June 8, 2010
On May 31, the IDF Spokesman’s Office distributed a photo of a bearded Muslim man with a knife surrounded by reporters. Daylight was pouring in from a window or door behind the reporters. Offered without context or explanation, the photo played up a classic Orientalist stereotype of violent, fanatical, and even suicidal Muslims determined to kill Jews. It was included in an article based on testimony from anonymous commandos with the following title: "Israeli Navy Commandos: Gaza flotilla activists tried to lynch us."
The IDF apparently told Haaretz that the photo was taken immediately after its Naval commandos raided the Mavi Marmara and other flotilla ships — at least, that’s how Haaretz described the photo based on an IDF source. Yet the raid was conducted under the cover of darkness. How could a photo obviously taken during daytime have portrayed an event that took place during the late evening? Do Muslims have magical powers that allow them to turn night into day? And why were reporters standing around, casually taking photos when commandos were supposedly getting "lynched?" Once again, the IDF’s story was highly suspect.
I called the IDF Spokesman’s Office to inquire about the photo. Why did the IDF claim the photo depicted an event that took place after the commandos raided the flotilla when it was clearly taken during the daytime? I asked.
Spokesman Sgt. Chen Arad told me he did not know whether the photo was taken before or after the commandos landed on the Mavi Marmara. "It could be that the claim was made by commandos in the interview," he maintained. I reminded him that Haaretz’s source for the photo was not the commandos, but the IDF Spokesman’s Office. After confirming that his office released the photo, Arad said, "It is reasonable that it was before the actual takeover but I’m not sure what was claimed with Haaretz."
Soon after I spoke with Arad on June 8, Haaretz scrubbed its caption of the suspicious photo, removing the phrase, "holding a knife after Israeli commandos boarded their ship." However, Haaretz did not mention the retraction, probably assuming no one would notice. The retraction raises disturbing questions about the level of coordination between the IDF and the Israeli media. Did the IDF Spokesman’s Office tip Haaretz off after I called them? And why does Haaretz accept the IDF’s version of events on the Marmara at face value? Besides casting a shadow over Haaretz’s coverage of the flotilla raid, this episode once again proves that nothing the IDF says can be trusted.