Viral video puts Israelis and Palestinians at sharp odds

Thirteen-year-old Ahmed Manasra, a Palestinian from Beit Hanina in northern Jerusalem, sits in his hospital bed at Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem in a photo released on Oct 15, 2015.
Thirteen-year-old Ahmed Manasra, a Palestinian from Beit Hanina in northern Jerusalem, sits in his hospital bed at Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem in a photo released on Oct 15, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

JERUSALEM (REUTERS) - To Palestinians, the video shows a 13-year-old boy being left to die in the street as Israelis shout abuse at him. To Israelis, it shows a teenage knife attacker bleeding as police keep angry locals back and wait for an ambulance.

The two minutes of amateur footage has become one of the most divisive videos to emerge from a wave of violence sweeping Jerusalem, where clips of attacks are being shared at high speed on social media in what has been dubbed a smartphone intifada.

The problem, as with so much in the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is about interpretation.

Palestinians watch the shaky video, with voices in Hebrew shouting "Die, son of a bitch", and draw one set of conclusions that fuel anger and alarm. Israelis watch the same - and subsequent police CCTV footage showing the two Palestinian teenagers running through the streets with knives and attacking an Israeli boy - and come to totally different conclusions.

"Both sides are living in different dimensions," said Daniel Nisman, an intelligence and security analyst who runs the Levantine Group. "You can have an incident happen and it's interpreted in two completely different ways instantly."

And it is also immediately shared with tens of thousands of people on social media platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook, where each community's outrage is reinforced in an echo chamber, driving an ever-deeper wedge between the two sides.

The video in question shows 13-year-old Ahmed Manasra, a Palestinian from Beit Hanina in northern Jerusalem, lying on the street in Pisgat Zeev, a nearby Jewish settlement, with his legs twisted behind him and blood coming from his head after being hit by a car.

It was taken on Monday, minutes after two Israelis, including a boy on a bicycle, were stabbed outside a nearby shop. Israeli police have accused Manasra and his 15-year-old cousin of carrying out the attacks. The family has denied they did it.

The footage shows police keeping passers-by back while abuse is shouted. After a minute or so, an ambulance arrives, although it is not immediately clear if Manasra is treated. At one point he sits up, but the police tell him to lie back down and they can be seen checking him for explosives. No knife is visible.

OUTRAGE ON BOTH SIDES

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinian leaders quickly expressed outrage, referring to the boy and his cousin as having been "executed" by Israel "in cold blood".

Ahmed's uncle told Reuters the boys had done nothing wrong, were not carrying knives and had gone to the area to rent video games. The boy was killed senselessly, he said.

In fact, Ahmed Manasra is still alive and is being treated in an Israeli hospital. His cousin was shot and killed by police at the scene. The Israeli boy stabbed remains in serious condition, while the second victim was lightly wounded.

Israel on Thursday (Oct 15) released photographs showing Manasra sitting up in Jerusalem's Hadassah hospital, wearing green medical overalls and bandages around his head. In several of the pictures he is looking straight at the camera.

On Wednesday (Oct 14), two days after the first video emerged, Israeli police circulated closed-circuit TV footage showing the build up to the attack and the incident itself.

Two boys, one wearing the same t-shirt as Ahmed Manasra, can be seen chasing after a man with knives drawn. The man runs away and the boys turn towards some nearby shops. Another camera then captures them running along the street with knives drawn.

A third camera angle shows the moment they appear to stab the boy on the bicycle, and a fourth angle shows one of the stabbers running across the street before being shot by police.

CCTV DELAY

All the evidence presented by Israeli authorities pointing to the fact the teenage cousins carried out the stabbings has done little to quell Palestinian anger - the first video is still being watched much more than the CCTV footage.

Akram Attallah, a Palestinian political analyst who spoke before the CCTV images emerged, described the video of Manasra lying wounded as akin to the photograph of the Syrian boy lying dead on a beach in Greece. "It was provoking to the national dignity of every Palestinian and therefore an immediate response was inevitable," he said, suggesting it may have spurred other attacks.

From Israel's point of view, the way the videos of attacks are being distributed rapidly on social media, often whipping up a frenzy of anger, is a difficult phenomenon to counteract. Seven Israelis and 32 Palestinians, including 10 attackers, have been killed in a two-week surge in violence.

"The Israeli side that has the CCTV footage showing the actual attack had to wait two days before putting it out because of internal investigations," said Mr Nisman. "By then, the damage had already been done. It's too late."

Mr Abbas has not responded since the images of the boy alive in hospital were released. In online postings, many Palestinians have said they believe he is dead and a "martyr".

Asked for comment on Thursday (Oct 15), one Palestinian official said he now believed Ahmed was alive, but was still not convinced he and his cousin carried out the stabbings.