They say that one picture is worth a thousand words. No doubt this is true. But what is the guarantee that those words are truthful?
On September 30, 2000, The New York Times ran a photograph that, no doubt, for the photo editor, told the entire tale of the then two-day-old Palestinian terror war against Israel.
The picture showed a bloodied, frightened youth sitting in the foreground and an irate Israeli border guard, mouth agape, standing behind him, wielding a police baton. In the background, crimson flames and black smoke plumed upward behind cement blocks.
The photo editor never questioned what it is that he was looking at. Of course, the boy was a Palestinian. The assailant was the angry Israeli policeman. After all, as an enlightened man of the world, he knew what every right thinking person knows: the Palestinians are the victim. The Israelis are the aggressors. And so, the caption under the photograph told Times readers that indeed, what the photo editor assumed, was reality.
Sadly, the thousand words told by that photograph were a thousand lies. The bloodied youth in the foreground was a Jewish student from Chicago named Tuvia Grossman. He had been dragged out of his taxi in east Jerusalem by a Palestinian mob and was beaten and stabbed to the edge of death. With his last measure of strength, Grossman screamed and ran to the nearest Israeli security forces he could find. The border guard with the baton was protecting him from the mob.
Eventually, after receiving an angry letter from Grossman's father in Chicago, the Times apologized for the error. Grossman spent 10 days in the hospital in Jerusalem and then was flown to his family in Chicago where he was confined to a wheelchair for five months as he recuperated from his many wounds.
The story told by that picture then, was the story of the prejudice of the Times' photo-editor.
In much the same manner, the images we are broadcast from Hurricane Katrina tell us a certain story. The victims, in most of the pictures, are African Americans. And the story that has emerged from these images is one of racism. The white (and Republican) Federal government, we are led to believe, waited for an unforgivably long period of time in providing rescue and relief to the victims of the terrible storm, because of the color of their skin. The pictures, like the people who are asked to tell us the story, repeat over and over again that if these had been rich whites, rather than poor blacks, the National Guard would have been called in days before to restore order to New Orleans and to evacuate the victims.
It's a wonderful story. It is easy to follow and allows angry people to feel justified in their hatred and prejudices against Republicans and against President George W. Bush. But like the picture of Tuvia Grossman, it has the singular problem of being untrue.
After the initial barrage of unfounded criticism was launched, the fact of the matter, that the city of New Orleans and the State of Louisiana did not implement their own evacuation plans in spite of the fact that the authorities all knew that the below-sea-level city could not survive a category 4 hurricane like Katrina, began to emerge.
And yet, in the meantime, a myth was born that told the easy story of racism.
What both these examples show is that in spite of what we have been led to believe by our image-inundated world, images do not speak for themselves. They speak with the voice of their creators and their distributors. Every one of us attaches our pre-existing beliefs to what we see and each of us is influenced at some level, and often deeply by the interpretations that are given to the images by those who bring them to our attention.
In Israel, the challenge of imagery is perhaps the greatest challenge that we face. It is important to recognize this fact as we enter into the era where Palestine has been established in Gaza. If we simply glance at the images purveyed to us this week, we understand how massive the challenge remains and how dangerous is will become if we do not rise to meet it.
First of all, let us recall, 12 years ago, when then prime minister Yizhak Rabin embraced Yasser Arafat and the PLO and thus embarked on the Oslo peace process, he was able to convince security hawks of the value of his policy explaining that the Palestinians, not Israel, were about to be put under a microscope. Rabin argued that if the Palestinians did not abide by their commitments to end terrorism and live at peace with Israel, then the entire world would stand by Israel's right to defend itself. Israel would re-enter the areas that it had transferred to PLO control and that would be the end of that. It was a risk, he said, but a calculated risk.
Unfortunately, events proved otherwise. The images purveyed to the world by the PLO propaganda machine were images of cruel Israeli "occupation forces" embittering the lives of the victimized Palestinians. The fact that billions of dollars in international aid were stashed in Swiss bank accounts was of no interest. The fact that the Palestinian security forces established by Arafat were twice their permitted size was cosmically boring. The fact that terror reached unprecedented levels just a year after that handshake on the White House lawn was interpreted not as proof of Palestinian duplicity, but as a justification for increasing calls for yet more Israeli land transfers and further strengthening of the wholly corrupt, and terror supporting Palestinian militias.
The same was the case when then prime minister Ehud Barak went to Camp David five years ago and begged Arafat to establish a state on all of Gaza, 95 percent of Judea and Samaria and in east Jerusalem, including Judaism's most sacred site of the Temple Mount and then threw in land in the Negev for good measure.
After Arafat tore up Barak's offer and went to war against Israeli civilians, Barak declared that now the Europeans and the Americans, and of course the Israeli Left, would accept the truth. Arafat and the PLO had been unmasked. As PA minister for Jerusalem affairs, Faisal Husseini admitted shortly before his death at the end of 2000, Oslo had been a "Trojan horse," brought in to destroy Israel from inside.
All was known, and yet the image creators and their eager audiences from London to the State Department refused to budge. As the dozens of Israelis murdered became hundreds, and then topped 1,000, with thousands more wounded and maimed, the Palestinians remained the victims, and Israel remained the aggressor.
Now, as Israel approaches the final phase of the withdrawal from Gaza and northern Samaria, we are told again, this is the test for the Palestinians. They have sovereign territory now in Gaza. They will be forced to instill order. They can no longer claim victim status. We are no longer there.
And yet the images this week tell us, again, that this is untrue. On Wednesday, Arafat's nephew and security boss Moussa Arafat was murdered in Gaza by a mob of terrorists with automatic rifles and RPG. His son was kidnapped and is now assumed dead. The perpetrators were the Popular Resistance Committees. This is a terror group formed by Arafat in the months ahead of the war in the spring of 2000 that includes elements of Fatah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Members of the group also serve in the official Palestinian militias.
This challenge to the Palestinian Authority's leadership was met with listless protestations by the likes of Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei. In the same manner, Palestinian forces stood by on Tuesday as hundreds of young men and teenage boys descended on the ruins of Neveh Dekalim and threw stones and attempted to mount an IDF tank. It was an act of pure aggression, meant not to destroy the tank but to create an image of Israeli aggression on the one hand, and fecklessness on the other.
After one of the attackers was killed by the tank, the Palestinians launched rockets at civilians by Kibbutz Yad Mordechai which borders northern Gaza. The press explained the story as a cycle of violence. But there was no cycle of anything, just an escalation of Palestinian violence, from throwing rocks at a tank to shooting mortars at civilians.
For Europeans and leftists in Israel and America, no matter what the Palestinians do, the images emanating from here will be interpreted as justification for further Israeli land giveaways in light of continued Palestinian victimhood.
For Arab audiences, in Palestine – n e Gaza – in Judea and Samaria and throughout the Arab world, the pictures emanating from here will tell two stories. The first is of Jewish ruthlessness and cruelty that justifies the continued massacre of Israeli civilians. The second image is one of Israeli weakness in the face of constant terror – of Israel falling apart. This image sends a message which says that momentum is on the terrorists' side. All they need to do to bring about the destruction of Israel is continue their terrorist war of attrition.
For most Israelis, the images tell a different tale completely. The images expose the transformation of Gaza into a new Afghanistan -- replete with warlords who terrorize their people and their neighbors; a society embroiled in chaos; and a society where Islamic fascists have the upper hand over simply corrupt, secular murderers.
The great challenge of Israel is to meet the false images portrayed by those who cling to their mendacious "narratives" of the Palestinian war against Israel with truthful ones.
Tuvia Grossman immigrated to Israel on Wednesday. In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, he said, "You don't realize how many people's lives have been affected forever from terrorist attacks. Some people are wounded for the rest of their lives. Once I get settled in, I would love to assist victims of terror in any way I can."
Grossman's story, both his victimization and his stubborn loyalty and love for the Land of Israel that motivated him to return here and build a life of giving despite his terrifying experience, is the story of the Jewish people and of the Jewish state. It is this truth we must uphold and contrast against the barbarism of our enemies if we do not wish for their false images to become our reality.