Over the past couple of weeks, CNN’s chief international investigative correspondent, Nima Elbagir, has been reporting from Israel, focusing on the Palestinian prisoners who were released as part of the hostage deal between Israel and Hamas.
However, rather than providing an objective look at the subject, Elbagir’s seven written and video reports are overly sympathetic to these prisoners, whitewashing them and their crimes while simultaneously deriding Israel’s justice system.
In separate reports, Elbagir spotlighted four different female Palestinian prisoners, all of whom were released as part of the deal: Hanan al-Barghouti, Marah Bkeer, Malak Silman, and Fatima Shahin.
Hanan al-Barghouti’s story is told by her sister-in-law, Iman al-Barghouti, who claims that “neither she nor Hanan is involved in the politics of this war, yet they suffer its consequences.”
Aside from the fact that Hanan al-Barghouti’s arrest was unrelated to the current war between Israel and Hamas (she was arrested in September 2023), it is inaccurate to portray Hanan as apolitical, as she was arrested on allegations of supporting terrorism.
In her first interview after release from Israeli jails with Palestinian TV, Hanan Barghouti called 'mother' of the Palestinian prisoners describes the joy in the female wards on October 7th:
"We cheered at the top of our lungs 'We are all men of Muhamad Dief!'" pic.twitter.com/WMTMmEk2mE
— Gaza Report – اخبار غزة (@gaza_report) November 27, 2023
Elbagir also referred to al-Barghouti’s brother, Nael al-Barghouti, the longest-serving Palestinian prisoner in Israeli jail, describing him as a “political prisoner.”
In a written report that Elbagir published alongside other journalists, Nael al-Barghouti is also described as having first been arrested in 1978 for “engaging in attacks against the Israeli military.”
What the terms “political prisoner” and “attacks against the Israeli military” don’t tell us is that Nael al-Barghouti was originally incarcerated in 1978 for the murder of an Israeli bus driver, Mordechai Yekuel.
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In another video essay, Elbagir reported on the case of Marah Bkeer, who she describes as having been “just 16 when she was arrested.”
In an interview with Elbagir, Marah’s mother describes her as “a child and she’s so innocent.”
The impression one gets from this report is that Marah Bkeer was an innocent Palestinian teen who was unjustly incarcerated by Israel.
It’s only at the end of the report that CNN notes that following its initial publication, the news organization was made aware that Bkeer was in jail for “stabbing an Israeli police officer.”
The fact that Nima Elbagir could initially publish such a sympathetic portrayal of a prisoner without informing the viewer that she’s imprisoned for committing a violent crime is the height of journalistic negligence, especially for someone considered to be the “chief international investigative correspondent.”
The child is Marah Bakir. On Oct 12, 2015, age 15, she left school, took a knife and stabbed two Israelis in Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah quarter. Shot by police before she could finish off her victims, she was saved by an Israeli medic whose father was murdered some weeks earlier. pic.twitter.com/ZYfnCs5vE5
— This Ongoing War (@ThisOngoingWar) November 24, 2023
The third Palestinian prisoner who is profiled by Nima Elbagir is Malak Silman, whose boisterous reunion with her mother was highlighted by CNN in two separate reports.
While Elbagir does acknowledge the reason for Silman’s imprisonment (she attempted to stab an Israeli police officer), she almost immediately downplays this by claiming in one report that her family, lawyers and some human rights organizations have described her imprisonment as a “miscarriage of justice” and by noting in another report that she was imprisoned for attempted murder even though no one was injured (which is not the legal threshold for attempted murder).
Are you saying that membership of the Islamic Jihad terrorist organization is not grounds to call Malak Salman a terrorist, @nimaelbagir?!
All of these people were in prison for a reason. Most of them for committing violent acts of terror.
— HonestReporting (@HonestReporting) November 25, 2023
The last Palestinian prisoner featured in Nima Elbagir’s reports was Fatima Shahin, who was arrested after stabbing an Israeli outside Gush Etzion in April 2023.
In her piece, Elbagir reports that Shahin was accused of “attempted murder” but then allows her to deny this and accuse Israeli forces of recklessly shooting at her. At no point does Elbagir alert the viewer that, unlike Malak Silman, Shahin is accused of actually stabbing someone and wounding them.
In the report, Elbagir claims that Shahin was “only detained, not charged. She didn’t go to trial. She wasn’t given any opportunity to defend herself.”
However, in acting as a passionate advocate for Fatima Shahin rather than as an objective journalist, Nima Elbagir is disregarding the fact that her incarceration is fairly recent and that, like in many other democratic countries, it can be a while before cases go to trial.
In addition, a report from June 2023 shows that Fatima Shahin had appeared at least once in a hearing before a judge.
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Alongside her sympathetic portraits of these four Palestinian prisoners, Nima Elbagir’s bias against Israel is further evident in several of these reports.
Elbagir refers to the Israeli government’s prohibition of public celebrations for these released prisoners in eastern Jerusalem as the demonization of “Palestinian joy.”
In these reports, the testimonies of Palestinian prisoners and their families (including blatant falsehoods) are published without criticism and comment, but Israeli claims are investigated and denigrated.
In her report on the first batch of released Palestinian prisoners, Elbagir claims that “there is no grounds to call them terrorists” even though this group included Malak Silman (who is also a member of Islamic Jihad) and Fatima Shahin (who stabbed a civilian).
The Israeli military justice system is described as being “murky” and a report alleges that the administrative detention system allows “Palestinian prisoners to be detained indefinitely, without trial or stated charge.” This ignores the fact that Jews can also be subjected to administrative detention, that there are a wide variety of safeguards in place, and that the detention has to be renewed by a judge every six months.
What is administrative detention, and why is the anti-Israel media always talking about it? 🧵 pic.twitter.com/wU4uTrIvfU
— HonestReporting (@HonestReporting) November 28, 2023
Lastly, Elbagir’s reporting equates the families of Palestinian prisoners and Israeli hostages, with such statements as “Families on both sides…are dealing with the reality of those who won’t be coming home” and “This week’s diplomatic breakthrough offers a glimmer of hope for the families of Palestinian prisoners, as well as those of Israeli hostages.”
This false moral equivalency between prisoners detained for violence and terrorism and hostages kidnapped from their homes is emblematic of Nima Elbagir’s recent reporting from Israel – a sympathetic portrayal of Palestinian prisoners that depicts them as innocent victims of a malicious justice system, an empathetic eye to the families of these prisoners, and total disregard for the severity of their violent pasts.
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Photo Credit: AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP via Getty Images