Still from CCTV footage of the West Bank killing / Youtube
I hate to say I told you so. But the fatal shooting of two Palestinian teens in the West Bank this summer? Not faked. Not “Pallywood.” Not even close. It was exactly what it appeared to be.
On May 15, four Palestinians, three of them children, were shot in the town of Bitunya during a demonstration near the Ofer Prison. Two of them, Nadim Siyam Nawarah and Muhammad Mahmoud Salameh, both 17, died of their wounds. CCTV footage of the shootings clearly showing both boys collapsing after being mortally wounded went viral around the world and was immediately met with conspiracy theories, first by bloggers and then by current and former high-ranking Israeli officials, that the shootings had been staged.
In some versions, as promoted by Rabbi Kenneth L. Cohen, director of the Vine and Fig Tree Project, a religious pro-peace organization, as well as many other prominent commentators, the boys were said to not have fallen “correctly” or in a manner “consistent” with their having been shot. Having seen many films of shootings while doing research on war crimes, I questioned the validity of such arguments in a previous blog post, noting that people fall in a variety of ways after being shot and that the footage was in no way “inconsistent” with the young men having been shot in the upper torso.
Soon after the initial conspiracy theory of staged shootings made its way around the internet, even more involved and unlikely conspiracy theories began to be promoted by prominent officials. On May 22, former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren, speaking on CNN, not only said that the boys had fallen in a manner inconsistent with their having been shot but stated that they may have never died in the first place. This, despite numerous interviews with the young men’s parents and the doctors who tried to save their lives and a plethora of footage of their funerals on Youtube.
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.
There is lots of this, regrettably:”Award winning” Palestinian photo faked http://t.co/9TBhjul5BK— Kenneth L. Cohen (@RabbiKenCohen) May 27, 2014
Watching horrifying tapes of Nazi executions can tell us a lot about the authenticity of a video depicting the killings of two Palestinian teens in the West Bank
While studying Yiddish in Lithuania during the summer of 2008 my fellow students and I visited Ponar, the site where 100,000 people, including nearly an entire branch of my family, were murdered in mass shootings.
Visiting the scene of such an incomprehensible crime committed on an industrial scale I became aware of the physical details of how the killings were carried out. After reading (and translating) accounts from survivors I found that I still could not visualize what had occurred so I sought out videos of similar massacres committed by Einsatzgruppen, mobile SS killing units. During the following fall I saw nearly every such film that is available, as well as films of war-time atrocities in El Salvador. At the time I was considering studying forensics in order to work with criminal investigations of war-crimes. I soon realized, however, that I wasn’t psychologically cut out for such work.
My experience with viewing films of shootings did, however, leave me with a well-trained, albeit non-expert eye that I use to critically evaluate films of disputed incidents. One thing I’ve learned watching films of such material is that the human body reacts to the trauma of a gunshot wound in a wide variety of ways. The Hollywood stereotype of a person being shot and keeling over like a felled tree is just that, a stereotype. It does happen. But people also sometimes run and suddenly collapse after being shot. People sometimes twitch involuntarily after being shot. And in a few instances I’ve even seen a person be shot, fall, catch himself with some apparent coordination and then lie still shortly thereafter.
Since the filmed deaths of Palestinian teenagers Nadim Nawarah and Muhammad Salameh, on May 15 during a demonstration in the West Bank town of Bitunya were released to the public many people have commented on social media that the films must have been faked because such a display of coordination is not possible. Among them is Rabbi Kenneth L. Cohen, the founder and director of the Vine and Fig Tree Project, a religious pro-peace organization.