The pictures that are worth more than 1000 words

10 years after a photo appeared depicting him as a Palestinian victim of Israeli brutality, US immigrant Tuvia Grossman talks about the image that launched Honest Reporting.

Grossman 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Grossman 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Tuvia Grossman does not remember much of what happened after he collapsed into the arms of a border policeman on September 30, 2000. Bleeding from severe blows to the head and being chased by an angry Palestinian mob in east Jerusalem, all the then-yeshiva student from Chicago remembers is waking up in an ambulance on the way to the hospital.
“I was being beaten by the mob, but I managed to yell for a second and they backed up, allowing me to run away. I ran over a hill and saw a border policeman coming towards me... I had lost so much blood that when I reached him, I just fell to the floor unconscious,” recalls Grossman of the traumatic attack, one of the first of the second intifada.
While the border policeman, later identified as Gidon Tzefadi, a Druse from Kafr Sumei, managed to get Grossman into an ambulance and essentially saved his life, a nearby Associated Press photographer gave this dramatic escape and rescue a totally different spin.
The next day, plastered across newspapers around the world -- most notably The New York Times – was an emotive photograph of Grossman covered in blood with Tzefadi in the background wielding a club. The caption read: “An Israeli policeman and a Palestinian on the Temple Mount.”
The clearly mislabeled photograph, which appeared to highlight Israeli brutality toward Palestinians, was hastily retracted by the Times after Grossman’s parents in Chicago had the unfortunate experience of seeing their son’s bloody image in the newspaper and immediately contacted it to complain.
However, laments Grossman, who made aliya six years ago and now works as a lawyer in Tel Aviv, “it was already too late, the damage had been done.”
“Angry and upset are not words I would use to describe it,” he says. “It’s more frustration that despite the fact you are the center of a picture everyone is talking about, the photo is clearly wrong, but no one cares and you can’t change it.
“I had just gone through this horrible attack, I had suffered because I was a Jew living in Israel and the photo seemed to show the very opposite of what I believe in.”
However, while the image was adopted by some as a symbol of Israeli brutality – Grossman claims it still can be found today on an Egyptian Web site advocating the Palestinian cause – the gross distortion led directly to the establishment of the now Israel-based media watchdog organization,
Over the past decade, the nonprofit organization, which started in the UK as a simple e-mail list, has found itself at the forefront of exposing other problematic images of Israel that have continued to appear in the international media.
Honest Reporting managing editor Simon Plosker, a veteran British immigrant, reels off a list of other cases in which the international media wittingly or unwittingly published photographs that on some level misrepresent the so-called facts of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.
He discusses the Photoshopped images of a bomb exploding over Beirut published by Reuters during the Second Lebanon War, photos from the Gaza conflict of 2008/09 reused in the past few months by the Daily Telegraph to show present day life in the Strip and, more recently, cropped photographs disseminated by Reuters that “removed” a dagger held by an activist over a wounded IDF soldier during the Mavi Marmara incident. In all cases, those involved in publishing the erroneous images willingly admitted their mistakes.
“There are many reasons these distortions could happen,” explains Plosker. “Perhaps the photographer had an agenda, or maybe it happened in the editorial offices – a naïve or misinformed photo editor perhaps?” Whatever the reason, he says: “Our main goal at Honest Reporting is to make people aware that what they see is not always the truth. I admit we are a pro- Israel organization, but that does not conflict with holding the media accountable and demanding that they adopt professional standards.”
ONE OF the ways Honest Reporting achieves this is by scrutinizing the international media from every angle.
Recently it completed a three-month study examining images published by wire services based in the region.
The yet-to-be-published study, which was exclusively obtained for this story by The Jerusalem Post, reveals an alarming increase in distorted images unfavorable to Israel. Many were Photoshopped or cropped; some were revealed to have been staged either by a distorted camera angle or by journalists making themselves part of the photo by “antagonizing security forces,” says Plosker.
“We also noted numerous captions that had been editorialized or completely distorted,” he continues, adding, however, that what was most worrying was the sheer volume of photos coming out of Israel compared to other places in the Middle East.
“There were many more images coming from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict compared to, for example, the Afghanistan or Iraq conflicts,” Plosker points out.
“It’s a well-known fact that Israel is covered more disproportionately by the international media than any other region,” comments Miri Eisen, a former prime ministerial media adviser, adding that distorting photographs especially in conflict zones is “nothing new.”
“It was around in World War II and it is part of the tools that both sides use during a war,” she says dryly, suggesting that it is not necessarily aimed specifically at Israel but rather a nuance of media reporting where “most of the news is negative.”
Unfortunately, adds Eisen, the Palestinian- Israel conflict is never seen in a good light for either side.
Despite photographic manipulation and unbalanced or negative reporting being an old element of news coverage, the retired army colonel also notes that in today’s media environment, “it is much easier to doctor a photograph” and “once it is out there, it can spread rapidly with little control over where it reaches.”
This factor, admits Eisen, means that the role of media watchdog groups such as Honest Reporting is even more essential than in the past.
Due to their work, “people now realize that they cannot believe everything in the news and even though they still have respect for the profession of journalism, people now question what they see,” she says. “Obviously, however, a picture is still worth a thousand words and there is no doubt that people remember these very powerful images.”
Sadly, Tuvia Grossman cannot agree more.
“Even though the Times printed a correction, cousins of mine witnessing a pro-Palestinian rally in Sao Paulo, Brazil noticed demonstrators holding up posters of me to demonstrate Israeli brutality,” he quips. “There are always going to be people who saw original and but did not see correction.”
However, what upsets Grossman even more is that even though the media willingly admit such mistakes, “they never seem to learn from them. It’s obviously a recurring problem and no matter how much we expose it, it’s always going to be there.”