The Jaffa lynch attempt: A miracle denied

Rioting in Jaffa (Photo: screenshot)

On July 29, an Israeli reporter and cameraman were nearly beaten to death during a Muslim funeral procession. Was the story censored by the media to promote an anti-Israel agenda, to protect Muslim relationships… or to avoid discussing the mysterious circumstances of their escape?

The horrific story of a near-lynching, which broke in English on Israeli news site Arutz 7 on July 30, had all the potential for being one of those viral sensations so coveted by global media. Then again, the very details that made it unique might have made it untouchable.

The incident did not take place in Judea or Samaria, but in Jaffa, a multicultural city that is part of metropolitan Tel Aviv. The would-be lynch mob were not Palestinians ‘frustrated over the occupation,’ but Arab citizens of Israel with full rights and (until now) a reputation for friendly coexistence with Jews. Most shocking of all, the lynch attempt didn’t target soldiers or settlers, but sympathetic journalists from Israel’s Channel 2 TV who had been invited to the event… and who were stunned by the betrayal.

The story promptly made the rounds in Israel, but almost exclusively in Hebrew. Taking advantage of social media, hospitalized journalist Gilad Shalmor posted a riveting firsthand account of his experience on his Facebook page. His partner, cameraman Gal Zeitman, shared his own experience in a radio interview.

Despite the obvious self-interest in raising awareness concerning the hazards of their work, Shalmor’s local colleagues clashed in their approach to this incident. “Walla! News” was among the first to publish Shalmor’s hair-raising tale. That same day their competitor “Mako News” briefly mentioned that two media people from Israel’s Channel 2 “were lightly injured” in the rioting that accompanied the funeral of a 20-year-old Arab “youth” who had been shot by police while escaping a crime scene… with the shooting as the main focus. “Mako,” which is owned by Channel 2, demoted the story of their employees’ brush with death to their frothy “culture-showbiz” section.

Besides Arutz 7 (a religious Jewish outlet), only one other English site took the incident seriously: Hamodia, another religious Jewish site. WorldIsraelNews, a new American site, headlined the story with skeptic quotes around “lynch mob,” but accurately related the basic facts reported by Arutz 7.

And that was more or less the extent of media interest.

Even among those who covered the full story, no one seemed to catch the significance of how it all ended. Here is Shalmor’s own testimony (the uncut version, translated from Hebrew):

Many thanks to all the friends, colleagues and dear followers who contacted me and asked how I’m doing. I can’t reply to everyone, but you have warmed my heart this whole day.

We were in a lynch yesterday. I and the cameraman Gal Zaetman [sic] went to cover the funeral of the Jaffa youth who was shot by police. As is our habit, we tried to bring the pictures and voices from the under-belly of the area, in order to convey the situation and to bring to our viewers the most objective pictures.

We marched along with them. Hundreds of people, mostly youths, marched behind the vehicle carrying the body of the youth, and they were calling “Allah u-Akhbar”. Since we had been invited there by some of them, I felt – apparently without justification – that it was fairly safe.

In one second, everything burst into flames. It started with Gal; they began hitting him. They took his camera and smashed it. He received punches and kicks but succeeded in escaping.

The minutes were pressured, but I remember (oddly) having clear and analytical thoughts. I remembered how on a safari trek in South Africa, the guide advised us that if a wild animal starts to chase you – don’t run; this only encourages its natural predator instinct. So, I stood my ground with those who had beaten Gal, and I held up my hands as a sign of apology. I thought that if I just asked forgiveness for having disturbed them, I would be able to leave in peace.

There was no one to talk to.

The first punch that landed on my face was still tolerable. Again, the analytical thought: Don’t return [the punch], even though you can, even though you know how. It will only fan the rage of the crowd.

Suddenly another punch, and another kick. Two held me down to the ground, others ripped my shirt. Another man was grasping me tightly with his arms around my throat. He brought his mouth down to my arm and bit it, hard.

And now, a different clear thought: The time period has already expired for what I would have estimated is the average time for an attack on a man who has surrendered and is lying on the ground. I am being lynched.

I don’t know how long this lasted. It could have been five minutes, or maybe 15 seconds. I have no idea. Nor do I have an idea how many people were participating in this celebration [Hebrew: hagigah]. Maybe five, maybe 15.

I was alone. I understood that I needed to escape from there as soon as possible. But I couldn’t see at all out of one eye, and my left leg was too weak for me to drag myself out of there. Dozens of people were around me, shouting and calling out in bloodlust [Heb: hedvat dam], which I hear as though I’m sitting in a closed room and they’re standing outside the door.

Suddenly someone pulled me by the hand. An anonymous person, whose face I can’t remember, yanked me out of the circle. “Run,” he said to me. I started to run. The beasts had apparently had their fill, because no one chased me.

At Ichilov [Hospital] I was diagnosed with lacerated shoulders, ribs that felt better than they were [i.e. broken], a black eye and bruises all over my body. My doctors said to me, “It was only a miracle that nothing worse happened,” applying the media cliché that I try so hard to avoid every day.

The time is still ahead to draw lessons from this incident, but I do not regret going there. My job as a journalist is to bring to the viewing public the real picture, the authentic voices that can’t be accessed from the outside.

The Jaffa crowd that I encountered was inflamed and enraged. They are not the only ones inciting [violence] against media people. We will continue to be there, reporting with integrity and preserving our job as gatekeepers – even opposite an enraged and inflamed crowd, and even opposite whoever is inciting them.

Here is the account from Zeitman, whose remarks to Israel’s popular Galatz Radio were included in this “Walla!” report (linked above, translated from Hebrew):

Zeitman has served as a Channel 2 cameraman for a decade, and he said that “I’ve been in several unpleasant situations, but yesterday there was the feeling that if you don’t get yourself out of there, no one will save you. At some point, we felt that if you don’t gather the strength and try every way you can to break through this circle of youths – you will simply not get out of there. Because we didn’t hear a single shout from an adult who tried to separate [them], but rather the opposite – there was enthusiasm. We managed to escape from there with a whole lot of luck.”

The violent attack came despite the fact that, according to them, they had come to cover the funeral after coordinating it: “We came after coordinating [our visit] through contact people from inside [the community, who said] that we were indeed welcome and definitely could come. At some point, the whole atmosphere changed,” he said. “From a friendly atmosphere that wanted us to document the funeral, it flipped to a very hostile atmosphere, and all this happened in a matter of seconds. We found ourselves suddenly separated, Gilad and me, forced apart by circles of people [Heb: ma’agalei koach]. In the end, we succeeded in extricating ourselves from the tumult,” he added.

It’s true that no objects (clubs, sticks) were brandished during the attack, but the camera equipment was taken from them, and they found themselves “inside two circles, so that anyone who felt like it could throw a punch or a kick. There was no one to talk to. This was a company of youths with murder in their eyes. To try and convince them meant staying and absorbing more blows.” According to him, the attack itself lasted only a few seconds, but during that short time Shalmor took a hard beating, to the point where he barely succeeded in evacuating himself from the area in an ambulance, which the two somehow managed to reach.

According to Zeitman, Shalmor received hits or kicks to the face, and was injured in his eye socket, ribs, legs and back. Zeitman, incidentally, was injured in his left shoulder. “Both I and Gilad succeeded in removing ourselves from this enraged and frightening mob, and we evacuated Gilad immediately to the hospital,” he said. He noted that in order to prevent friction, the police forces did not congregate along the route of the funeral procession, but stayed on the main traffic arteries. As a result, they were completely alone there.

Leaving aside speculation about the inexplicable media disinterest, or even about the “authentic voices” Shalmor has brought to the public, this story deserves more attention for reasons that KNI readers will understand best.

Who was the anonymous man whose face Shalmor can’t remember, who pulled him out of the ring of would-be murderers where “there was no one to talk to,” and commanded him to run? How did Shalmor, whose “left leg was too weak to drag myself out of there,” manage to indeed “run” to safety… with no one following him? Why didn’t the rioters react to that faceless rescuer standing among them and defying them? Did they even see him pulling Shalmor up off the ground and out of their grasp?

Was that chain of events, as Zeitman suggested, simply “a whole lot of luck”? Or was it more? What about Shalmor’s sensation of “sitting in a closed room” with his tormentors locked outside, just before that anonymous hand reached for him? Was it a byproduct of his traumatized senses, or a moment of spiritual clarity to steady him?

And has the mention of miracles become a “media cliché” in Israel because it’s hysterical hype obscuring the real, rational causes? Or is it because miracles are so often the only explanation for Israelis escaping danger that secular journalists are embarrassed to admit it yet again?

Readers can decide.