A media stunt by a group of Palestinians trying to falsely tar Israel as an apartheid state not only caused some in the fourth estate to fall hook, line and sinker but to abrogate basic journalistic standards.
Six Palestinians called The West Bank Freedom Riders cynically tried to lay claim to the legacy and imagery of African Americans who fought against segregation in the 1950s/60s in the United States by “proving” they are banned from using Israeli public buses to cross over from the West Bank into Jerusalem.
But an analysis by Simon Plosker from Honest Reporting of the claims made by the six “Freedom Riders” and the media coverage shows the absurdity of the stunt and how easily it could be proved as dishonest propaganda.
Judging by the amount of coverage, the international media was only too happy to give this publicity stunt exactly what it craved.
As the BBC acknowledged:
The West Bank Freedom Riders punched above their weight, drawing a lot of publicity for what was a relatively small event, reports the BBC’s Jon Donnison in the West Bank.
The comparison to the Freedom Riders of 1960s America seemed to capture the imagination as dozens of journalists gathered to see the small group board the bus, our correspondent says.
McClatchy mentions nearly 100 journalists waiting at a bus stop with the six Palestinians in the settlement of Kochav Yakov. Others reports refer to a veritable media scrum as the Palestinians boarded the bus.
So who bothered to include some vital context?
• “Israel has no law barring Palestinians from its public transport in the West Bank” – Reuters
• “no specific rule prevents Palestinians from riding the “Israeli” buses” – Associated Press, Daily Telegraph
• “Palestinians are not explicitly barred from riding the Israeli buses” – Christian Science Monitor
• “It is not illegal for Palestinians to travel on Israeli buses in the West Bank” – The Guardian
And who preferred not to challenge the false narrative?
The LA Times, BBC, Washington Post, AFP, The Independent all pointedly failed to make it clear that there is no law banning Palestinians from riding on Israeli buses, omitting this vital context.
The most egregious reporting of the story was offered up by Sheera Frenkel, which was syndicated in the Fairfax Age and News Ltd Brisbane’s Courier Mail.
As Plosker’s analysis of the Frenkel piece explains, the journalist and the article unquestioningly repeated as fact the falsehood that Palestinians are not allowed on Israeli buses.
• “Six Palestinian activists were arrested Tuesday when they attempted to enter Jerusalem on buses designated for Israelis alone.”
• “Israel operates two bus lines in the West Bank that run through the circuitous mountains and into Jerusalem. Only Israelis, however, are allowed to use the bus system.”
• “Many of the Jewish passengers said they were surprised to learn that Palestinians were not allowed on the Israeli bus system.”
• “For some Jewish passengers it was a surprise to learn that Palestinians were not allowed on the Israeli bus system.”
Perhaps the passengers expressed surprise because Frenkel had told them something that is not actually true.
While there are restrictions on the freedom of movement of Palestinians in the West Bank due to security concerns, which includes access to Israeli settlements and within the Green Line, including Jerusalem, there is nothing to stop Palestinians from riding Israeli buses within the West Bank and from continuing their journeys into Jerusalem if they have a permit to do so.
If further evidence was required to prove that it is not racial discrimination that prevents Palestinians from traveling freely, it can be found in the following from Ha’aretz:
Huwaida Arraf, a lawyer and one of the six Freedom Riders on the bus, offered the officers the “honorary passport” she received from the Palestinians for taking part in the Gaza flotilla last year. They didn’t know they were arresting an Israeli and U.S. citizen.
Of course, to have presented her Israeli ID would have debunked there and then, the racial discrimination charge that the six riders were seeking to promote. Had Arraf, an Arab with Israeli citizenship, presented her ID, she would have passed unimpeded beyond the checkpoint irrespective of whether she was Jewish, Arab or any other ethnicity.
It is unfortunate that some media professionals are not sufficiently acquainted with the context in which such stunts are being organised. That is, Palestinians are attempting to delegitimise Israel through false claims of apartheid in their campaign to win a state without needing to make peace or, in many cases, to simply destroy Israel and replace it with a majority Palestinian state.
A good example of this can be found in this story about supposed Palestinian “peace activists” who make it clear their goal is not statehood on the West Bank but the destruction of Israel.
Any journalist choosing to ignore or ignorant of this new political reality is doing themselves and their profession a disservice and worse, causing Israel to be maliciously accused of one of the most lethal charges possible against a state, that of apartheid.