The answer was simple according to Arab television, which showed live video footage of Israeli soldiers firing machine guns at people throwing stones on Israel’s borders. Some carried the border scene live for hours, repeating a familiar cycle:

First crowds approach the fence and throw stones:

Then, they run for cover as gunfire erupts:

Finally, unconscious bodies are carried out on stretchers:

But despite the live pictures, the events became increasingly vague when interpreted by American journalists, reporting not live from the scene, but over a hundred miles away in Jerusalem.

Take that day’s AP story, which carries the headline: “At least 15 dead as Israeli troops clash with protestors”

Nowhere in this story are we told that Israeli troops killed any of the protestors.

According to the leading American news agency, the Palestinians were not killed by soldiers, they were killed by “clashes”.

Take a look at the story’s opening sentence or lead. In journalism, the lead is often the most important sentence where the writer attempts to convey–to the best of his or her ability–the gist of what’s going on.

In this 50 word lead, the basic reality that troops killed unarmed protestors is nowhere to be found.

In fact, it is not until the 14th paragraph that we learn that soldiers even fired their weapons at all:

“When hundreds of people burst across the border fence into the Israeli-controlled town of Majdal Shams, surprised soldiers opened fire.”

Still, despite the dead protestors, we are never told where or upon whom the soldiers’ bullets fell.

Finally the 15th paragraph gives more detail about casualties. But still no word on who pulled the trigger:

“Syrian officials reported four people were killed, and dozens wounded”

Casualties are not mentioned again until the 26th paragraph, when the focus shifts to Lebanon:

“The military said it opened fire when protesters tried to damage the border fence. Security officials in Lebanon reported 10 dead.”

Again, the military “opened fire” but upon whom? Ten are reported dead, but no one is reported to have killed them.

The 31st paragraph shifts the focus to Gaza:

“Palestinian medics said 125 people were wounded when demonstrators in the Gaza Strip tried to approach a heavily fortified border crossing into Israel.”

This time Palestinians are wounded, not by the military of course, but by their “approach” to the border fence.

It is not until the same 31st paragraph, near the end of the article, that Israel is held directly responsible for a single death.

“One man was killed by an Israeli sniper. The military said he was trying to plant a bomb.”

Most readers won’t get that far, but if they do, they’ll know the only army kill was justified.

Israeli troops are not held responsible for killing any of the other dozen dead protestors mentioned in this article.

In fact the word “unarmed” appears nowhere in the entire story. How could the AP, one of the world’s most relied-upon news organizations, ignore such a detail? By omitting it, it is unclear where the balance of power on the battlefield lies. The reporter is clear when describing the actions of the protestors:

“… thousands of people approached the frontier, hoisting Palestinian flags, shouting slogans and throwing rocks and bottles at Israeli forces.”

The armed troops, on the other hand, are described in pacifist, almost defenseless terms:

“When hundreds of people burst across the border fence… surprised soldiers opened fire.”

Again, the reporter cannot seem tell us where this soldier “fire” landed although he has little trouble tracing the falling of rocks and bottles on soldiers.

The balance of power on the battlefield was also vague in CNN’s reporting, which used the following headline on screen:

The clashes are fatal, but to whom?

By merely reporting “fatal clashes” the viewer is likely to conclude that it was ‘another bloody day’ in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But the fatalities today are overwhelmingly Arab and the battlefield, overwhelmingly skewed. The fundamental reality that no Israeli troops were killed is obscured when the events are cloaked under the vague description of “clashes.”

As a journalist, its hard to imagine how a scene where armed soldiers kill at least a dozen unarmed civilians (even if they have rocks) makes no appearance in the headline, the lead sentence or any sentence of the story.

It reminds me of the kind of non-journalism practiced only a few weeks ago by TV stations run by Syria, Iran and Hezbollah, which took great pains to avoid the word “kill” when describing the death of unarmed Syrians civilians involved in “clashes” with Syrian troops.

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