Thursday, January 23, 2020

James J. Zogby, lies and fauxtography

James J. Zogby is a respected public figure in the USA, and a known critic of Israel. Recently the blog Elder of Zion caught him tweeting a lie. He published four photos depicting encounters between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian civilians, all suggesting aggression and abuse by the Israeli side. One of them was a badly edited photo that I had the honor of busting years ago.  Exposing that hoax was easy since the original picture was available.  But even without it, the final result had its own credibility problem.  Namely, a supposedly threatening Israeli soldier, standing in an unnatural position, with knees folded, while carrying a backpack and a heavy gun. The best way to describe his position is that of sitting on air. Only circus acrobats can do that while carrying heavy cargo. And even they would not be able to threaten anyone at the same time.

Two other photos have similar credibility problems. One of them claims to show two armed Israeli soldiers abusing four Palestinian women and a toddler.  The problem is that the image of the soldier aiming his gun at them does not make sense. This soldier is holding an assault weapon with just one hand. He is holding it at the middle of the weapon, were the trigger is. Holding the weapon like that will harm his wrist. And if he was to fire it, he would not have been able to control the recoil; risking injuries to himself and to the soldier next to him. Another problem is the shadow the rear side of the gun leaves on his upper arm. While the rear of the rifle is a complete cylinder like structure, its shadow is more cone-like, with many gaps in it. The weapon itself is carried sideways, an odd position during patrol.

It is also worth noting that the two soldiers appear dressed for different seasons. The big smiling soldier on the right is dressed more warmly than the gun carrying soldier on the left. He wears a heavy coat that covers all the way to the neck and a pair of fury gloves; while the other soldier has uniforms, fitting lighter weather conditions.

The third picture shows a soldier aiming his weapon at a small child. We can say that with a sense of confidence, because he is aiming his weapon in a downwards position. What other reason he could possibly has to do that to a women and child that are just walking by?


Based on the information in that picture it is a clear case of a soldier abusing his power against a small child. One problem though, the picture is fake, edited. Look at the ditch the woman is over-passing. This ditch is coming downward from the hill, were the terraces are located. Terraces, agriculture on the hillsides, are the main form of Palestinian agriculture in the West Bank. What is this ditch supposed to do? Deliver water from the hill, were they are needed, downwards? Or maybe the water in that ditch goes upwards by itself? Maybe there is an explanation that the picture did not catch, some kind of structure, or a field. There isn't! I can say that with the utmost confidence because I have found a picture depicting the original scene. It took some time, but I have found it. And the ditch is nowhere to be seen.


Comparing the two photos, shows that the one tweeted by Zogby was definitely edited. It also shows that the main scene in both pictures is the same. For Israel this pretty damming, but if this is the case why edit the photograph?

The answer is in what was edited out. According to the caption above the real photo, found at Getty images, this picture was taken on January 2004 at the Hawara checkpoint by AFP photographer Jaaffar Ashtiye. This information is valuable, and you won't find it in the fake image.  The photographer says in the caption that the soldier is aiming his weapon at a mother and a child.  However, at this close distance he can only aim it at one of them. Since the photographer is a Palestinian, he obviously has his biases, which affects his explanations of what he sees and photographs; (as do I have as an Israeli). We can see his biases in his description of the background situation. However, this does not affect the objectivity of this photo. He describes the soldier as aiming a weapon at two persons because he cannot tell who it is aimed at. The angle of the camera keeps him from doing that. It is clear that even the person that took the real photograph, the unedited one, cannot tell if the weapon is aimed against the child or not.

It is not aimed against the child!

I know that for a fact not because I am bias; and not because I know for a fact that the IDF is the most moral army on Earth. Even if we accept as a fact James Zogby's view of the IDF, as the most oppressive evil armed force on Earth, there is no way this soldier was aiming his weapon at the child. If he had done that, that would be not only an abuse of power against the weak, helpless, and undefended. It would also be a gross dereliction of duty.

There are four things we need to remember about the real picture. It is January 2004, not long after a wave of suicide bombing and other types of terrorist attacks that murdered hundreds of Israelis. These are attacks that occurred nearly every day. This is the Hawara checkpoint, southwest of Nablus, along the security barrier. The security barrier is a major factor in reducing the success rate of such monstrous attacks into near zero. The checkpoints monitor the entry of Palestinians into Israel, and are a key part of that security. IDF soldiers are not mind readers. And there are, and there have been women terrorists. The main job of this soldier, and the others at the checkpoints, is to prevent terrorists from entering Israel and attacking civilians in major population centers. If he was aiming his weapon at the child, he wouldn't have been aiming it at the mother.
Was she a terrorist?

Probably not.

Most likely not.

But until it is verified there is a slim chance that she is. Given the horrific nature of such attacks a slim chance is a risk not worth taking. Not professionally, and not personally, since the victims could be people close to this soldier. They could be family, they could be friends, and they could be friends of friends. It does not matter. He will still have to look at the survivors, and relatives in the eyes, when he goes back home.  Until it is verified, she could be hiding a bomb or a weapon in her bag or beneath her coat. So until it is verified that she is not a terrorist, the soldier must aim his weapon at her, and not the child, who is definitely not a terrorist. If she is a terrorist, and he aims his weapon at the child, he could create an opportunity for her to attack the soldiers at the checkpoint, or smuggle a bomb into Israel. If we had even a handful of such bad soldiers, the frequency of successful terrorist attacks inside Israel, would have been far greater.

So, why is he aiming his weapon downwards?

This is the razor-sharp dilemma he is going through, him, and the entire IDF. What if she is a terrorist? What if is she is not?

The only way to stop a terrorist about to attack is by firing at him immediately. And the best way to do that is by aiming at the upper body, where the injuries are more lethal. This guarantees to stop the terrorist's attack. As the white dirt on the soldier's elbow indicates, this was how he was aiming before she came close.
But what if she is not a terrorist? Why risking accidentally killing an innocent person?
This is why he employs two measures to defend her. He aims his weapon to the lower body, where the injuries are less lethal, and he keeps his trigger finger, away from the trigger. This way he is been both moral, keeping her safe as a civilian, and provides an effective defense to Israeli civilians, should it turn out that she is a terrorist. This is not an ideal solution; it has its pluses and minuses for both sides.

This explains the "odd" behavior of the second soldier, the unarmed one. We see more of him in the edited footage because the real picture, the one from Getty images, is not the source material for the forgery. Photojournalists take many pictures in quick succession, in a short amount of time. Therefore, there had to be more pictures depicting this original scene. One of them, taken almost immediately after the published one, is the source material for the forgery. Both of them show this soldier walking close to the arched wall. They show him keeping a large distance between himself and the woman with the child. Why is he doing that? Is he afraid of them? Are we to assume that when one soldier is abusing them, the other is afraid of them? Does that make sense? The only way this makes sense is that they're both doing their job, one is providing security, the other is checking papers, and looking for hidden weapons. He is keeping to the wall in order not to get into the firing line. He also keeps a safe distance from her in order to have enough time to response should she attack him. When the soldier handling security is been lenient for humanitarian reasons, the soldier handling the verification process must be extra cautious.   

Israel's "critics" may dismiss this explanation, but there is one person that agrees with this; the forger; the one that created the fake photograph used by Joseph Zogby. Why else, edit the photograph? What reason is there to edit out the checkpoint? The Israeli checkpoints along the West Bank are the target of a lot of outrage by opponents of Israel, with claims of abuse, ordeal, and worse. There is not supposed to be any reason for a critic or a hater to remove the checkpoint from the image. But much like those fake pictures, first impression is misleading. First, who said this outrage is based on accurate information? Second, anyone familiar with the issues that make up the Israeli Palestinian conflict knows that any true discussion of the checkpoints will bring up the Israeli side of the issue: The right of all Israeli civilians, men, women, and children for security; and the duty of the Israeli government, any government; and its armed forces; to provide it! And Israel's haters wish to erase that. They are really not that different from the terrorists that physically erase those lives. 

They have another thing in common with them; Palestinians lives do not mater to them. Look at that ditch. It had been added to create the illusion that the mother and the child are just walking by. And therefore the soldier aiming his weapon at them is doing so in an arbitrary, and  abusive way. To make the ditch look authentic, the forger extended it towards the hill. But for anyone who knows a little bit of the Palestinian way of life in the West Bank this is a major red alert regarding the authenticity and credibility of the picture. As said above, the hills are where the terraces are. This an agricultural way of life that grows crops along the hillsides, in order to gather the rain water as they fall downhill. This is a method that won't be sending water downhill in a ditch. They are heading there anyway. This is something the author of the fake photo should know. This person, either does not care to know, or knows and does not care. Once ordinary Palestinians have no more use as propaganda pawns they are tossed aside into oblivion. This is the same disregard for human lives that Hamas and Islamic Jihad practice when they use Palestinian civilians as human shields.

And now we come to the last photograph, the only real one in this quartet.

Real but partial

The fact that it is real, unedited and not fake, does not means it does not have its own problems of credibility. First, one real photo does not redeem three fake ones. Second, context. Context is always important. In this case it is the impression created by three fake images. Since the images are fakes, so is the context they create. Third, the picture is indeed an upsetting sight. No one likes to see a child been arrested by a lot of men, each bigger than him. Rest assured that the soldiers doing this arrest do not like doing it. At the same time remember that arresting children is not illegal or abusive under international law. It all depends on circumstances and treatment. And what do we know about them? Based on that picture alone, Nothing! And this is the forth reason why the credibility of this picture is problematic. An old Jewish proverb says half a truth is worse than a lie. This picture, on its own, is much less than half the story. It does not tell us what happened before, and what happened after. Was the child throwing stones? Was he actually arrested or released shortly after? And if he was arrested, were his rights kept by the Israeli authorities, or not? You may agree politically with the act of Palestinian children throwing stones. That is your right, whoever you might be. But that does not change the fact that it is illegal, criminal, and violent. Your political convictions, just like mine, are not above the law. And what kind of politics sends children to do its bidding? …Violently?! 

In response to all the partiality of this picture I combined it with other picture to create a different context. I created two of them, one complex, one challenging. They may be biased, but all the pictures in them are real, and they come from Palestinian and international sources. 


Every aspect of Palestinian stones throwing has always been a spectacle.

 It had never been a resistance.

All these pictures together, 3 fakes, and 1 selective, combine into a false accusation against Israel and the IDF. It is a falsehood that wishes to erase Israelis, the way Palestinian terrorists have been doing. And it regards Palestinian civilians as nothing more than pawns. The way Palestinian terror organizations have been doing. The question is how much different James Joseph Zogby is from these terrorists, and forgers? He could have just fallen into the trap of confirmation bias. It is a trap we are all likely to fall into, and many of us did fall into. With the high and mighty, one sided moral judgment; he passed on Israel, it is difficult to disassociate him from the desire to erase Israelis; and from the willingness to reduce Palestinians to mere pawns, in the process. May be there are redeeming  factors. On the other hand, this is and has always been the essence of Palestinian and Anti Zionist politics. And he has always been a part of that system. But even if there are genuine, objective, redeeming facts, from his life and personal history, this cloud is gonna stick even if he deletes that tweet.