NPR still giving misleading reports about “hijack”

To: National Public Radio

Dear NPR News,

Since early this morning, there have been growing indications that the incident on an El Al airliner flying from Tel Aviv to Istanbul on Sunday was not an attempted hijacking with a knife as you have been reporting all morning. As of 8.30 AM ET, NPR news casts have been reporting almost every half hour that Israeli security “foiled an attempting hijacking” and that a young “Israeli Arab” man threatened a stewardess with a knife before attempting to kick in the cockpit door. NPR has not reported any of the latest information from several Israeli sources which casts severe doubt on this version of events.

The Haaretz website reported this morning:

“There were growing indications Monday that an apparent hijacking attempt on an El Al airliner Sunday may have been a case of security guards reacting to an argument between a passenger and a stewardess.” (“Growing doubt that suspect intended to hijack El Al airliner,” Haaretz (website), 18 November 2002)

According to that report, the passenger got angry when his repeated requests for a glass of water had been ignored.

The Arabic-language website of the mass circulation Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot, leads with a news item titled, “Was it really an attemped hijacking?” which states:

“The [Israel] Airports Authority’s investigation indicates that the alleged hijacker did not use the penknife he had to attack any one.”

The report asks if the young man, Tawfiq Fuqara, really did try to hijack the plane and then states:

“The opinions of the Airports Authority and the General Security Service (Shabak) have clashed about this matter since it emerged from the Airports Authority investigation that “the penknife that was in his possession was not used to threaten anyone on board the aircraft.” Security Service sources still believe that “Fuqara’s aggressive actions on the aircraft stemmed from hostile intentions.” A senior security source said “it is still not clear until now if there was an attempt to hijack the aircraft, but it appears that he had the intention to attack one of the crew.” ( — my translation)

The only source for the “hijacking” claim is the Israeli government, and speculation about “hostile intentions” for what could simply be an incident of “air rage.” We know that Israeli security is always ready to assume that anyone with an Arab appearance is a “terrorist” and to jump on them. Have the international media done the same here, just because the accused is an Arab? If, all other things being equal the passenger was not an Arab, might the media have waited before concluding this was not just one of the routine incidents of “air rage” that occur every day?

This developing story once again underlines the urgent need for extreme caution and attention when reporting unsubstantiated Israeli government claims.

I have attempted to bring the emerging information to NPR’s attention several times this morning, but my messages are either not getting through, or are being ignored.


Ali Abunimah