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The questions people don't ask about 'staged photojournalism'

A few years ago, a far-right commentator on Israel-Palestine coined the term “Pallywood” to describe video clips and photographs which were allegedly staged or manipulated to score public relations points against Israel. The term is now quite widely used by those who take an uncritical Israel-advocacy position. People who subscribe to the Pallywood theory believe that Israel is the true victim in its conflict with the Palestinians. Israel’s only real wrongdoing, they claim, is in its failure to combat effectively what they perceive as a relentless media battle waged by Palestinians and their advocates. What Israel needs, they say, is better hasbara.

But the far-right – those who call the occupied territories the ‘administered territories’ and insist that Israel must keep its settlements in the West Bank – are not the only ones who claim that images of clashes between Palestinian demonstrators and Israeli security forces are staged. Sometimes, people who do not have a personal stake in the conflict make the same claim. These are intelligent, sensible people who visit Israel-Palestine, observe the situation for a short time – but do not study it or investigate it – and then draw their conclusions.

Recently, two young journalists – one Italian and one from the United States, created video reports about what they saw at clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces. In these video reports,  news photographs and video clips are juxtaposed alongside images that show the same scenes from a wider angle, so that they include a scrum of photojournalists madly clicking their shutters in the direction of a single teenage boy with a keffiyeh wrapped around his face and a chunk of rock clutched in his hand, while a tyre burns in the background. The implication is that these images are, if not exactly staged, then manipulated. If the photographers and videographers were not present, they suggest, these clashes would not happen. This claim leads, of course, to the next one – ie, that if these scenes are staged, then they must be inauthentic.

But there are a few questions that are not asked by these journalists – or by those who have enthusiastically posted and re-posted their videos. Questions like, Why are these Palestinians out demonstrating in the first place? Why do they come out, week after week, to face Israeli security forces who choke them with tear gas, beat them and arrest them? What are their grievances?

Well, for starters, how about checkpoints, land confiscations, arbitrary arrests, military trials that are effectively kangaroo courts, arbitrary beatings at the hands of Israeli security forces and settlers, a life without civil rights or legal recourse, night raids by the army, destruction of water cisterns, destruction of homes, no freedom of movement and… Oh, come on. If you know anything about the occupation, then you know all this. If you are an intelligent person who is interested in Israel-Palestine issues and you don’t know all this, then you don’t want to know.

Do teenage boys wearing jeans and muscle shirts swagger and act all macho when a bunch of photojournalists point big lenses in their direction? Yup, they do. Do they sometimes make a mockery out of stressful, frightening situations in order to preserve their dignity, their cool and their street cred? Sure. Does that mean they have no reason or purpose in demonstrating? Of course not. Would the same people demonstrate if there was no media presence? Yes. I know, because I have attended many demonstrations from which the media was completely absent, and events unfolded in pretty much the same way as they do when the photographers are there.

Neither of the two video reports, which are embedded below, include any background or explanation.  They also don’t really touch on the fact that very few of the photos and videos shot at these demos are ever published. Editors are not interested anymore. Their readers have turned away; Israel-Palestine is regarded as a story that is stuck in Groundhog Day, doomed to repeat itself in perpetuity.

But once in awhile there is an egregious incident that is deemed newsworthy. And if a persistent photojournalist or videographer who has been attending these demos every week for years happens to be there, s/he could have the shot that will make the front page or win a prize. But rarely – almost never – will you see a print or television journalist at these demos. Because they are not reported. Because hardly anyone cares anymore.

I photographed this Nabi Saleh boy in May 2010. I believe he is in jail now

Below are the two video reports – the first is by Andy Lampard, a journalist from the United States; and the second is by Ruben Salvadori, an Italian photojournalist.

[vimeo]http://vimeo.com/26672512[/vimeo]

[vimeo]http://vimeo.com/29280708[/vimeo]

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    COMMENTS

    1. Bosko

      “Well, for starters, how about checkpoints, land confiscations, arbitrary arrests, military trials that are effectively kangaroo courts, arbitrary beatings at the hands of Israeli security forces and settlers, a life without civil rights or legal recourse, night raids by the army, destruction of water cisterns, destruction of homes, no freedom of movement and…”
      .
      Yea Lisa, now read this too …
      .
      http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Palestinian_suicide_attacks
      .
      How about talking about both sides of the ledger Lisa? We both know that this has been a low intensity war waged by both sides against one another for over 6 decades. A war which was … dare I say it ? Was started and continued at the insistence of your Palestinian Arabs. And if your counter argument will be “Shut up Bosko” … Then I will urge you to read the Hamas charter.
      .
      Shalom to you Lisa

      Reply to Comment
    2. Bosko, please don’t comment on my channel anymore. Your comments are so predictable and reactionary, and so completely unrelated to the content of the post, that they just throttle any intelligent debate.

      Reply to Comment
    3. RichardNYC

      @LISA
      “The term is now quite widely used by those who take an uncritical Israel-advocacy position. People who subscribe to the Pallywood theory believe that Israel is the true victim in its conflict with the Palestinians.”
      –>No need to engage in straw man arguments. Sometimes what photojournalists capture is authentic and sometimes it is not. It is probably authentic most of the time. Palestinian protesters are motivated by legitimate grievances, but that doesn’t mean everything you see is not Pallywood. Instead of throwing epithets (“far right”, “uncritical”) at people who’ve discovered specific instances of Pallywood, and denying its existence totally, it would be better to acknowledge that sometimes things are staged, or that at least there can exist a symbiotic relationship between protesters and the media. That’s the dynamic that plays out all over the world, so obviously it plays out in Palestine.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Elan Miller

      Let me get this straight… because there is an occupation, it is legitimate to manipulate, falsify or otherwise unduly influence what the public expects to be objective, unbiased photojournalism?

      That is the most laughably pathetic and infantile “logic” I’ve heard for a while.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Bosko

      Lisa Goldman Said …
      .
      ” that they just throttle any intelligent debate”
      .
      When it comes to your channel, the term “intelligent debate” is an oxymoron. But I’ll respect your wish. This was my last comment on your channel. I am sure though, you will want to have the last word about me by inserting another snide comment. So be it. After all it’s YOUR channel. Keep it …

      Reply to Comment
    6. Piotr Berman

      “How about the list of Palestinian suicide attacks”?

      Indeed. How is it that Israeli can attack Palestinians in a civilized fashion, e.g. using drones, and Palestinians resort to such ghastly methods like suicide attacks? Apart for that puzzle (which some wise people can solve), what does it suppose to show in the context of non-violent resistance?

      Non-violent resistance is by definition inauthentic. It substitutes symbolic actions — basically, creating sounds and images — for real, death and destruction. In other words, it concentrates on messages rather than “real things”. On the other hand, occupation is mostly about concretes, “facts on the ground”. Take away this piece of land, fence it around, shoot people who cross “read lines”, beat up other people, destroy cisterns, shacks, outhouses, chicken coops etc. If we deep “authentic” as superior to “inauthentic”, oppression wins.

      Perhaps we should compile a book “101 ways Arabs are inferior to Jews”. These precipitous gap is perhaps the main reason the conflict cannot end. As some Jewish citizens of Israel put it, “Once Palestinians are like Swedes, we can discuss peace”. But there is hope for a more swift resolution: Israeli may descend from the lofty moral standards they occupy. In fact, this project is proceeding so rapidly that many think that is already completed.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Sylvia

      Lisa
      You don’t get it yet. However you justify your methods – and even if it is for a good cause – the bottom line is that they promote a LIE.
      Being a photojournalist doesn’t mandate you to play God.
      You have contributed to unnecessary friction and helped exacerbate the hatred beyond the point of no return. Hatred not just between Israelis and Palestinians but against Jews worldwide. Antisemitism is today at a level unseen even in pre-Holocaust Europe.
      You have been an obstacle to negotiations.
      Why should the Palestinians negotiate when they have “activists” the world over volunteering to demonize Israel to oblivion?
      I don’t approve of settlements on land that hasn’t been duly bought and paid for anymore than you do. Those who did that should get up and go. But there are more efficient ways to bring that about than your staged altercations.
      .

      Why isn’t the mainstream media interested? Because they know the truth. And so do the countries that have representatives here. But imagine what those photos do to the minds of Muslims in Arab countries where they have no way of knowing that it’s not quite as it appears.

      Reply to Comment
    8. I specifically write in this post that the photographs are *not* staged. And yet, several people have commented that I wrote a post justifying staged photos. In other words, they did not read or did not understand, or did not want to understand. Once again: The images you see? They’re real. They are not fake, they are not manipulated and they are not staged.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Lisa, hasbara trolls will be hasbara trolls.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Ben Israel

      Several months ago the Left/”progressives” had a major celebration when they showed a “settler” supposedly running over an “innocent Palestinian child”, showing what horrible racist monsters they are…..running over innocent Palestinian children for the fun of it.
      However, those who posted, including Professor Dr Bernard Avishai apparently didn’t view the whole video in their excitement to tar the enemy. The video actually showed some kids with concrete blocks waiting in ambush with a crowd of camermen behind them. When the car came by several kids came out throwing rocks and concrete blocks at the car, smashing the windows of the car. The driver swerved to get away from them, in order to SAVE HIS LIFE and hit one of the kids, (I don’t know if the kid was badly hurt or not, nothing was reported on his condition). At the end we see the flock of camerment running after the car for some more good shots.
      Now, was this “staged” or not, Lisa. Of course those kids hate settlers, just like they hate the settlers who moved into the Nakba-evacuated houses of Sheikh Munis (now called Ramat Aviv-Shimon Peres is one of the settlers there). Real hate there, but then there is a guy who is trying to save his life who is portrayed by the Left/”progressives” as being a child-killer, which he isn’t. Is anykind of stunt like this legitimate in order to further the “cause”?

      Reply to Comment
    11. RichardNYC

      @LISA
      Thats true, you didn’t explicitly justify the staging of anything. You (1) attempted to smear anyone who believes Richard Landes’s account of the Al Durah affair (no substance here), and (2) denied (in substance) the allegation that the Palestinian protests we see these days are staged. This seems like an indirect attempt to refute the more serious accusations made by Landes and others indirectly – using the two videos you posted as soft targets. Are you willing to discuss Al Durah in substance? Or are you satisfied with the ad hominem smokescreen?

      Reply to Comment
    12. RichardNYC

      @Yossi
      I’m not sure whether its sad or comforting that you don’t take your reputation seriously enough to avoid using epithets with antisemitic undertones.

      Reply to Comment
    13. directrob

      A photo (or news story) does not need to be staged to tell a lie. Important is that the selected moment in time and space is honest.
      .
      For me the current story of Israel is the story of the denial of the universal human rights of the indigenous population or the story of Israels role as a strategic partner of the United States. There is no third intifada so it is clearly not about a few teens throwing stones at well protected soldiers. In that sense the constant flow of pictures of Palestinians throwing stones tell a lie. I think the two video reports perfectly illustrate that point.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Sylvia

      The second half of the Lampert video has scenes that I know I have seen before on this site. The young man throwing the stone with a catapult? The woman activist sitting on a low wall and clearly suffering from gaz inhalation? The wounded teenager on the ground in throes of pain? All staged. You can almost hear “cut!” or “take five!”.
      Watch that tape and weep.

      .
      Lisa, I do not dount that the photo (and the pose) are genuine but what do you mean by “I believe he is now in jail?” You’re not sure? Then why mention it at all? Either he is or he is not in prison, there is no third option.

      Reply to Comment
    15. Sylvia

      Lisa
      Sorry that all the heat is directed at you but that’s because you’ve had the decency to bring it up. Others here -no need to mention a name -have a lot more than you to atone for.

      Reply to Comment
    16. Sylvia – He was in jail for at least one year. I have not yet heard news of his release.

      Reply to Comment
    17. Piotr Berman

      Sylvia, you seem to live in a parallel universe.

      You agree that “the mainstream media are not interested” and you attribute it to “Because they know the truth”. But whatever the reason, this means that photojournalists covering Palestinian protests etc. have small impact. Do they “stage” anything? All examples I know amount to hair splitting, like the famous controversy if two columns of smoke were raising from the bombed Beirut or just one. Were Muslim aware that on that photo there should be but one column of smoke, their attitude to Israel would be quite different.

      Reply to Comment
    18. Sylvia

      Mainstream media are accountable and vulnerable to lawsuits where private blogs are not.
      As to impact, you’ll have to agree that Youtube has a lot of impact. Not to mention vimeo and such plus the countless blogs and the mailing lists.
      I suggest you watch the two videos proposed here.

      Reply to Comment
    19. Brendan Work

      Thank you, Lisa, for refusing to let the spotlight drift. These videos are not “eye-opening” and they show no staging–frankly they’re boring, and the only they thing they can be said to show is how easily freethinking journalists like Salvadori and Lampard can unwittingly play into the “Pallywood” nonsense. The sad fact is as you said: daily acts of brutality, racism, and destruction of property no longer have news value. Meta-coverage may be a novelty, but it does none of the real work of journalism. In the sixty-third year of military occupation, that work is now keeping the oversaturated corpse of Israel-Palestine somewhat fresh for the cameras. And if that makes photojournalists more obnoxious than before, four of them for each rockthrower/soldier, does that take away one single ounce of credibility from the story of the conflict? I say absolutely not.

      Reply to Comment
    20. rsty

      @Lisa
      I guess the question is how you define “staged” photos.

      If a protester sees a cameraman and says to his comrade: “hey, let’s burn a tire, they’ll film this” Do you consider that staged?

      If people are emboldened by the presence of cameramen, then the cameramen are affecting what is going on.

      So while the protesters do have real grievances against the israeli government – just as ordinary israelis can have real grievances against palestinian and arab policies towards them – I question how you can deny that any staging takes place. I mean, if you claim that you’ve been to demonstrations without the media present, that claim is disingenuous. You are present, a white woman, altering the course of the demonstrations by your very presence.

      Reply to Comment
    21. Unless I’ve misunderstood, Lisa, you and the “Pallywood” accusers are saying essentially the same thing: that the “journalists” who repetitively record staged scenes of protesting Palestinians are substituting a false-but-dramatic narrative for the true background story. The only disagreement you have is over what the “true” (or perhaps “more important”) background story is, and how it should be presented to the world.

      So why not simply join hands with the “far-right” debunkers of these shoddy travesties of journalism and denounce all the staged confrontations? Surely that would pave the way for the truer, more important story behind these charades, no?

      Or are you perhaps worried that once journalists start digging into the truth behind these protests, what they find won’t necessarily support your version of the “background story” quite as much as those staged dramas do?

      Reply to Comment
    22. Piotr Berman

      “As to impact, you’ll have to agree that Youtube has a lot of impact.”

      Poor Israel, in the pincer attack of Iranian nuclear program and Youtube.

      Dan Simon has it totally backward. Protest is a form of communication, or speech. You can call it a charade only if you disagree with the content of the message. (In practice. To test the preposition, give me the link to a post where you deprecated an Israeli right wing demonstration, or a Haredi riot). So instead of that nasty form of speech he proposes the following: impartially debunk the charade that protesters have any legitimate cause. After all, they have the best democracy, rule of law and medical care in Middle East, in short, they live better than they deserve.

      The most interesting critique is offered by Sylvia “I don’t approve of settlements on land that hasn’t been duly bought and paid for anymore than you do. Those who did that should get up and go. But there are more efficient ways to bring that about than your staged altercations.”

      HEAR! HEAR! There is efficient way! What is it? Iranian nuclear program? (Not that it is very efficient.) I really, really have no idea what Sylvia has in mind, and disclosing that secret would be of immense value.

      Reply to Comment
    23. sarah

      “hasbara trolls will be hasbara trolls.” And Pallywood pimps will be Pallywood pimps….or didn’t you catch ISM tweeting that “settlers” burned down an olive grove at Awarta last week, except that AFP was there and accurately reported (and Palestinians acknowledged) that the Palestinians set the fire. And you wonder why no one pays attention any more? Too many lies, too many stagings….and no credibility.

      Reply to Comment
    24. RSTY

      @PIOTR BERMAN
      You seem to advocate Iran nuking Israel? You do realize that it would make uninhabitable all of Israel. Nukes tend to not care what religion or ethnicity a person is; radiation does not discriminate.

      As far as debunking Israeli protests, you can find material from Latma which dumps on the tent protests; Haredim are castigated fairly often, and shouldn’t be that hard to find.

      Reply to Comment
    25. laila

      I think we might use also some reflections on what these attitudes to look for the first-page-shot actually hide. Demonstrations aren’t just made of a bunch of stone throwers, and yet this is what gets media coverage and what shows up in the reported video.

      And yes, cameramen are affecting demonstrations as any other event they participate from close. Duh!

      They also are likely to affect soldiers and police’s behavior, probably towards a less obviously violent attitude, so shall we consider the military response “staged” as well?

      Reply to Comment
    26. Staged? Well, I think so, in a way. If the IDF didn’t show up, would the protests continue? If not, then it is the anticipated IDF response that stages the protests. And it is certainly the IDF that stages the violent part — without IDF, who would the protesters throw stones at?

      If the IDF did not show up, would the photogs show up? Are they after the Palestinian SUMUD (and anger, etc.) or are they only after the violence?

      Apparently we need not answer these questions. The IDF is reliable, It DOES show up. And it is satisfyingly violent. And for whatever reasons, the internationals and the photogs also show up.

      I think the whole thing is “staged” by the IDF for reasons that I cannot guess.

      Reply to Comment
    27. Sylvia

      One thing that has always intrigued me in some of the videos of the “clashes” that we’ve been watching over the years was what sounded like gun shots. Where did they come from? Who fired them? This has never been explained. Yet, they were there, adding to the drama and the feeling that something really terrible was going on.
      I found the answer in one of the videos: there are tin fences along that road and banging on them in a certain way produces exactly those gun shot sounds!
      .
      The deeper I look into all this cinema the worse it gets.
      .

      Reply to Comment
    28. @Laila

      You raise a good point – IDF is also equally affected by the overwhelming presence of photographers. It adds another level of accountability which in turn makes the protests more of a machismo game for stone-throwing youth.

      The question of which comes first, though, the protesters or the IDF is clear. In most civilized countries, there is always some police element when there are organized rallies; Israel is no different.

      Reply to Comment
    29. Deïr Yassin

      Sylvia writes:
      “The deeper I look into all this cinema, the worse it gets”

      And the more I read you, the more I realize you’ve got s… where your brain should be !

      I guess these people got killed when banging the fences a little too hard:

      http://old.btselem.org/statistics/english/Casualties_Full_Data.asp?Category=28&region=WB

      > Muhammad Ibrahim ‘Abd al-Qader Qadous, 15 years, killed by gunfire during demonstration in Iraq Burin 20.03.2010
      > Usaied Abd al-Naser Muhammad Qadous, 17 years, killed during the same demonstration in Iraq Burin
      > ‘Aqel Sadeq ‘Abd ar-Rahman Srur, 36 years, killed during demonstration against the Wall, Nilin 05.06.2009
      > Bassem Ibrahim Ahmed Abu Rahmeh, 31 years, killed during demonstration in Bilin 17.04.2009. His killing was filmed, and it’s on the net. Bassem Abu Rahmeh’s sister, Jawaher, was killed around New Year during another demonstration in Bilin. The IDF started a major smear-campaign: she wasn’t at the demo, she was under medication, she went off to live the high life with Mumammad al-Durah on the French Riviera….
      > Muhammad Jamal Ahmad ar-Rahmani, 21 years, killed during demonstration, al-Jalazun
      > Ahmad Husain Yusef Musa, 10 YEARS, killed during a procession against the Wall in Bilin 29.07.2008
      I stopped at no. 32 out of more than 850 ….

      As I said: s… on your brain !

      Reply to Comment
    30. Mik

      @Lisa, I didn’t watch the first video, but I’m not sure I see the problem with the second- at least not the one you are mentioning: I don’t think the photo journalist is saying everything is a lie- he is just saying that we have to be critical of these “action shots” we see in the media- it also seems as if the Palestinians are just an example for him. Moreover, I didn’t see this a “staged protest” implication at all- he is just saying that journalists sometimes by their presence create scenes- isn’t that obvious? And by the way, in Silwan he is right- sometimes there are protests in Silwan that are not riot-y at all yet anything in Silwan that involves a group of people protesting is called a riot in the Israeli media (so it goes both ways doesn’t it? )If anything, I don’t really see what is new here- didn’t we already know that reporters can’t be objective and that there is no such thing as objective bla bla bla?
      You might be right about the other guy though, didn’t bother watching it (perhaps you shouldn’t have written that he was an American). Please raise billions of dollars in the US to continue this fine 972mag manipulation initiative!

      Reply to Comment
    31. Sylvia

      Please get hold of yourself. I don’t recall any death in the videos I’ve watched except that of Jawaher Abu Rahmeh before she died (I think) and she wasn’t killed by live bullets or gunfire. This is not to say they didn’t occur but I just didn’t see it on video.
      If you’re going to jump on people, at least make it pertinent.
      Did you watch the videos?

      Reply to Comment
    32. Sylvia

      Pabelmont
      “If the IDF didn’t show up, would the protests continue? If not, then it is the anticipated IDF response that stages the protests. And it is certainly the IDF that stages the violent part — without IDF, who would the protesters throw stones at?”
      A very interesting point you’re making here.
      There is a kind of theater where the actors call on members of the audience admonishing and provoking them. The reactions are real. The people are real and respond as they would be expected to respond. Is it still theater or has the whole situation become reality? I don’t know.

      Reply to Comment
    33. directrob

      Sylvia, that you do not recall any death does not mean it did not happen. I do not wish to show people being killed, though this was very close and a prime example of “IDF violence” during a peaceful demonstration.
      .
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iQd5qgwiHEI

      Reply to Comment
    34. Deïr Yassin

      @ Sylvia
      Here’s the killing of Bassem Abu Rahmeh ‘en directe’:
      http://www.bilin-village.org/francais/videos/8040-Bassem-Abu-Rahma-Lami-de-tous
      Scroll down, the video is available subtitled in Arabic, Hebrew, English and French.
      The killing of Bassem Abu Rahmeh is from min 22:00. Shortly before (from min 19:45), a friend of Abu Rahmeh is seriously wounded by the same tear gas canister projectiles.
      I guess those “sounds of gun shots” all along are just people banging on non-existing tin fences. They banged so hard the poor guy died….

      And don’t even try to insinuate that this is faking. There’s a longer footage of the killing on dailymotion. And a photo of his grave on his Facebook wall.
      This is a video made by an Israeli friend of Bassem Abu Rahmeh to commemorate his death. I encourage everyone to see this portrait of a Palestinian hero, coming from a heroic family. There are beaufiful photos on his facebook wall too. It’s spelled Bassem Abu Rahma.

      By the way, Sylvia why don’t you go to the West Bank to see or rather HEAR the gun shots for yourself ? You could also check out the black water tanks on the Palestinian roof tops by the same occasion !

      Reply to Comment
    35. Sylvia

      Don’t make me insinuate what I didn’t insinuate. That’s not what I was talking about at all. I won’t click on your links until you watch the whole first video. Then maybe we can understand what the other is saying.

      Reply to Comment
    36. Daniel

      “that if these scenes are staged, then they must be inauthentic.”

      From this I understand that by your journalistic standards staging an event is legitimate and does not impact the truth value of the report.

      That’s a strange standard indeed.

      Reply to Comment
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