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Dramatic picture has accusations flying between AFP and critics

Msnbc.com ran this picture by AFP photographer Hazem Bader in our Jan. 26 The Week in Pictures. Other publications including The International Herald Tribune, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and The Guardian also ran the picture. Controversy has swirled since publication. Both the photographer and the picture agency have been accused of biased reporting.

The Israeli embassy in Washington wrote to U.S. newspapers shortly after publication. The letter said that the vehicle in the picture was stationary and that medics from the Israeli Defense Forces and Red Crescent determined the construction worker had not been injured. In its letter, the embassy asked newspapers to issue a correction that the construction worker’s injury was not confirmed independently and possibly was staged. The embassy asked newspapers “to consider ceasing to publish the photographs of Hazem Bader.”

The Agence France-Presse (AFP) picture agency responded to the criticism in a press release dated Feb. 3, “After several days of thorough research by our Jerusalem Bureau, AFP wishes to confirm the veracity of both the picture and the accompanying caption.”

AL-DIRAT : An injured Palestinian construction worker screams in pain after an Israeli army driver drove a trailer hooked to a tractor over his legs, as he tried to block him when Israeli forces stopped workers on January 25, 2012 from building a house in al-Dirat village, south of Yatta in the southern Bank town Hebron region. The Israeli forces were seizing the equipment and trailer from the construction workers as the site falls in the occupied zone C in which Israel prevents Palestinians from building on their land. AFP PHOTO / HAZEM BADER

The picture agency’s Jerusalem bureau photo editor interviewed other media representatives who were present at the scene. They say, “Their trust in the events described by Hazem Bader is unequivocal.”

AFP also interviewed the injured construction worker, Mahmud Abu Qbeita, on Feb. 1, as well as the doctors who treated him at the Yatta hospital. A medical certificate is included in AFP’s press release. It states, “In the medical examination we found that he has pain in his right knee, pain in his pelvis, and pain in the neck, and has difficulty in walking. We conducted x-rays on him and found fractures. He has been advised to consult the orthopedic department."

However, Tamar Sternthal argues the other side in his Feb. 6 opinion piece in ynetnews.com. Sternthal says AFP claims to have viewed video footage of the construction worker being carried away after the incident, but does not claim to have seen footage of him actually being run over.

AFP unwittingly drew attention to a key point: of the several photographers on site who were snapping away, not one has released a single image of Abu Qbeita as he was being run over.

Sternthal also attacks the medical certificate that AFP offered and challenges the existence of the construction worker’s x-rays when he writes, “He (Mahmud Abu Qbeita) does not offer to show the x-rays, nor has AFP released them.

The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) also criticizes AFP’s response, saying there are discrepancies between Bader’s original caption and what AFP says in their Feb. 3 press release.

AFP appears to be done with the argument. The last line of their press release says, “We will not make any further comment.”