Forward Thinking

Trying To Prove a Palestinian Died? Good Luck.

By Jordan Kutzik

  • Print
  • Share Share

Paul Hansen’s 2013 World Press Photo winning picture “Gaza Burial”

In college I had a Palestinian friend who, due to her ethnically ambiguous appearance, was often asked about her heritage. She would sometimes answer the invasive question by stating “I’m 95% Palestinian and I think about 5% squirrel or perhaps raccoon.” After hearing that line three or four times I decided to ask her why she kept using it. She responded: “Because, being Palestinian, I know that many people will never consider me fully human.”

I thought her line, albeit clever and poetic, was pure hyperbole. I didn’t fully grasp the extent to which Palestinians, not just as a people but as individual human beings, have been dehumanized by much of the Jewish community — until this past week when I began looking into the “Pallywood” meme.

“Pallywood,” a portmanteau of “Palestine” and “Hollywood,” is the belief among some Israelis and their American Jewish supporters that most footage of Palestinian suffering at the hands of Israelis is faked. The meme came back to the forefront last week when many questioned the veracity of security-cam footage of the May 15 deaths of Palestinian teenagers Nadim Nawarah and Muhammad Salameh during a demonstration in the West Bank town of Bitunya. In a previous post, I examined the claim of Rabbi Kenneth L. Cohen, the director of the religious pro-peace organization, the Vine and Fig Tree Project, that the way the boys fell on camera was “inconsistent” with their having been shot. Explaining that from my own experience watching films of wartime executions I know this claim to be false, I concluded that such statements are an attempt to control the narrative surrounding controversial events before a proper investigation can be conducted.

Since then, the Pallywood meme has continued in both social media and on one of America’s most prestigious TV news networks. Rabbi Kenneth L. Cohen on May 27 tweeted an article alleging that Paul Hansen’s 2013 World Press Photo winning picture “Gaza Burial,” which captures the funeral procession of two Palestinian brothers killed in a 2012 Israeli airstrike, was faked. As you can see in Rabbi Cohen’s tweet itself, this allegation was swiftly debunked by the very media outlets that initially reported it.

On May 22, CNN analyst Michael Oren was invited on air to address footage taken by a CNN producer showing that an Israeli soldier fired the shots that killed the young men. Oren responded to the footage not only by suggesting that the way the young men fell appeared “inconsistent” with their having been shot, but by stating repeatedly that they may have never actually died in the first place.

Never mind the crying throngs at their funeral — which you can see here — and interviews in the media with doctors who attempted to save their lives. Never mind human decency or even the slightest modicum of respect for their grieving families. Never mind the truth. Michael Oren is floating the idea, not just that what Palestinians say about how their children die is automatically suspect, but that the very existence of those same children is a matter open to debate.

Michael Oren is not just some paid talking-head on CNN; he was Israel’s ambassador to the United States from 2009 to 2013 and as such represents views that are mainstream not only within Israeli society but within Israel’s government.

Such comments casting doubt on whether a child who may have been killed by the IDF ever really died in the first place are not new. The death of Muhammad Al-Durrah, the boy who famously died in front of French TV cameras in September of 2000 during a firefight between IDF soldiers and Palestinian gunmen, has remained a matter of controversy ever since. While several credible investigations have in fact cast serious doubt on whether IDF fire, and not accidental fire from Palestinian fighters, killed the boy, Israel’s latest official investigation into the matter goes a step further. The report released in May of 2013 entitled “The France 2 Al-Durrah Report, its Consequences and Implications,” concluded that Al-Durrah may have never been killed in the first place. This despite his having had a massive public funeral and his father’s repeated offers to the Israeli government to have his son’s body exhumed to put the matter to rest.

In the past week, we’ve witnessed a prominent rabbi state that footage of two teenagers’ deaths was fake and then deny that the burial of two Palestinian infants was real. And now a former Israeli ambassador has alleged that two Palestinians apparently killed by the Israeli army may have never died at all.

It’s one thing to question how someone died. It’s an unfortunate fact of war that people sometimes lie and investigations are needed to find out the truth. But it’s a whole other matter to deny that a person has ever lived at all or to look at pictures of the funeral of a two-year-old boy and say without evidence that it is faked. It appears that when Palestinians are involved, death and burial, among the most sanctified of human acts, are no longer to be believed.

My Palestinian college friend, tragically, is right. For many Jews she might as well be subhuman. After all, what other people on Earth has not only the violent deaths of its children critiqued but their very existence denied? What other people is routinely told that their family members never really died?

We Jews should know better than any people just where such dehumanization can lead.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Pallywood, Palestinian, Israel

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv?
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • Before there was 'Homeland,' there was 'Prisoners of War.' And before there was Claire Danes, there was Adi Ezroni. Share this with 'Homeland' fans!
  • BREAKING: Was an Israeli soldier just kidnapped in Gaza? Hamas' military wing says yes.
  • What's a "telegenically dead" Palestinian?
  • 13 Israeli soldiers die in Gaza — the deadliest day for the IDF in decades. So much for 'precision' strikes and easy exit strategies.
  • What do a Southern staple like okra and an Israeli favorite like tahini have in common? New Orleans chef Alon Shaya brings sabra tastes to the Big Easy.
  • The Cossacks were a feature in every European Jewish kid's worst nightmare. Tuvia Tenenbom went looking for the real-life variety in Ukraine — but you won't believe what he found.
  • French Jews were stunned when an anti-Israel mob besieged a synagogue outside Paris. What happened next could be a historic turning point.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.