Prof. Richard Landes
Prof. Richard LandesCourtesy

HonestReporting, an Israeli media watchdog group, was founded in October of 2000 in response to the infamous AP-New York Timesscandal in which an Israeli border guard defending a bloodied American yeshiva student from a mob of Palestinian Arab assailants was as identified as “An Israeli policeman and a Palestinian [sic] on the Temple Mount [sic].”

On November 8, 2023, they published an investigative piece entitled “Photographers Without Borders: AP & Reuters Pictures of Hamas Atrocities Raise Ethical Questions.” In it they document at least six Arab photographers whose photos from that day were published by Western news agencies: Hassan Eslayeh (CNN), Yousef Masoud (New York Times), Ali Mahmud (AP), Hatem Ali (AP), Mohammed Fayq Abu Mostafa (Reuters), and Yasser Qudih (Reuters).

All based in Gaza, these photographers accompanied the Hamas incursion into southern Israel on October 7, and, in addition to taking pictures of themselves in front of burning Israeli tanks, also rode with them in their vehicles, and took photos of the atrocities Hamas committed.

HonestReporting wonders whether their presence that early on a sleepy Saturday morning at precisely the place Hamas breached the fence was mere coincidence; or, were they “embedded” with Hamas troops? Moreover, vis-à-vis the news agencies that used their pictures—including one in Reuters’ “In pictures: Seven days in Israel and Gaza” montage (number 43 of 46) of a dozen men mobbing the body of a dead soldier (à la the infamous 2000 Ramallah lynching)—did they realize what was happening in order for them to get these photos? Or, if they did, did they wonder how their photographers got these shots? Did they say to themselves they were “doing what photojournalists always do during major news events, documenting the tragedy as it unfolded”? War correspondents embed with troops all the time; what’s wrong with photographers ready to accompany forces on a mission?

Photo by journalist at Oct. 7th massacre
Photo by journalist at Oct. 7th massacreReuters

Photograph of Hamas killers mobbing a dead Israeli soldier, taken by Reuters photographer Mohammed Fayq Abu Mostafa—while embedded with Hamas on October 7.

Of course, the answer is—at least for those who claim to care about humanitarian laws of warfare and journalistic ethics—that this was not a military mission, but a mass murder. Were there Hutu photographers who coordinated with Hutu genociders when they went out on their missions to slaughter 800,000 Tutsis? There may have been photographers then who filmed the massacres because they had the (mis)fortune to be there as it happened, but… embedded with the Hutus? As Jonathan Tobin put it: “legitimate journalists don’t tag along with criminals in the commission of their crimes and take pictures of them as if they were paid to record a wedding for posterity.”

Who are these people? And why have they become a mainstay of news from Gaza?

And now, ask yourself: how many of the other photographers listed in the article, when they look at this photo, feel disgust, and how many envy?

The news agencies involved have all insisted that they had no foreknowledge of the attack and that the photos they used were published 45 minutes after the attack (Reuters) and 90 minutes later (New York Times). Of course, we need to know when the photos were taken, not published. We need to know what photos these “journalists” took that the agencies did not publish. We need not denial but transparency.

They also warn against such accusations which endanger the journalists. Of course, one has to ask here: Have not these photographers, some of whom are riding along with the “fighters,” purchased their “safety” by siding with the people who would not hesitate to kill them if they thought they were not supporting the cause? What would have happened to any reporter who was not pre-approved by Hamas? When the AP claims that “No AP staff were at the border at the time of the attacks, nor did any AP staffer cross the border at any time,” are they just covering their rears (they’re using photos from “free-lancers,” not staff)? Or do they realize whom they are paying for these photos? (For more on the media response, see also my conclusion.)

Right at the beginning of the Oslo Jihad (so far, a 23-year long war), a BBC correspondent, Fayad abu Shamala, proclaimed at a Hamas rally in Gaza on May 6, 2001—that is five months into the horrific suicide terror campaign—that “journalists and media organizations [are] waging the campaign shoulder-to-shoulder together with the Palestinian people.” When the Israeli government showed the tape to the BBC, they responded: “Fayad’s remarks were made in a private capacity. His reports have always matched the best standards of balance required by the BBC.” Some years later, evidence emerged that abu Shamala was a member of Hamas. Were the BBC aware of the humiliating irony in their statement, a reflection not of abu Shamala’s high standards but their abysmally low ones? Or did they believe their own PR?

In the meantime, the Western press corps, especially in coverage of what was narrowly declared the “Israel-Palestine conflict,” took in large numbers of journalists whose Arab or Islamic media agenda overruled any commitment to ethical or professional standards. Even minimal ones. For them, as for their apologists in the West, this is all “a means of communication… the weapons of the weak.”

Al Jazeera embodies this combination of high technical production standards and “patriotic” war-propaganda-as-news. Despite its strong agenda in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood and its Palestinian Arab branch Hamas, the watchdog Media Bias/Fact Check described them having a “slight to moderate liberal [sic] bias… [their] straight news reporting… a minimal bias.” And yet, in 2008, when Israel released Samir Kuntar, imprisoned in 1985 for the Nahariya massacre in which he smashed the head of a four-year-old Israeli girl against a rock, he not only received a hero’s welcome in Lebanon, but Al Jazeera “journalists” in their Beirut office held a birthday party for him. Hamas gave them an award for their “highly professional coverage of Gaza,” for “demonstrat[ing] their belonging to the cause of the oppressed Palestinian people” and their “high level of nationalism.” When Israel threatened to expel Al Jazeera for their widely knownviolations of professional journalism, the guardians of press freedom objected.

Indeed, in the early years of the Oslo Jihad (2000–2002), there was a systemic partisanship in Palestinian Arab ournalism that insiders knew about but kept from their audiences—a “public secret.” Everyone in the news media world knew it, but they would never say it publicly.

I was let in on this secret for a moment, sitting with Charles Enderlin and watching the uncut rushes that he got from his cameraman of 12 years, Talal abu Rahmah, that ended with the 59 seconds capturing the “death” sequence of Muhammad al-Durah (“le petit Mohamed”) on September 30, 2000. Enderlin, a French-Israeli senior correspondent for France2, had edited those last 59 seconds to put together his famous broadcast: “the child, target of fire coming from the Israeli position… is dead.”

What we saw were repeated efforts to stage a plausible scene that the Western news agencies could use as background to the tale of Palestinian Arab valiance and victimhood they tirelessly recited. At one particularly obvious fake (which Enderlin later cut before showing the footage to the court), I asked Enderlin, “Why so much faking?” “Oh, they do that all the time. It’s a cultural thing.” When I asked him then, how did he know they didn’t fake the al-Durah story, he responded, “Oh, they couldn’t fool me.”

It was this experience that inspired the term “Pallywood.”

This off-the-record confession of the complete unreliability of Palestinian Arab news sources was repeated a while later when three French journalists got a chance to view the same footage that I saw. The non-stop staging they saw “troubled them deeply.” When confronted with the obvious fakes, the France2 senior staff responded as had Enderlin:

At least at the time of their interview on Jewish radio, the two distinguished journalists still got indignant at these “outrageous” violations of their code. But a word from higher up (reportedly Jacques Attali) sufficed to kill the story. Instead, the guild of journalists gathered around to save Enderlin from having his “honor” impugned by mere citizens.

So, in public, at least, the position of the media must be the exact opposite of the public secret: in his 2010 book of self-justification, A Child is Dead [sic], Enderlin sings abu Rahmah’s praise: “Never failing in his professionalism, Talal is a most credible source, and has been employed by France2 since 1988.” Enderlin assured Esther Schapira, “Talal abu Rahmah is a journalist like me; he’s a prima facie witness. He told me what happened. I’ve no reason not to believe him.” Like the BBC about abu Shamala, Enderlin doesn’t seem to understand the devastating irony when he states: “he’s a journalist like me.”

No, actually, in this and many cases, Enderlin is a journalist like Talal. When asked by an Israeli journalist why he made the most explosive accusation about “the target of fire from the Israeli position,” Enderlin replied, “If I hadn’t said that the child and father were victims of shooting coming from the direction of the IDF position, they’d say in Gaza ‘How come Enderlin does not say it’s the IDF?’” So he not only accepts uncritically the work of his cameraman, he also takes crucial instructions from the Palestinian Arabs!

The Western media have played this dishonest game for a long time. In his co-authored book on his years working as the head of the Israeli Press Office, Israel and the Foreign Media, Daniel Seaman recounts multiple examples of agents of Hamas being paid by Western press services. As Talal promised his audience in his thank you speech to the Arab Media Awards gala ceremony (Dubai, September 2001): “I will continue to fight with my camera.”

When Esther Shapira asked the head of PATV why they inserted a picture of an Israeli soldier from three days later, firing rubber bullets at crowds, into the footage of the al-Durah scene—so that their viewers saw an IDF soldier aiming at and shooting the boy—he answered:

These are forms of artistic expression, but all of this serves to convey the truth…. We never forget our higher journalistic principles to which we are committed of relating the truth and nothing but the truth.

Like Hamas rewarding Al Jazeera for their “highly professional coverage,” this is modern language used in a profoundly anti-modern context.

Nor is this aberrant behavior. On the contrary, it is prescribed: the Arab and Muslim formal “journalism” codes explicitly demand partisan behavior—support my side, right or wrong—especially when it comes to Israel:

Nir Oz\
Nir Oz\צילום: Erik Marmor/Flash90

Photograph of ruins of Kibbutz Nir Oz located within Israel's 1949 borders after Oct. 7th pogrom when Hamas terrorists called residents "setterrs" and the kibbutz a "settlement."

To combat Zionism and its colonialist policy of creating settlements as well as its ruthless suppression of the Palestinian people… Islamic Media-Men should censor all material that is either broadcast or published, in order to protect the Ummah from influences that are harmful to Islamic character and values, and in order to forestall all dangers.

And yet, somehow, the German scholar and “Islamophobia” specialist Kai Hafez insists: “there is a broad intercultural consensus that standards of truth and objectivity should be central values of journalism.”

On the contrary, as one honest Jordanian editor noted, “fake news has a long and distinguished pedigree in the Arab world.” And when, on rare occasions, self-censorship fails and Muslims begin to publicly criticize Muslims, an “honor-brigade” steps in to save Muslim face. Western journalists, who depend on these media-men, who trust them and “have no reason to doubt” them, thus pump unfiltered (enemy) war propaganda into the public sphere.

This partisan journalism does not stop at aiding and abetting terrorism. On August 9, 2001, college student and TV newsreader Ahlam Tamimi, a Jordanian, used her press credentials as a journalism student to accomplish one of the most heinous of the suicide terror attacks, deliberately targeting religious children at a kosher Sbarro pizzeria in downtown Jerusalem. Sixteen innocents, among them three American women, were murdered. Tamimi subsequently made clear that she has no regrets and that, given the opportunity, she would do it again. And, in honor of her efforts, Palestinian Arab students erected an papier-mâchéexhibition where people could come and savor the moment of the blast.

Tamimi, released in the same 2011 exchange that freed Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, was greeted joyfully in Jordan where she hosted her own television program (2012–2016). The U.S. Department of Justice repeatedly called on Jordan to hand her over for extradition under the 1995 U.S.-Jordan treaty, which Jordan has refused. And U.S. diplomats worry that, given her broad popularity among Jordanians, her extradition might destabilize the monarchy. Few phenomena speak more eloquently to the broad support in Arab countries allied with the U.S. for the merciless targeting of Israelis and Jews children.

This is, we must admit, despite our fondest hopes for a world at peace, another world.

Does this mean all Arab journalists are terrorists, or terror supporters, abettors, sympathizers? Not necessarily, but those questions need to be legitimately raised about the work of any Arab journalist, especially when his or her product is highly compliant with Palestinian media protocols.

We were all witnesses to the power of this alliance between post-fact “narrative” journalism and pre-fact, propaganda journalism. The consequences were and continue to be devastating on a global scale.

On October 17, 2023, just before 7 P.M., an explosion occurred in the parking lot of the al-Ahli hospital in Gaza City. The explosion, by military standards, was minimal, and the fire ball that followed, though briefly impressive, only burned a half dozen cars, with structural damage to three. The hospital had some windows blown out by the blast, but remained intact. Informed estimates put the death toll at a high of 50, and probably fewer. (The only two photos showing multiple bodies have around 20.) The most impressive one in the courtyard of the hospital is surrounded by people with no sign of further bodies anywhere.

Hamas decided to play this one for all it’s worth. They claimed that an Israeli airstrike bombed the hospital itself in an “horrific” and “criminal” attack. With thousands crowded around the hospital seeking safety from the savage Israeli bombing, it led to over 500 of them being killed, and the death count would probably rise as bodies were dug out from the rubble. What proof did they offer for these claims? Pictures of hundreds of bodies? Pictures of the destroyed hospital and the workers digging victims from the rubble? Pictures of the giant crater and the belongings of the thousands of people who had taken shelter there? Shrapnel and other fragments of the missile that struck?

Nothing of the sort. Mysteriously, the fragments had mysteriously vanished from the site, “making it impossible to assess its provenance,” according to the New York Times. Actually, not impossible at all. The removal of the shrapnel from their own rockets is a standard Hamas operating procedure in cases of shortfall, a tell-tale proof of provenance.

Instead, what the stations showed was a medley of short, jerky, un-focussed pictures of bodies being removed in the chaotic darkness. It’s not clear whether this is how the footage came, or—in time-honored Pallywood style—CNN’s editors strung together the most striking sight-bytes to give the impression of a massive catastrophe. They certainly were convinced, referring repeatedly to the “horrific images,” warning that the pictures viewers were about to see were “horrendous… sickening… heart-wrenching… graphic scenes of utter destruction.”

As for the actual shots that CNN used over and over to illustrate their claims, they don’t add up to much at all. Looked at dispassionately, these photos offer no evidence for any of Hamas’ accusations—nothing showing damage to the hospital, nothing indicating the presence of hundreds of deaths, or thousands of people gathered there to seek shelter, no picture of the huge crater caused by the “massive” blast that killed so many.

And yet, so mesmerized were the entire pack of CNN journalists, that for the next 17 hours (at least)—15 hours after the IDF had presented the evidence to them—CNN played the same medley of videos, each time with a somber warning, each time accompanying the narratives about an horrific catastrophe that had killed hundreds, “with a rising toll expected as bodies are pulled from the rubble.”

Over and again CNN recited the tale (for which they had no photographic evidence) that the ceiling of the hospital’s operating room caved in during surgery.

So convinced were these shrewd journalists of the massive nature of the blast, that when the Israelis claimed it was a Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) rocket, the response was incredulity: “that is a lot of damage for one rocket.” Clarissa Ward, claiming expertise based on her experience, but reading from Hamas talking points, expressed doubts about Israel’s case: “I will say, based on seeing these rocket attacks, that they don’t usually have an impact like that in terms of the size of the blast, the number of the death toll.” Narrative over evidence.

It was a common response: BBC correspondent Jon Donnison told viewers on the evening of the explosion: “It’s hard to see what else this could be, really, given the size of the explosion, other than an Israeli air strike, or several air strikes,” adding, “When we’ve seen rockets being fired out of Gaza, we never see explosions of that scale.” You still haven’t. Later, Jeremy Bowen noted that investigators would question whether Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the group Israel accused of causing the devastation with a misfired rocket, had the firepower to flatten an entire building. Long after pictures of the parking lot were available, Mustafa Barghouti and Khaled Elgindy could still claim on CNN that the number of dead—500, 600 “instantly”—was way too high to be a rocket shortfall… and they received no pushback.

The New York Times wrote extensive articles quoting witnesses who spoke of bodies overflowing from morgues and bodies piled up in the area reserved for journalists—and yet not one cell-phone photo from any of those journalists to corroborate? Chief correspondent Patrick Kingsley even seriously quoted an allegedly professional photographer claiming that “[t]here were so many bodies I couldn’t even photograph them!” And Anderson Cooper, with an equally grave face, repeated these statements as evidence of the “the massive explosion” that caused this “human tragedy on a terrible scale.” Of course, relying on the reporting of their very own “video journalist” in Gaza, Yousur Al-Hlou, even after it was clear the hospital wasn’t touched, the Timescontinued to get information that confirmed the Hamas narrative.

In other words, for hours on end, CNN (and many other reporters) informed their viewers of an event that never happened, for which they had no evidence, describing bodies pulled from rubble that never existed, from the collapse of a hospital that was entirely intact, and wringing their hands over the damage this has done to both Israeli and American interests.

And all that folly, because they trusted their Palestinian sources—from Hamas, to the staff at the hospital, to the stringers whose camera work they used for their Pallywood medley, to the human rights workers who see no terrorism and, here, repeated the lies as authoritative. When asked how the New York Times could have believed a terror group like Hamas so soon after they had shown the world their true self, Helene Cooper responded, “It was not only Hamas who said it. There were other Palestinians who said it as well. We had reporters who were there who spoke with Palestinians, spoke with Hamas, and spoke with other groups.” QED.

When at last, dawn broke some twelve hours after the blast, and photos of the parking lot with the damaged cars and the intact hospital, and the tiny crater, finally emerged in the light of day, it took CNN another six hours to show this evidence to their audience, meanwhile playing the “he-said-she-said” game:

CNN chiron at 11:44 A.M., October 18, 2023.

At no time in the lengthy discussions (some 80% of news time given to this) did any CNN anchor or correspondent ask what these pictures meant for the Hamas narrative they had been conveying as news all night. No thoughts about non-existent rubble, intact hospitals, lack of evidence of thousands of Gazans sheltering, of hundreds dead. On the contrary, as the presidential plane landed, Becky Anderson noted how President Biden’s mission had been turned upside down by this event:

…[G]iven what we saw [sic] here at 7:00 yesterday, the enormous loss of life [sic] by an explosion at the hospital… and now you see [sic] this incredible loss of life [sic], at a hospital, I mean this is just the sort of thing that nobody hoped to see [sic] and what is unfolding on the ground is very, very devastating [sic].

Thirteen hours after she had ample evidence to the contrary, she repeated with her own heart-felt emphasis what Hamas claimed. As for the “sort of thing that nobody hoped to see…” aside from the fact that some in Gaza, and without, welcomed such a catastrophe that they could blame on Israel—a game changer!—what does it mean about what Becky Anderson wants, that she still sees this “awful catastrophe” that didn’t happen?

When just before noon, Israeli Army spokesman Peter Lerner challenged Anderson to stop playing the two-sides narrative and pay attention to the evidence (which she had still studiously avoided analyzing), she cut him off indignantly:

PETER LERNER: If you’re asking for proof, you don’t really want the proof, you just want to make sure you have a story, and unfortunately there’s so much premature reporting…

BECKY ANDERSON: [Interrupts] I don’t want you to suggest… Hang on Peter that is unfair. I don’t want you to suggest that we are not seeking the truth. Peter Lerner, we are trying to seek the proof… please don’t suggest that we are not trying to identify the truth because that is exactly what we are doing.

LERNER: You’ll never be content with whatever I share because you’ll ask for more and more and more…

ANDERSON: [Interrupts] I am reporting what other people, what the Palestinians are asking for.

LERNER: But it’s not the Palestinians, you are parroting what Hamas is saying.

ANDERSON: [Interrupts] Okay I’m going to leave it there. It’s good to have you, Peter Lerner, it’s good to have you…

LERNER: …They have been manipulating you.

ANDERSON: Understood. We are trying to nail down the facts. Good to have you with us.

Let’s just try an alternative universe of possibility. When the Western news agencies received the claims of the Hamas-run Health Ministry and the Pallywood footage from their cameramen, if they had, before running the story:

-demanded shots of the hospital damage,

-of the crater,

-of the hundreds of bodies strewn everywhere

-if they had had real journalists working for them, prepared, with all precautions, to interview people who were there about Hamas activity after the strike (removing shrapnel)…

-if they had awaited Israeli response and intelligence…


then maybe our “allies” in Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq (not Iran), threatened by their angry “street,” could have used this information to undermine the anger. After all, it’s pretty humiliating when your own side kills your own people in front of the world.

And even if it had only a limited effect on the Arab and Muslim world—where, as the Western reporters, in full Orientalist mode, admit that evidence will have no impact on the rage-inducing belief that Israel did it—certainly in the West, where there are still people for whom evidence matters (or at least, like the CNN pack of reporters, claim that evidence matters), this could have had a major impact on taking the air out of the tires of the brutal, intrusive, violent protests in favor of Palestinian Arab “resistance” after Hamas showed what that meant.

Maybe if the media had behaved professionally, rather than like “stenographers” for Hamas; if Agence France-Presse had behaved like a serious operation, rather than as “Agence France-Palestine”; maybe if they reported on the evidence that Hamas will fire on its own people, to keep them from fleeing from Israeli fire and that Gazans are arming themselves to fight Hamas’ predatory greed; maybe if the Washington Post didn’t remove a bitingly accurate political cartoon because “it was seen by many readers as racist,” and then publish a long list of complaints about the unflattering caricature (as if that is not the very stuff of political cartoons); then maybe the media and the politicians who take them seriously wouldn’t wring their hands over Israel killing Gazan babies and women, and using figures from the very people who will kill them to prevent them from not being killed by Israel and who, on principle, label all casualties civilian, preferably children.

Then, maybe, Hamas would not be able to brag, as they did in 2014, that their propaganda “constituted the river from which the global media quenched its thirst for information about what was happening.”

Perhaps the best way to close the circle of this discussion is to bring in the New Yok Timesreaction to the HonestReporting article about, among others,Times photographer Youssef Masoud (emphasis mine):

"The accusation that anyone at The New York Times had advance knowledge of the Hamas attacks or accompanied Hamas terrorists during the attacks is untrue and outrageous. It is reckless to make such allegations, putting our journalists on the ground in Israel and Gaza at risk. The Times has extensively covered the Oct. 7 attacks and the war with fairness, impartiality, and an abiding understanding of the complexities of the conflict [sic].

"The advocacy group Honest Reporting has made vague allegations about several freelance photojournalists working in Gaza, including Yousef Masoud. Though Yousef was not working for The Times on the day of the attack, he has since done important work for us. There is no evidence for Honest Reporting’s insinuations. Our review of his work shows that he was doing what photojournalists always do during major news events, documenting the tragedy as it unfolded."

Aye, there’s the rub. In its self-confident, defensive, cognitive egocentrism, the New York Times arrogantly assumes that its cameraman also saw these events as a “tragedy,” not a glorious victory to which he contributed by “fighting with his camera.” And, not to pile on the humiliating ironies, an organization dedicated to press freedom, weighed in on the side of the news media in denial. Good to know that the media’s honor trumps any professional commitments to what Becky Anderson so quaintly calls “the truth.”

As Schiller noted: Mit Dummheit kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens (“With stupidity the gods themselves struggle in vain”).

Prof. Richard Allen Landes is an American historian and author who specializes in medieval millennial thinking. Until 2015 he taught at Boston University, and then began working at Bar-Ilan University, where his current interests include defending the politics of Israel in the light of what he calls media manipulation by Palestinian Arabs.

Reposted with permission of the author from WhiteRoseMagazine.