After over five years in captivity, Gilad Shalit was finally reunited with his family on Israeli soil as part of a deal that saw hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, including many responsible for heinous and deadly acts of terror, released.
A LOW POINT FOR ETHICAL COVERAGE
From the Israeli side, the main news networks had agreed to handle the story sensitively by keeping their distance from the Shalit home and avoiding invasive photography. Indeed, the blanket coverage on Israeli television was a drip feed of carefully controlled IDF footage and images of the newly released Shalit.
Prior to that, however, as Shalit was released into Egyptian custody, ethical journalism went out of the window as a bewildered and tired looking Shalit, after 5 years in isolation, found himself in front of an Egyptian TV camera for an interview with newswoman Shahira Amin.
Amin has come under intense fire from Israel for conducting an interview under such circumstances, criticism that she has rejected. Was Shalit forced to give the interview? Notaccording to Amin:
It’s true that he was brought in by armed Hamas men, but in the room itself there were only Egyptian intelligence people. They didn’t intervene, and neither did the Hamas men. I say this with complete authority and responsibility: I asked Gilad if he was willing to be interviewed and he said he was. If he’d answered that he didn’t, I wouldn’t have conducted the interview. He seemed pale and exhausted, it’s true, but at the same time he seemed happy that he was going home, and gave good answers. Personally I would have preferred the interview to be in English, without the translator, but Gilad preferred to speak in Hebrew.
Could Shalit possibly have agreed to be interviewed so readily due to the presence of a masked Hamas operative in the room?
“During all that time of captivity, you did just one video to tell the world and your family that you’re alive,” she tells the soldier. “Why just once? Why didn’t it happen again?”Rather than letting him answer, however, Schalit’s Hamas minder-cum-interpreter scolds Amin for asking the same question twice (a peculiar accusation, given the footage shows the question hadn’t been asked before).
The resulting argument between interviewer and minder is one of the interview’s more regrettable scenes. Amin says Schalit appears unwell, and “that’s why I’m asking the question again” – as if drilling him repeatedly will have a salutary effect. The question is itself absurd, roughly tantamount to asking a hostage victim why he or she didn’t escape sooner.
. . .
Amin proceeds to ask Schalit what “lessons” he learned in captivity. After asking for the question to be repeated, he says he believes a deal could have been reached sooner. Here the Hamas minder renders his response as praise for reaching a deal “in such short time” – a mistranslation repeated by the BBC’s own real-time interpreter.
“Gilad, you know what it’s like to be in captivity,” Amin continues as the painful charade drags on. “There are more than 4,000 Palestinians still languishing in Israeli jails. Will you help campaign for their release?”
Schalit’s answer, after a few seconds’ stunned silence, is superior: “I’d be very happy if they were released,” he says, then adds the caveat, “provided they don’t return to fighting Israel.”
Again, the Egyptian interpreter fails to translate the sentence’s second clause, and again the omission is repeated by the BBC’s interpreter, though he too was apparently translating from Hebrew in real-time.
“I will be very happy for the prisoners to go free, so that they can be able to go back to their families, loved ones and territory. It will give me great happiness if this happens,” the BBC’s interpreter relays.
And shame on those members of the international press such as the LA Times, which failed to adequately check the translation before repeating Shalit’s mistranslated words:
Asked whether he would work to help secure the release of other Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, Shalit said he would be happy to see them reunited with their families and that he hoped the spirit of cooperation that led to his release would continue between Israelis and Palestinians.
Lasting ten painful minutes for a visibly strained Shalit, the interview delayed his return to Israel and marks a new low point in the media’s need for instant gratification regardless of the cost.
PALESTINE PIE IN THE SKY
Just what is going on at Sky News? Only days ago HonestReporting flagged its coverage, since corrected, that wrongly stated that Shalit had been captured in Gaza. (He was, of course, kidnapped on Israeli soil.) Now, in another blunder, Sky reports:
Putting to one side the argument over whether the term “Palestine” should even be part of the accepted lexicon, in this case, the term is utterly wrong. It wasn’t “Palestine” or even the Palestinian Authority that Israel agreed the deal with. It was Hamas, which certainly cannot claim to represent “Palestine” and governs only the Gaza Strip.
This error was also repeated by The New Statesman, perhaps less of a surprise given that the publication is under the editorship of Islamist Mehdi Hasan.
Families wept as they embraced. Children who had no memories of their fathers were held up to be kissed. But some of the freed prisoners seemed most intent on embracing mothers who wailed with joy.
The reaction across the Gaza Strip and the West Bank as hundreds of jailed Palestinians returned home, or at least left their prison cells, was not so different from the matching emotions in Israel at the release of just one man.
Actually, the emotions displayed by some Palestinians did not match those of Israelis. Perhaps The Guardian’s Chris McGreal would have changed his teary-eyed tune had he also reported on events at the Hamas-organized welcome home event in Gaza, as described in The Daily Telegraph, amongst others:
But outside, the crowd – now 100,000 strong – was in full voice, chanting in unison: “We want another Gilad, we want another Gilad.” Such scenes will have done little to boost the reputation of Gaza’s Palestinian population in international eyes. Some admitted that the spectacle was unedifying, even distasteful – but insisted that they had no choice.
Despite all of the above, Israel and every decent human being can breathe a collective sigh of relief. Gilad Shalit, a young man deprived of his freedom for over five years without even a visit from the Red Cross, is back where he belongs. Welcome home Gilad.