Three telling factual problems with 4Corners’ “Stone Cold Justice”

Feb 13, 2014 | Tzvi Fleischer

Three telling factual problems with 4Corners' "Stone Cold Justice"

AIJAC is currently researching and compiling a detailed critique of all the elements of the controversial ABC Four Corners documentary “Stone Cold Justice”, made with John Lyons of the Australian, and aired on Monday (Feb.10). We hope this will be available shortly. In the meantime, here are three examples of obviously inadequate fact-checking or failure to provide proper context in the documentary and the parallel article in the Australian by John Lyons last Saturday (Feb.8). Sadly, they seem to be typical of a larger pattern in a documentary that appears to have been much more about sensationalist point scoring than about the careful weighing of evidence or fair and balanced journalism.

“Keeping Palestinian Children in Cages”

Both Four Corners and Lyons in the Australian alleged that children were kept in outdoor cages. On February 8 in the Australian, John Lyons wrote:

“Last month the Israeli government, under pressure from human rights groups, stopped a practice of keeping Palestinian children in outdoor cages at night. The office of Justice Minister Tzipi Livni confirmed the decision and said it came after Ms Livni became aware that it had been a longstanding practice and had included keeping Palestinian children in the cages during snowstorms.”

Similarly in the ABC Four Corners report Lyons said, “Last month, under pressure from human rights groups, Israel stopped a longstanding practice of keeping children overnight in outdoor cages. Children had been kept freezing in the cages during snowstorms.” In the context of the story, it was clearly implied that the children in question were Palestinian children.

Detailed research by CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) about reports of supposed use of “cages”, “False charge of ‘Palestinian Kids in Cages’ Lives On in Australian Documentary”, reveals that this is a significant misrepresentation of the issue. The problematic practice being referred to, since ordered halted, involved Israeli prisoners being left in outdoor pens at a “transit point” for up to two hours during early morning transfers to court hearings. It affected all prisoners, meaning primarily Israeli citizens. While there are no specific demographic figures of who was involved, there is no clear evidence that either Palestinians or minors were involved, though it is is possible some were. In addition, the holding pens in question are in Ramle, near Tel Aviv. No snow fell there during Israel’s recent winter storms or any other time in recent memory. .

Similar claims to the ones made by Lyons about this practice led to corrections from at least two newspapers.

The British organistion CIF Watch published a report criticising the Independent for publishing an article about Israel supposedly keeping “Palestinian children in cages” for being factually inaccurate. The Independent has since issued the following clarification:

“After original publication of its report, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel released an amended version, acknowledging that the information from the Public Defender’s Office about child prisoners being kept in cages did not refer specifically to Palestinians. We have amended our report accordingly and wish to make the position clear.”

More recently Haaretz published two corrections concerning similar claims, including updating an article regarding the ABC Four Corners documentary itself, to note:

“This article was amended to reflect the fact that the now-halted practice of holding detainees in outdoor cages involved Israeli citizens and not necessarily Palestinians.”

This whole distortion appears to have started with a Jerusalem Post report on December 31 based on inaccurate information from the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (as mentioned by the Independent in its correction), as CAMERA points out:

“The media charges began with a news article on Dec. 31 in the Jerusalem Post, ‘Livni halts practice of placing detained Palestinian children in outdoor cages.’ The story cited an NGO, The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI), to allege that there was a ‘longstanding’ Israeli policy of torturing Palestinian children by caging them outdoors. The following day, a London-based newspaper, The Independent, published a similar article entitled ‘Israel government tortures Palestinian children by keeping them in cages, human rights group says.’ Two subsequent Ha’aretz articles also mentioned the Israeli practice allegedly targeting Palestinian children.

PCATI, the original source of the false allegations, wrongly conflated the holding of Israeli detainees in outdoor prison cells (referred to as ‘cages’) with general accusations of ill-treatment targeting Palestinians. Referring to “caging” as an example of the alleged torture of Palestinian children, the NGO linked to an earlier Hebrew-language statement from the Office of the Public Defender, which in turn was based on interviews with Israeli detainees at a prison transit facility. (There was no mention here of any Palestinians.) Those detainees reported being held temporarily in outdoor cells during severe weather as they awaited transfer to their court hearings. The Public Defender’s Office gave the report to Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who contacted the Minister of Public Security and the commissioner of the Israel Prison Service. The practice, which had been in place for several months, was immediately stopped. From the start, this was a domestic issue related to conduct by the prison system toward Israeli detainees of whatever background that was distorted into an allegation of torture and abuse targeting Palestinian children.”

According to CAMERA, Israel’s Justice Ministry confirmed that the practice in question affected primarily Israelis, not Palestinians. Spokeswoman Ganit Ben-Moshe reportedly wrote:

“This is about [facilities in] territory within the State of Israel and about detainees who were Israeli residents and citizens – not specifically minors and not specifically Palestinians, as was claimed in various publications…

In response to your further request by telephone, we wish again to clarify that the report deals with an inspection done within Israeli territory regarding detainees who were brought to court hearings from different detention facilities in the [geographic area] of the center. There is no data base to ascertain the identity and citizenship of each and every one of the detainees, but it is absolutely clear that the conditions described apply to all detainees brought to that place, Jews and Arabs, minors and adults.”

In addition, Israel’s Prison Service also repudiated the claims and according to CAMERA said:

“It is important to point out that the holding cells that were discussed serve as a transition point between prisons, or between prisons and the courts and therefore serve the entire prisoner population without any distinction as to their residency status (Israel/Palestinian Authority) or the type of offense (security/criminal), and mainly applied to criminal convicts. The length of time in which the prisoners were kept at the location was short, and no longer than two hours. All the complainants mentioned in the report in question were criminal prisoners/detainees who are Israeli residents. Similarly, we would like to point out that following the report, the use of the location was immediately discontinued and it was renovated and adapted.”

Therefore, the claims by the ABC Four Corners program and Lyons suggesting that the ‘cages’ were just for Palestinian children are wrong, and actually led to corrections in other media outlets well – including, in the case of the Independent, one made well before Four Corners went to air or the Australian stories were published. The ABC and Australian should be correcting their claims as well.

It is illegal to arrest minors under the age of 12

According to the Israeli army, minors under the age of 12 are not criminally responsible for their actions and therefore cannot be arrested or placed on trial – something the documentary never mentioned, while often implying the opposite. The Four Corners episode suggested that a nine-year-old boy Karim Dar Ayyoub was arrested by the IDF. The ABC transcript states:

“JOHN LYONS: Later, police come for Islam’s nine-year-old brother, Karim.

(Police arresting Karim and putting him in a van)

GABY LASKY: He was nine-years-old I think when he was first arrested, Karim, which is completely unacceptable, even to the army authorities.”

However, even according to a Palestinian source, “Electronic Intifada”, this is incorrect. They say that Karim was 11 and he was not arrested but merely detained for questioning for two hours:

A month later, Islam’s younger brother eleven year old Kareem was chased down  and hauled off by the Israeli police where he was illegally interrogated for two hours before getting released.”

(Incidentally, the link goes to a YouTube video which also says Kareem was 11.)

The Four Corners episode also prominently featured emotive footage of a five year-old boy Wa’adi Maswada who was detained by the IDF for allegedly throwing stones.

The story said:

“On the streets of Hebron five-year-old Wadi’a Mawadeh was picked up by soldiers. An Israeli settler had claimed that he had thrown a stone at him….

The boy is taken by six soldiers. He was released after two hours.

One settler, making one allegation, is able to activate this level of military intervention against a five-year-old.

When his father intervenes, he is blindfolded.”

What this fails to make clear is that according to the IDF, the child was never arrested and never touched by soldiers. He was not arrested, he was taken home. His father did not “intervene”, the soldiers were waiting at his home for him to return to discuss the problem with him and turn the issue over to Palestinian authorities. It is true the father was blindfolded and handcuffed after he refused to cooperate – and the IDF has admitted this was inappropriate and unjustified.

In a letter to B’Tselem published on Haaretz, Israel’s legal adviser Col. Ben Barak wrote:

“In situations where IDF soldiers see children performing dangerous actions, such as hurling stones at passing vehicles, it would be totally irresponsible on the part of these soldiers to ignore what is happening and to allow the children to persist in their actions without any interference and to continue with their hazardous behavior… removal of the hazard through the distancing of the children from the area and through their immediate transfer to their parents’ custody or, alternatively, to the care of the Palestinian authorities, so that they can continue the treatment process as they see fit, is legitimate, as would be similar measures undertaken to deal with a minor involved in such activities in Israel.”

However, Barak conceded that in this case the IDF acted inappropriately by blindfolding the boy’s father. Haaretz reported that Barak,

“notes that the soldiers erred in detaining the father, whom they handcuffed and whose eyes they covered ‘before the two were released to the custody of the Palestinian police and in the absence of any suspicion justifying the above measures.’… Ben Barak emphasizes in his letter that Maj. Gen. Alon wanted ‘to make it crystal clear to his soldiers that the above actions were unworthy, especially since the child was very young and especially since the father had already been found.'”

While it is clear that the IDF did not handle the incident well in certain respects, especially in its treatment of the father, otherwise, their behaviour seems not terribly dissmiliar to what police would do in Australia if they witnessed a small child throwing stones at cars – stop him or her, take him or her home, and speak to the child and his or her parents about the problem, possibly at a police station or other government agency.

But even more telling was the fact that Four Corners accepted it as a fact that the only source of the rock-throwing allegation was a settler, using this to make an emotive point about how “One settler, making one allegation, is able to activate this level of military intervention against a 5 year-old.” However, the IDF insists Mawadeh was “caught in the act” of stone-throwing by the soldiers, releasing a statement saying:

“On Tuesday afternoon a minor was caught in the act of hurling rocks toward a public street in Hebron and, by doing so, endangering passers-by in the area. IDF soldiers intervened on the spot and accompanied the minor to his parents.”

Even B’Tselem, the human rights organisation that filmed and publicised the incident appears to have conceded that it was the case that the boy “threw a stone” and, as far as AIJAC can tell, has never alleged that the intervention against Mawadeh was occasioned only by a complaint from a settler.

In other words, Four Corners decided to take the word of the 5-year-old and his family that there was no rock-throwing and the whole incident was occasioned by a settler, and either made no effort to ascertain the Israeli account of what happened or ignored it if they were aware of it. This allowed them to make a point about the “power” of settlers over Palestinian children which otherwise would make no sense.

Sadly, this is typical of most of this documentary. In all three incidents, ascertaining all the facts and getting both sides appeared much less important than scoring emotive points by presenting the most dramatic and sensationalist version of events possible. AIJAC will have much more on this unfortunate aspect of the program in coming days.

Tzvi Fleischer



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