The Face puts it into context:

Below is the story behind the photo - from the source.

I phoned Sebastian Scheiner, the Israeli photojournalist who took the photo for Associated Press (AP), explained that the image had given a really terrible impression and asked for the context. He sketched it out quickly and fluidly, but asked me not to quote him. So I spoke with Shelly Paz, a Yedioth Ahronoth reporter who was also at the scene and agreed immediately to go on record. She was quite shocked to learn how badly the photo had been misinterpreted and misrepresented; and she told me the same story Sebastian did, but with more details and nuance.

The little girls shown drawing with felt markers on the tank missiles are residents of Kiryat Shmona, which is right on the border with Lebanon. And when I say "on the border," I'm not kidding; there's little more space between their town and Southern Lebanon than there is between the back gardens of neighbouring houses in a wealthy American suburb.

No, how close is it really?

Well, there's a famous story in Israel, from the time when the Israeli army occupied Southern Lebanon: a group of soldiers stationed inside southern Lebanon used their mobile phones to order pizza from Kiryat Shmona and have it delivered to the fence that separates the two countries.

Anyway.

Kiryat Shmona has been under constant bombardment from South Lebanon since the first day of the conflict. It was a ghost town, explained Shelly. There was not a single person on the streets and all the businesses were closed. The residents who had friends, family or money for alternate housing out of missile range had left, leaving behind the few who had neither the funds nor connections that would allow them to escape the missiles crashing and booming on their town day and night. The noise was terrifying, people were dying outside, the kids were scared out of their minds and they had been told over and over that some man named Nasrallah was responsible for their having to cower underground for days on end.

On the day that photo was taken, the girls had emerged from the underground bomb shelters for the first time in five days. A new army unit had just arrived in the town and was preparing to shell the area across the border. The unit attracted the attention of twelve photojournalists - Israeli and foreign. The girls and their families gathered around to check out the big attraction in the small town - foreigners. They were relieved and probably a little giddy at being outside in the fresh air for the first time in days. They were probably happy to talk to people. And they enjoyed the attention of the photographers.

Apparently one or some of the parents wrote messages in Hebrew and English on the tank shells to Nasrallah. "To Nasrallah with love," they wrote to the man whose name was for them a devilish image on television - the man who mockingly told Israelis, via speeches that were broadcast on Al Manar and Israeli television, that Hezbollah was preparing to launch even more missiles at them. That he was happy they were suffering.

The photograpers gathered around. Twelve of them. Do you know how many that is? It's a lot. And they were all simultaneously leaning in with their long camera lenses, clicking the shutter over and over. The parents handed the markers to the kids and they drew little Israeli flags on the shells. Photographers look for striking images, and what is more striking than pretty, innocent little girls contrasted with the ugliness of war? The camera shutters clicked away, and I guess those kids must have felt like stars, especially since the diversion came after they'd been alternately bored and terrified as they waited out the shelling in their bomb shelters.

Shelly emphasized several times that none of the parents or children had expressed any hatred toward the Lebanese people. No-one expressed any satisfaction at knowing that Lebanese were dying - just as Israelis are dying. Their messages were directed at Nasrallah. None of those people was detached or wise enough to think: "Hang on, tank shell equals death of human beings." They were thinking, tank shell equals stopping the missiles that land on my house. Tank shells will stop that man with the turban from threatening to kill us.

And besides, none of those children had seen images of dead people - either Israeli or Lebanese. Israeli television doesn't broadcast them, nor do the newspapers print them. Even when there were suicide bombings in Israel several times a week for months, none of the Israeli media published gory photos of dead or wounded people. It's a red line in Israel. Do not show dead, bleeding, torn up bodies because the families of the dead will suffer and children will have nightmares. And because it is just in bad taste to use suffering for propaganda purposes.

Those kids had seen news footage of destroyed buildings and infrastructure, but not of the human toll. They had heard over and over that the air force was destroying the buildings that belonged to Hezbollah, the organization responsible for shelling their town and threatening their lives. How many small children would be able to make the connection between tank shells and dead people on their own? How many human beings are able to detach from their own suffering and emotional stress and think about that of the other side? Not many, I suspect.

So, perhaps the parents were not wise when they encouraged their children to doodle on the tank shells. They were letting off a little steam after being cooped up - afraid, angry and isolated - for days. Sometimes people do silly things when they are under emotional stress. Especially when they fail to understand how their childish, empty gesture might be interpreted.

I've been thinking for the last two days about this photo and the storm of reaction it set off. I worry about the climate of hate that would lead people to look at it and automatically assume the absolute worst - and then use the photo to dehumanize and victimize. I wonder why so many people seem to take satisfaction in believing that little Israeli girls with felt markers in their hands - not weapons, but felt markers - are evil, or spawned by an evil society. I wonder how those people would feel if Israelis were to look at a photo of a Palestinian child wearing a mock suicide belt in a Hamas demonstration and conclude that all Palestinians - nay, all Arabs - are evil.

And I wonder why it is so difficult to think a little, to get it into our heads that television news and photojournalism manipulate our thoughts and emotions.

Links to anti-Israel websites with that photo placed prominently next to the image of a dead Lebanese child have been sent to me several times. Someone has been rushing around the Israeli blogosphere, leaving the link to one particularly abhorrent site in the comments boxes. And it makes me really sad that the emotional climate has deteriorated to this point.

The moderates of the Middle East are locked in a battle with the extremists. And look what they did to the moderates. Without blinking, without thinking, we fell victim to the classic "divide and conquer" technique. We work hard for months and years to build connections, develop our societies, educate ourselves, promote democracy and free speech... And they destroy it all, in less than a week. And we let them.

12 comments:

betmo said...

jood, here's my thought- the governments of both countries stink. we as citizens don't often think about a country without lumping everyone together. we had that happen to us before we started getting the message out there that our government stinks please don't blame the 50% who didn't vote them in. as for the israeli governent- people are angry that these folks are a tool of america. there was the bombing of the palestinians picnickers that got this ball rolling and now proof that they colluded with our goverment a year for this attack. it looks like they picked a fight and then fell back on 'defending themselves' and it looks disingenunine. whether or not it is- that's the way it looks and that is why people are angry. they are taking the anger at our government and moving some of it to israel as well. i think that many people are realizing that the people may not want this- as there are also websites showing israeli protesters- including olmert's daughter. most of the world is calling for a ceasefire and america and israel are the holdouts. again, makes people angry. i think that your point about media manipulation is right on. both sides use it to their advantage because news isn't about news anymore- it's about ratings.

DivaJood said...

Betmo, governments are not about governing anymore either; they are about re-election, and power.

But we still make an assumption about things we see or read - it's the knee-jerk reaction to photography, that it must be true.

Everyone wants a cease-fire in the Middle East EXCEPT those in power: Bush, Olmert, and Nasrallah. So the world waits.

glenda said...

betmo- most governments stink..governments do not represent the heart of the people of any country, and not in this case, either. divajood, thank you for bringing light to tihs story that has circulated all over the internet?

Could we post this with a link to your site at the peacetrain Home Page? I'd really like to see balnce of both sides of this issue.

I personally have family members who are Jewish, as well as Nativeborn Iranians and others of Lebanese extraction...while I was raised Catholic! oy, vey, what a mixed up family!

please IM me at thepeacetrain.org or you can leave a msg. at glenda in comments.

Helen Wheels said...

Thanks for the story, DivaJood. I hadn't seen this pic yet so now when I do, I will have the REAL background.

I wouldn't have really found this all that offensive... what's offensive are the pics of Lebanese corpses burned by white phosphorus. After that, this photo seems more tame, and political, y'know? I don't know how else to describe it. Don't get me wrong, it's very important - the propaganda is what seems to control the minds of the people, and it's important we get the real story right, and out there.

I don't think it's necessary "right" that Israel chooses not to show pictures of the dead. I am starting to think if everyone was forced to see what they are responsible for (especially including here in the U.S.), maybe there would be more of a public outcry. That's the only part of the article I take issue with.

DivaJood said...

Glenda, I put a reply on your blog - but am having some difficulty signing into the Peace Train. Honest to god, I feel like computers are out to get me sometimes.

Helen Wheels, I agree, the photos of Lebanese corpses have been truly horrific. But at this moment, I am still holding back on making a comment about the truth of those images.

Let me state this much: Israel should not have retaliated with the level of force it has used in Lebanon. Invading Lebanon didn't work in 1982, and one definition of insanity is doing the same thing expecting different results. Hezbollah militants deliberatly hide in civilian locations. If Hezbollah knew that Israel's reaction would be so excessive, hiding in civilian locations means they knew civilians would be killed en masse.

I am still hopeful that the images of the dead allegedly killed by white phosphorus weapons are stock photos from other sources. At this moment, they are still a little like the WMDs that Bush claimed were in Iraq. He had proof, too. They didn't exist.

If, in fact, Israel is using these banned weapons, then I will speak out. Loudly. If there is irrefutable proof, then I will speak out. But until then, I will continue to speak out against this war - dead is dead, wrong is wrong, and everybody is loosing

BZ said...

This entire, feel good article about the innocence of these little girls is a nice little piece of spin and apoplectic writing for a mistake, not made my the girls, I agree they don’t know what is going, but a mistake made by a society that I think is finally seeing itself in the mirror.

This paragraph:

So, perhaps the parents were not wise when they encouraged their children to doodle on the tank shells. They were letting off a little steam after being cooped up - afraid, angry and isolated - for days. Sometimes people do silly things when they are under emotional stress. Especially when they fail to understand how their childish, empty gesture might be interpreted.

Was quiet a blow to my sensibilities. Now, I am new to this whole parenting thing, but I think I know, “parents were not wise when they encouraged their children to doodle on the tank shells.” NO Shit!

Another quote, “people do silly things when they are under emotional stress.” Yeah? Like bomb their neighbors “back 20 years!”

The article goes on to say:

I wonder how those people would feel if Israelis were to look at a photo of a Palestinian child wearing a mock suicide belt in a Hamas demonstration and conclude that all Palestinians - nay, all Arabs - are evil.

I think it is too late for that. The Israeli and American pen has already painted the image of the Palestinian, and it reads terrorist. It feels like the world is finally getting a look at what the Israeli image look likes from the people living in the caged ghettos of Gaza and now maybe Lebanon.

Diva we have gone back and forth on this, and I still think we are moving forward. You often say that Israeli is not the only one to blame, and I respect that and agree with you, but comments like,” I am still hopeful that the images of the dead allegedly killed by white phosphorus weapons are stock photos from other sources.” Are getting quite cynical. Even if the photos are stock pics, and I thought the same thing at first, they are still photos of people in the most unimaginable pain. They were taken someplace, sometime. And I can assure it was not the work of one or two or ten thousand katusha rockets. There are reports of cluster bombs as well. Why is it so easy for you to believe that these weapons are being used, “tested” in Iraq by the US, but you can’t believe that they are being used by the recipient of 3 billion US dollars a year, the 51st state itself, Israel? Were is the disconnect. These are American weapons being used by the only “true democracy in ” in the Middle East. It should all be quite clear what is happening.

Finally, you said, “Hezbollah militants deliberately hide in civilian locations. If Hezbollah knew that Israel's reaction would be so excessive, hiding in civilian locations means they knew civilians would be killed en masse.”

Is it so hard to believe that people may want Hezbollah in their midst to protect them from Israel and give them what they need. Things that the world has denied giving them. I read an article that said, people think that “any Lebanese fighter, or Palestinian one, resisting Israel and its powerful military should stand in an open field, his rifle raised to the sky, waiting to see who fares worse in a shoot-out with an Apache helicopter or F-16 fighter jet. Hezbollah's reluctance to conduct the war in this manner, we are supposed to infer, is proof that they are terrorists.’ It is the nature of Geurrillaa war. And when one nation (with everything the US has at its disposable) fights another (with really no military to speak of) “hiding” out might make sense.

The same thing is happening in Iraq, all insurgents must be terrorists. It happened in Vietnam, any one fighting the Americans must have been Vietcong. People sometimes will fight back, when you murder their families and destroy their nation!

In closing, sorry if the tone of this comment is a bit terse and jaded. The news is making me cranky. But I think it is time that the world finally see what Israel really represents. And I think only those who love her can answer that question. This is a war between Iran/Syria and the US. Israel is simply doing the dirty work like they always have. The US doesn’t enable their entire existence for nothing. If you are against the war in Iraq, you must be against this too. It is the same war simply on a different front. It is a war for control of the Middle East.

I wrote a short-short story from an Israeli point of view, just to try and make sense of this. I look forward to your response as always Diva.

DivaJood said...

BZ, let me reiterate: Israel should not have retaliated with the level of force it has used in Lebanon. Invading Lebanon didn't work in 1982, and one definition of insanity is doing the same thing expecting different results.

I will not be happy until Israel withdraws, and there is a unilateral cease-fire. I am against the war in Iraq, and I am against this war in Lebanon. I also want to express balance in the Israeli/Lebanon war. To me, that means making sure that I keep things in context; using a photograph from several years earlier and claiming it is from the current war is just wrong. IF the photos showing people burned by chemical weapons are from ANOTHER war, and being blamed on Israel, who may not be using them - that is wrong.

If it turns out that Israel is indeed using the banned weapons, you know that I will be vocal about it.

BZ, I am not condoning Israel's invasion of Lebanon. I am not condoning the insanity of this violence. But I don't need to defend my desire to keep things in context.

Tina said...

I am happy that you did some research on this pix b/c I have seen it at others' sites and have commented on it, and didn't know anything about the background of it.
Would I let BabyGirl sign a bomb? NO. NOPE. NADA. NYET.
Number 1) I wouldn't want her physically near ANY munitions. God only knows what kind of horrific chemicals/ metals make up that bomb.
Number 2) I wouldn't want her to think for one second that something that brings nothing but death and destruction should be used to let off steam or to be thought of lightly as all.
True Story: She was sitting on the couch with me (we were reading a book together) when Anderson's 360 came on. That is when I first saw those pictures of the blackened wounds on the patients admitted to the Lebanese hospital. I watched the piece and then turned back to reading the book with her. While reading, I couldn't help it, but tears started rolling down my cheeks.
BabyGirl sees a tear fall on the page of her book and says: Why are you crying Mommy?
I say: B/c the news on the TV makes Mommy feel very sad.
She says: Why?
I say: B/c it showed lots of people who were very sick and Mommy wishes they weren't sick.

She says: It's okay Mommy. We can take them to my doctor. He's very nice, and he'll give them a Dora sticker... her innocence broke my heart... my God, how can I protect her from the world's insanity?

DivaJood said...

Tina, we can't protect our children from harm. That's the risk we take when we bring them into the world. The ONLY thing we can do is teach them love, tolerance, compassion and kindness. You are doing that with BabyGirl already, my friend.

Tina said...

I know that you are older and wiser than me and you have watched your own children become parents, so I trust your wise words... but I never thought I could feel such unbelievable shame about my country, and I never thought I'd be so scared that my own govt could actually hurt my precious child. We HAVE GOT to stop the lunatics from being in charge... e-hugs to ya!

DivaJood said...

Tina, older yes, but not so sure about wiser. Unless that's half a word. I understand your fear for your daughter - and I share it.

The crucial thing is to be in motion, actively seeking a correction to the insanity of our government. As long as we, the people, are vocal, and actively seeking change, we are healing the world.

Pete's Blog said...

Hi Divajood

You mentioned on my blog "OT completely: Pete, I will be briefly in Brisbane in Sept. Not 100% sure of my own schedule, but if we both have time, maybe a flat white?" Sounds a good idea.

So we can communicate offline, for meeting up, my direct email is spookyp@westnet.com.au

Regards

Pete