Yitzhak Laor
Haaretz (Opinion)
February 18, 2013 - 1:00am

Samer Issawi was sentenced by a military tribunal to nearly three decades in prison, freed after six years in the 2011 prisoner swap that secured the release of Gilad Shalit, and re-arrested in July and sent back to jail for another 20 years because he went from Jerusalem, where he lives, to A-Ram, on the other side of the road. Issawi has been on a saline drip to keep him alive since August.

Amira Hass has reported about another 13 Palestinian prisoners released in the Sahlit deal who were sent back to jail based on secret regulations, and “the evidence that the committee examined” was concealed from most of them. Our media are indifferent. Palestinian prisoners are always unknowns, including those on hunger strikes.

The Israeli media were not persistent in reporting the death of Ben Zygier either. Yedioth Ahronoth reporter Ronen Bergman admitted on television that his newspaper hadn’t really made an effort. Prisoner X is still engaging the public, with the help of comments like those of Channel 2’s Roni Daniel and Amnon Abramovich, who attempted to calm the nation by saying things like “He wasn’t important” and “He had important lawyers.”

What we keep hearing is the cliche that censorship is impossible in the era of social media. Impossible? The mid-2010 arrest of the Australian man reported to have been a Mossad agent didn’t make the rounds of social media, and neither did his late-2010 hanging death in a supposedly suicide-proof jail cell. His death was initially reported by Yedioth website Ynet, but immediately taken down upon orders from the military censor.

It was only on Tuesday, after an Australian television news report aired an investigation into the affair, that the story came to light here too.

Here are some questions about anonymous prisoners, we are told; they are but a sample of the quest to satisfy the public’s information consumption needs that dictates the media’s agenda. What do Israelis like to know about? A hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners? Scandals in the intelligence community? Secret legal proceedings? The suicide of one of “our” prisoners? Rank the adrenaline level of the media consumer and proceed accordingly.

For after all, what do the photogenic confessions of Shin Bet security service chiefs in a documentary running for an Oscar have to do with issues that any decent person ought to know about after 46 years of occupation? Anyone who has seen a military trial in the territories realizes that tens of thousands of Palestinians have been shoved into prison over the past 46 years without adherence to any rules of evidence, and often with the help of torture.

The wall of apathy over here is thicker than the prison walls. This is where the Israeli arrogance, even among the left, has blossomed in regard to the presumption of innocence. Over the years, Israelis have become the military judges − wardens or Shin Bet agents who are satisfied with evidence that begins and ends with what “they” say the defendant has done.

So have you been excited by the Zygier case? If so, you’ll calm down soon, if you haven’t already. The media sell information, made all the more exciting if it is discovered “suddenly,” as long as nothing is heard about it before or after. This explains the sales campaigns of some strange scoops.

Take former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin’s statement to Raviv Drucker of Channel 10 that the army defrauded the nation after autumn 2000 in connection with the plots of Yasser Arafat; already in October, the PLO leader was accused in the Israeli press of igniting the second intifada. What do you say?

It’s as though we weren’t here, as though we hadn’t seen how the bluff gradually expanded. It started with the journalists thirstily drinking up the generals’ propaganda and watering media consumers with the surplus.

In late September 2000 then-IDF chief Shaul Mofaz boasted that the army had been preparing for a rebellion ‏(and turned the rebellion into war‏). The media accepted the rebellion of the fall of 2000 as a “surprise,” and Haaretz Magazine rushed to run an article on the “disappointed left.”

Now, suddenly, the truth is “revealed”: “You were tricked.” This is where information becomes good merchandise.

News consumers don’t really love the truth. They love sudden revelations, belated of course, so they can’t do anything about it − like the reports on Zygier, which will have to tide us over until the next wave of excitement, brought about with the help of concealment and revelation, and more concealment and revelation. The media, it turns out, share the same aesthetic as women’s lingerie stores.


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