Watchdog Slams TED Talks for Promoting ‘Malicious Libel’ Against Israel
CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, on Wednesday slammed the TED Talks seminars group for promoting a “malicious libel” by featuring an interview with one of its 40 TED Fellows, 26-year-old Gazan photo-journalist Eman Mohammed, who claimed the Israeli Defense Forces sought the “biggest number of casualties” among civilians.
The watchdog questioned TED Talks’s motto of “ideas worth spreading” as the interview promoted Mohammed’s “gratuitous slur about Israel targeting civilians.”
Mohammed was described as Gaza’s only female photojournalist, who began her career at the behest of Hamas during the conflict when she was 19 years old. The attack she was referring to was on the Al Saraya (al-Shujaeiyah) police compound on the second day of Cast Lead” in the Winter of 2008-2009.
In the interview, Mohammed said: “There had been an air strike on a police compound, and I was there afterwards. The thing about the Israeli military, when they start an air strike, they wait for civilians and medical teams to arrive, and then they strike again, so they can have biggest number of casualties. So there were strikes maybe four minutes apart, which was the time it took me to arrive from a very nearby hospital.”
CAMERA wrote: “During Operation Cast Lead, Israel dropped over 2.5 million leaflets throughout Gaza and phoned residents in order to warn them of impending attacks. Israel likewise dropped warning fliers during the 2002 Operation Defensive Shield in the West Bank.”
The watchdog quoted testimony from Colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of the British forces in Afghanistan, who addressed the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2009, praising the “extraordinary measures” that Israel took in Cast Lead to avoid civilian casualties.
Kemp said, that “based on my knowledge and experience, I can say this: During Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli Defense Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.”
“Israel did so while facing an enemy that deliberately positioned its military capability behind the human shield of the civilian population,” Kemp said. “Hamas, like Hezbollah, are expert at driving the media agenda. Both will always have people ready to give interviews condemning Israeli forces for war crimes. They are adept at staging and distorting incidents.”
“The truth is that the IDF took extraordinary measures to give Gaza civilians notice of targeted areas, dropping over 2 million leaflets, and making over 100,000 phone calls,” the former British commander said. “Many missions that could have taken out Hamas military capability were aborted to prevent civilian casualties. During the conflict, the IDF allowed huge amounts of humanitarian aid into Gaza. To deliver aid virtually into your enemy’s hands is, to the military tactician, normally quite unthinkable. But the IDF took on those risks.”
An Israel Defense Forces investigation into the army’s conduct during Cast Lead discussed the precautions that Israel took in this particular strike to safeguard civilian lives. The investigation noted “the unfortunate deaths” of four civilians in the Al Saraya strike, but it also maintained that the strikes were in accordance with international law.
Mohammed said she was injured during the strike, breaking her nose. It was not from IDF fire or shrapnel, but from her own camera.
“The pressure when an air strike happens is enormous,” she said in the TED interview. “I didn’t know that. My camera pretty much bounced off my face. It wasn’t the same as being hit by a block or a missile, but it was painful. I could hear things crashing — and I could hear it for days after.”
CAMERA noted another contradiction in Mohammed’s photo-journalism.
In the interview, Mohammed said: “One of the strongest images in the series is of a girl, one-and-a-half years old, sitting on a motorcycle that is really damaged. She was an unborn baby when her dad, his brother, and her 2-year-old brother were all on this motorcycle coming back from the hospital. The boy had walked into something and had gone for stitches. On their way home, an air strike targeted them on the motorcycle. The three of them were killed, but the motorcycle survived. The grandfather rode the motorcycle to the house, and kept it as a reminder. The girl was born six months later and named Islam, her brother’s name, in memory of him.”
CAMERA said: “The story and the picture are moving. However, a different picture emerges when the reason for the attack is taken into account, a key fact that Mohammed carefully omitted.”
The watchdog quoted B’tselem, a frequent critic of the Israeli government, that included the full context behind the photo in its own report:
“On 19 August 2011, around 9:30 P.M., the Israeli air force fired a missile into a street in the heart of Gaza City, killing Mu’ataz Kreqa’, his two-year-old son Islam, and his brother Munzar. The IDF Spokesperson’s announcement of 20 August said that Mu’ataz Kreqa’ ‘had been the operations officer in charge of rockets. . . [and] had played a major role in planning and firing long-range rockets at Israel’ in the period preceding the attack on his life.”