Fact Check

Palestinians Dancing in the Street

Did CNN fake footage of 'Palestinians dancing in the street' after the terrorist attack on the USA?

Published Sep 23, 2001


Claim:   CNN used old footage to fake images of 'Palestinians dancing in the street' after the terrorist attack on the USA.

Status:   False.

Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 2001]

All around the world we are subjected to 3 or 4 huge news distributors, and one of them - as you well know - is CNN. Very well, I guess all of you have been seeing (just as I've been) images from this company. In particular, one set of images called my attencion: the Palestinians celebrating the bombing, out on the streets, eating some cake and making funny faces for the camera. Well, THOSE IMAGES WERE SHOT BACK IN 1991!!! Those are images of Palestinians celebrating the invasion of Kuwait! It's simply unacceptable that a super-power of cumminications as CNN uses images which do not correspond to the reality in talking about so serious an issue. A teacher of mine, here in Brazil, has videotapes recorded in 1991, with the very same images; he's been sending emails to CNN, Globo (the major TV network in Brazil) and newspapers, denouncing what I myself classify as a crime against the public opinion. If anyone of you has access to this kind of files, serch for it. In the meanwhile, I'll try to 'put my hands' on a copy of this tape.

But now, think for a moment about the impact of such mages. Your people is hurt, emotionally fragile, and this kind broadcast have very high possibility of causing waves of anger and rage against Palestinians. It's
simply irresponsible to show images such as those. Finally, I'd like to say that we all regret and condemn all that has happened in the last days; but Nikos has a point here. I really don't want to be misunderstood here, but the truth is that US government had shown no respect for other countries in the last decades. In the 60s and 70s they had halped lots of military coups throughout the world (including Brazil in 64). Later, with Reagan and Bush Father, the Washington Consensus have been demolishing the bases of our economies, making us more and more dependant (and, many of us, prehocupied with this situation).

Your current president quickly made things worse: Kioto Protocol, Star Wars, Colombia Plan, the exchange of rain forest for pieces of external debt, tha abandonment of the position of third party in negotiations between IRA and England, and between Palestinians and Israel. All those mistakes in US external politics made your country more hatred than before, and, of course, more vulnerable.

Origins:   No, CNN did not air decade-old footage of Palestinians dancing in the streets. Eason Jordan, CNN's Chief News Executive, confirmed that the video used on CNN was in fact shot on Tuesday, 11 September 2001, in East Jerusalem by a Reuters TV crew, not during the Persian Gulf conflict of 1990-91 — a fact proved by its inclusion of comments from a Palestinian praising Osama Bin Laden (whose name was unlikely to have come up ten years earlier in connection with the invasion and liberation of Kuwait) as well as the appearance in the video of post-1991 automobiles. The person who made the claim quoted above has since recanted.

(The argument that the footage CNN used could not possibly be real because it showed Palestinians in broad daylight not long after the attack — even though Palestinian territory is several time zones ahead of New York — is not valid. Eastern Daylight Time in the United States is six hours behind the area of the Middle East referred to as Palestine. Thus, when the first attack occurred in New York just before 9:00 A.M., Palestine time would have been 3:00 P.M., and the area would still have been bathed in plenty of mid-afternoon sunlight.)

Reuters, the international news agency whose camera crew shot the footage, issued the following statement:

Reuters rejects as utterly baseless an allegation being circulated by e-mail and the Internet claiming that it circulated 10-year-old videotape to illustrate Palestinians celebrating in the wake of the September 11 tragedies in the United States.

Reuters welcomes a statement by the Universidad Estatal de Campinas-Brasil (UNICAMP), one of whose students was the author of the original e-mail, setting the record straight.

The videotape in question was shot in East Jerusalem by a Reuters camera crew on September 11 in the immediate aftermath of the attacks on the United States. The footage was broadcast by CNN and other subscribers to the Reuters video news service.

Said CNN of the matter:

There is absolutely no truth to the information that is now distributed on the Internet that CNN used 10-year-old video when showing the celebrating of some Palestinians in East Jerusalem after the terror attacks in the U.S. The video was shot that day by a Reuters camera crew. CNN is a client of Reuters and like other clients, received the video and broadcast it. Reuters officials have publicly made the facts clear as well.

The allegation is false. The source of the allegation has withdrawn it and apologized. It was started by a Brazilian student who now says he immediately posted a correction once he knew the information was not true. This is the statement by his university — UNICAMP — Universidad Estatal de Campinas-Brasil.

OFFICIAL STATEMENT by Universidad de Campinas-Brasil

UNICAMP (Universidad Estatal de Campinas-Brasil) would like to announce that it has no knowledge of a videotape from 1991, whose images supposedly aired on CNN showing Palestinians celebrating the terrorist attacks in the U.S. The tape was supposedly from 1991, and there were rumors that the images were passed off as current.

This information was later denied, as soon as it proved false, by Márcio A. V. Carvalho, a student at UNICAMP. He approached the administration today, 17.09.2001, to clarify the following:

  • the information he got, verbally, was that a professor from another institution (not from UNICAMP) had the tape;
  • he sent the information to a discussion group e-mail list;
  • many people from this list were interested in the subject and requested more details;
  • he again contacted the person who first gave him the information and the person denied having the tape;
  • the student immediately sent out a note clarifying what happened to the people from his e-mail list.

The original message, however, was distributed all over the world, often with many distortions, including a falsified by-line article from the student. He affirms that a hacker attacked his domain. Several E-mails have been sent on his behalf and those dating from 15.09.2001 should be ignored.

Among the distortions is the fact that UNICAMP would be analyzing the tape, which is absolutely false. The administration considers this alert definitive and will be careful to avoid new rumors.

Certainly CNN wasn't the only news organization to report on the reaction of some Palestinians to the events of September 11, as other outlets such as Reuters and the Los Angeles Times carried the same story. Also, other news outlets such as Fox and The Jerusalem Post reported that journalists were threatened for capturing images of Palestinian celebrations, making real footage of the event harder to obtain:

Palestinian Authority actions to confiscate film footage of Palestinians celebrating the terror attacks on the US were logical to prevent the media from painting the wrong picture of Palestinian sentiment, Bassam Abu Sharif, an adviser to PA Chairman Yasser Arafat.

"This was a normal preventive act . . . we don't want to give more to the Zionist propaganda which portrays all Palestinians as terrorists," he said. "The idea is that these people were not allowed to film, because a small group of people on film would represent the Palestinian people as a whole."

The footage was real. It's a shame, in fact, that its provenance was doubted because the lives of journalists who have attempted to capture similar acts on video have been threatened. That this tape made it out at all is a miracle. But CNN's reputation was besmirched by a single person, a Brazilian student who reported (without verification) that the footage in question actually came from a 1991 report

on "Palestinians celebrating the invasion of Kuwait," a copy of which was in the possession of one of his teachers. (Actually, the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq took place in 1990, and it's unlikely anyone captured images of Palestinians "celebrating" that event. If CNN had used similar footage, it probably came from the Palestinian reaction to Iraq's launching of missiles at Israel during the Persian Gulf War in 1991.)

Subsequent rumors that the "Israeli Defense Agency" sent a film crew to hand out candy to Palestinians in order to induce them into staging a "celebration" for the cameras appear to be equally unfounded. However, this issue does emphasize a point that appears to have been overlooked in the debate over whether video was re-used from a previous year or not: that images themselves are not the whole story. A news report can be accompanied by stock footage and still be fair and accurate, but a news report accompanied by current footage is not necessarily either fair or accurate. A simple news clip doesn't always provide us with enough context to discern what the people depicted in it are reacting to, why they're reacting the way they are, or whether their actions are representative of a large group of people or a very small one, as an Italian journalist in Beirut reported:

Trying to find our bearings, my husband and I went into an American-style cafe in the Hamra district, near Rue Verdun, rated as one of the most expensive shopping streets in the world. Here the cognitive dissonance was immediate, and direct. The cafe's sophisticated clientele was celebrating, laughing, cheering and making jokes, as waiters served hamburgers and Diet Pepsi. Nobody looked shocked, or moved. They were excited, very excited.

An hour later, at a little market near the U.S. Embassy, on the outskirts of Beirut, a thrilled shop assistant showed us, using his hands, how the plane had crashed into the twin towers. He, too, was laughing.

Once back at the house where we were staying, we started scanning the international channels. Soon came reports of Palestinians celebrating. The BBC reporter in Jerusalem said it was only a tiny minority. Astonished, we asked some moderate Arabs if that was the case. "Nonsense," said one, speaking for many. "Ninety percent of the Arab world believes that Americans got what they deserved."

An exaggeration? Rather an understatement. A couple of days later, we headed north to Tripoli, near the Syrian border. On the way, we read that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who donated blood in front of the cameras, was rejecting any suggestion that his people were rejoicing over the terrorist attack. "It was less than 10 children in Jerusalem," he said.

Last updated:   8 March 2008

  Sources Sources:

    Burba, Elisabetta.   "Whooping It Up -- In Beirut, Even Christians Celebrated the Atrocity."

    The Wall Street Journal.   22 September 2001.

    Lahoud, Lamia.   "PA Unapologetic on Confiscating Rally Footage."

    The Jerusalem Post.   17 September 2001.

    Radler, Melissa.   "Jewish Leaders Stress Palestinians' Support of Attacks."

    The Jerusalem Post.   13 September 2001.

    Wilkinson, Tracy.   "Anti-U.S. Displays Worry Palestinians."

    Los Angeles Times.   16 September 2001.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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