Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Palestinian propaganda's "free kick" in Australian Parliament

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In remarks in federal Parliament on Monday, South Australian MP Tony Zappia, citing an unspecified report, claimed that "two teenage Palestinian soccer players were allegedly shot in the feet [by Israeli troops] to prevent them from ever playing soccer again."

In referencing this incident, Zappia stumbled across one of the most egregious and vile cases of anti-Israel propaganda in recent months, yet one which is most easily disprovable.

The incident in question occurred on the night of January 30 in east Jerusalem. A spokesperson for the Border Police told Palestinian Affairs reporter Amira Haas of Haaretz (subscription required):

"During operational activity, a group of individuals was seen just seconds before throwing bombs at security forces. When they saw the Border Policemen, the group attempted to run away and tried again to throw bombs at the policemen. The policemen initiated the protocol for opening fire in order to neutralize the threat. The suspects were apprehended, and a bomb was found on them, which has been deactivated."

The spokesperson also provided Haaretz with a photograph of the recovered bomb.

The youths received wounds to their legs - an indication that discretion was likely employed on the spot by the Border Police unit to avoid shooting at the suspects' torsos even though firebombs are considered to be potentially lethal threats.

The youths' lawyer - apparently sent by the Palestinian Authority - offered Haaretz another version of the story:

The lawyer told Haaretz that the two suspects told him they bought cigarettes at a nearby store and were shot as soon as they lit a match. Immediately after, they were attacked by dogs. They claim the Border Police troops beat them, then dragged them to the base - 300 meters from where they were attacked. They claim they were beaten inside the base as well.

For all his allegations, the Palestinian lawyer in the Haaretz story mentioned nothing about the sporting habits of the youths, and it's noteworthy that a February 1 story by the Palestinian news outlet Ma'an also didn't reference it.

"Adam Abd al-Rouf Jamous, 17, and Jawhar Nasser al-Din Halbieh, 19, were mauled by police dogs after Israeli forces opened fire on them without warning near al-Zayyem checkpoint near Abu Dis east of Jerusalem on January 30, Barghouth said.
The pair were visiting a friend's home nearby when Border Police suddenly opened fire in their direction before siccing the dogs on them." (Ma'an News Agency, Saturday 01/02/2014 (updated) 03/02/2014 10:19)

However, by February 16, Ma'an revisited the story with a completely new narrative. Instead of reporting that the youths were buying cigarettes or visiting friends, the story was now that the youths were "walking home from a training session in the Faisal al-Husseini Stadium in al-Ram".

The inference that the story was trying to make was that the Border Police knew that the youths were soccer players when they shot them.
This was driven home by comments by Chairman of the Palestinian Football Association Jibril Rajoub (former head of Yasser Arafat's Preventive Security Force).

Chairman of the Palestinian Football Association Jibril al-Rajoub condemned the shooting and said that "Israeli brutality against them emphasizes the occupation's insistence on destroying Palestinian sport." 
Rajoub called for imposing penalties on the Israeli football association, and demanded its removal from the FIFA as it should not accept racist organizations that do not adhere to international law.

The February 16 Ma'an report also claimed that the youths had suffered numerous gunshot wounds specifically to their feet.

By March 3, Dave Zirin of the US left-wing magazine The Nation published a story online based on Ma'an's new narrative, suggesting that Israel was now in danger of being banned by FIFA for "targeting" Palestinian athletes.

This was followed by a similarly vicious story in the far-left anti-Israel activist web site Mondoweiss.

It did not take long for this outrageous story to become viral and reach this part of the world. Australia's Green Left Weekly carried a version of Zarin's story on March 5.

New Zealand Greens MP Kennedy Graham mentioned it in a blog post on March 13.

In Melbourne, Trevor Grant, host of the far-left community radio station 3CR's weekly sports program embellished the story further on March 21.

He claimed the incident happened at a "checkpoint" and, ignoring the Haaretz report, denied that the IDF had recovered a bomb from the scene, adding a remarkable embellishment based on no known verifiable source, that "all they had in their bags were sweaty socks and football boots."
Grant gushed that the incident was part of a deliberate strategy of Israel to target Palestinian soccer in all forms as "part of the genocidal plan of Israeli Apartheid to wipe out the Palestinian identity".
No effort was made by Grant or Alex Kakafikas, a guest on his show who talks on soccer matters, to verify the story, but that didn't deter Kakafikas from saying that the story reminded him of "mafia" tactics like "cutting off thumbs" and resembled "criminal" behaviour, unbefitting a state.

These are truly monstrous charges, yet in light of the incredible shift in narrative between the earlier story and the later story, how credible, really, are the Palestinian allegations? The answer is, not very.

On March 16, the pro-Israel blogger Elder of Ziyon published an evidence-based report meticulously examining the claims which painted a vastly different picture of the youths than the one which Ma'an had created.

Remarkably, EofZ discovered that the evidence that best undermined Ma'an's version of the story could be found on the Palestinian youths' own Facebook pages, which were full of photographic and written evidence suggesting that the youths are proud and active members of a terror organisation - the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

The blog unearthed Facebook pictures - still publicly available at the time of this writing - showing the youths displaying and brandishing assault rifles, publishing slogans calling for violence against Israel, and even a photo taken while on group night-time stone-throwing missions.

Regarding the extent of the youths injuries, EoZ provided photo evidence that showed the youths standing without assistance and other photos taken in the hospital that showed the uncovered and unscathed feet of the youths.

 

THE IRONY of this offensive and libellous story is that soccer actually does play an important role in Israel-Palestinian relations - mainly that of promoting coexistence both between Israeli Arabs and Jews and Israelis and Palestinians.

Israeli Arabs have played on the Israeli national team with distinction, including former Hapoel Haifa team captain Walid Badir, who appeared for the national side 74 times between 1997 and 2007, and scored 12 goals for them.

Israeli Arab teams, like the renowned Bnei Sakhnin Football Club, compete equally with Jewish clubs in league play and have achieved top honours, including the coveted State Cup in 2004.

Matches between Palestinian and Israeli children sponsored by the Peres Center for Peace have also been a great, if unreported, success.

In the propaganda war that is being waged against Israel daily, truth is often the biggest casualty. The recent case of two Palestinian youths who were shot and injured by Israeli Border Police while attempting to throw firebombs is a case in point. When it was learned that the youths were also members of a Palestinian youth soccer club, their injuries, and the manner in which they received them, appear to have been carefully exaggerated and fictionalised with the sole purpose of delegitimising Israel. The effects of this untruth have extended even as far away as Australia's parliament, and for that reason, every "fair minded person" should be deeply concerned.

Ahron Shapiro

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