05.11.2015 analysis by Assaf David
A Palestinian child named Knife of Jerusalem. Screenshot
A Palestinian child named Knife of Jerusalem. Screenshot    

The Problem with MEMRI and PMW

On the difference between professional ethics and unabashed propaganda and how not to know your neighbors

In recent weeks two institutes that track Arab and Palestinian media and primarily cater to Israeli readers  – the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) and Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) – publicized the fact that a Gazan couple had decided to name their newborn son “Knife of Jerusalem” in solidarity with the escalating “third Intifada”.

PMW ran a brief story in English and in Hebrew, in which founder and director Itamar Marcus crucially noted regarding Fatah’s Facebook page that “while the text on the Facebook post says the baby is a girl, the birth certificate pictured in the post clearly states that the baby is a boy”. MEMRI published a subtitled video of the father explaining his choice as a homage to the Intifada of Knives currently raging in Jerusalem and in the West Bank, “even if many people don’t like it”. On the video, a friend of the father’s admitted to coming with the idea to “gain lots of attention on social media”.

The real story is, naturally, more complicated. The full original video, which was published by Palestinian network Al-Watan, includes what MEMRI chose to omit. On it, the father says that he decided to go ahead “even if many people object and even if they don’t agree to it in the Ministry of the Interior or here. It doesn’t matter”. Notably, the Ministry of the Interior in Gaza is controlled by Hamas. The father relates that, when his friend suggested the name, “I hesitated at first. I hesitated. After all, what sort of a name is ‘Knife’?” In the end, the revolutionary idea apparently grew on him. He describes overcoming his family’s objections. His wife corroborates, saying, “my husband called the boy ‘Knife of Jerusalem’”.

Things get even more complicated when you look at reactions in Gaza, in the West Bank, and in the Arab world. A simple Facebook search, for instance, yields hundreds of shares and thousands upon thousands of comments on the story. Yet in addition to positive responses, a great many users expressed their shock at this grave injustice towards a child and lamented the social misery that awaits him. Many commenters called the parents’ decision unbelievably dumb or foolish, questioned the choice of such a twisted name instead of the variety of beautiful names common in Arabic and Muslim tradition, and criticized the couple for irresponsibly waving “patriotism” about. Many cracked jokes about the family, sarcastically observing that Israel will be sure to quake in its boots at the sight of the grown ‘Knife of Jerusalem’, and that at any rate, anyone trying to cross a checkpoint with that name will be immediately arrested.

One popular response was posted by Israa Ibrahim, who wrote: “He could have just called her [sic] Jerusalem, without the knife. This whole uproar is pointless. He should name her ‘axe’ and be done with it.” Another, by Muhammad Abu Allan, read: “What mental state will the boy be in tomorrow, when the other children make fun of his name? Patriotism is a duty, but not at someone else’s expense! The boy will have psychological problems as an adult.” Many Palestinians from East Jerusalem and from Gaza – both the city and the surrounding refugee camps – harshly criticized the father and voiced sympathy for the baby. “With all due respect to our dignified Intifada”, wrote Abir Um Muhammad, “this is stupid. Let him name him ‘Jerusalem’, but ‘Knife’? That’s heavy. Enough, tell him he’s had his day in the spotlight and now he can go and change the name.” Bisan Muhammad from Rafah summed up: “What an idiot. What will he get from giving his son complexes with that name, just so he can be called a hero. People are crazy, I swear.”

With a couple of quick online searches, PMW and MEMRI could have easily told the full story. Placed in a broader context, the heading would not have been “Father Names Son ‘Knife of Jerusalem’” but rather, “Palestinians Slam Gazan for Naming Son ‘Knife of Jerusalem’”. Any research institute with a modicum of dignity and respect for its readers would run such a basic info-check. After all, MEMRI aims to service all Israeli media, and PMW appeals also to senior employees in Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (who were recently treated to a lecture by Marcus on “Palestinian incitement”).

selectively presenting information without context is more like propaganda than serious research, yet MEMRI has gone down this dubious path many times before. Coming from an institute whose Hebrew credo is “know thy neighbors and make peace with them”, this conduct is shameful, since it is actively promoting a distorted image of Arab-Palestinian society in the eyes of Israeli viewers. That is not how you make peace; it is how you encourage war.

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