Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A New Palestinian Lie About Israel and The Need to Discount Such Stories Systematically

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By Barry Rubin

What happens when the New York Times publishes, with no investigation, an atrocity story about Israel that is not only false but ridiculously so, based on the most obvious starting point: death by tear-gas doesn't happen?

There's a long history of Palestinians (including the Palestinian Authority) making up atrocity stories that blame Israel and then having these widely disseminated by the mass media. This is one of the main factors leading to increased hatred or criticism of Israel. These tales are disproven but the facts never catch up with the lies. Here's a history of the phenomenon with a number of examples.

Now we have the first phony slander of 2011. You can check out the cartoon version also. The Palestinian Authority claims that Jawaher Abu Rahma, 36 years old, died during a demonstration, killed by "poison" in tear gas fired there by Israeli soldiers.

This was put out by Saeb Erakat, one of the main PA leaders, and the story was published as true by the French press agency (AFP), the Guardian and Associated Press (note the picture of the huge funeral given her as a "martyr" to an Israeli "war crime),"  The IndependentUPI, Voice of America, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, China's news agency and main newspaper, and also in important Dutch newspapers. And here's National Public Radio's usual obviously biased version. The BBC played up the story big, stating as a fact (it is still on their site with no hint that another side to the story exists) that she was killed by teargas.

Even the U.S. State Department apparently gets its information from reading misleading newspaper stories. Here's a round-up of the online reporting and an analysis of the incident appropriately entitled, "Repeating Palestinian Allegations without Evidence."

By the way, Saeb Erakat was the man who claimed that Israel massacred 500 Palestinians in Jenin, a claim that was massively covered in the media and turned out (as even the UN admits) to be a total lie for which he had no evidence at all.

And so, these publications reported as fact something about which they had zero direct knowledge merely because partisan Palestinian sources--with a bad track record due to past misstatements of fact--claimed it.

So far, as I can discover, only AFP has even published additional information showing the story might be false or even mentioning the results of the IDF's quick, detailed investigation of the incident in anything approaching a balanced account.

A day later the New York Times did deign to take notice in an article that presented every Palestinian claim as fact while the journalist challenged every point on the other side. [See detailed critique of this article in Reference Material, below]

[Update: The Times has finally run a story pointing out some of the contradictions in this story written about by us bloggers.]

Will any of these places publish a prominent correction or a balanced story? Will any of them learn anything from this experience, though they haven't from dozens of previous, precisely-the-same experiences?

[On the other hand, the Washington Post has usually done a better job on this kind of thing. Here's an article about past anti-Israel propaganda scams published there in 1997. Why hasn't the mass media caught up with this issue 13 years later?]

Let's suppose that she had participated in the demonstration, the Israeli troops had fired tear gas, and she had died. That would hardly be a war crime since police and military forces around the world routinely use tear gas. There was obviously no intent to kill anyone or even injure them. So it is a non-story to start with in terms of any evil-doing.

But it is also based on a series of lies. In fact, it is impossible for any normal person to die from tear gas in an open area. There is no recorded incident of this happening in any country. But that's only the beginning of the truth, explained also here and here. The woman was not even at the demonstration itself where she was supposedly killed--according to her cousin and mother--though she might have been in the general area (where tear gas concentrations would be even lower).

Equally, the PA refused to produce any medical record and there is no emergency room report at all. The Palestinian story about her medical history keeps changing. The family says that she went to the hospital from home, not the demonstration (another contradiction), making it less credible that her death came from tear gas since even a short time outside the place of highest concentration dispels symptoms. Moreover, she had been given a CAT scan previously, implying she had some serious health problem.

What the hospital records for the day of the demonstration do show--obtianed by Ha'aretz and others--is that two people were taken there with light injuries and released. She wasn't one of them. Only later did the story change and it was claimed that she had died. Studying the videotape of the demonstration doesn't show any picture of her there. In fact, according to videotapes she had not participated in previous demonstrations there either.

And what does the PA death certificate say? "Cause of death: Inhaling gas of an Israeli soldier according to the family." But there was no autopsy, no certification of that cause of death by a doctor, and she was buried with suspicious speed, quite the opposite of what would happen if the Palestinians thought they had a real case.

The Palestinian claim that the demonstrations there were peaceful is also not true. Here is the IDF's response on that point:

"In 2009, there were weekly riots in both Nil'in and Bil'in every Friday, with the exception of 18.12.2009 in Nil'in. Every one of these protests has featured violence on the part of the protesters, for the most part that entails rock throwing, although firebombs, and burning tires are also a frequent occurrence.

"These riots have been taking place on a regular basis at both locations for the past two years. In 2009, 57 defense force personnel were injured by rioters. The security forces take standard riot dispersal measures when the riots turn violent and in 2009 they arrested 20 rioters in Nil'in and 20 in Bil'in.

"On several occasions during these riots, defense force personnel were seriously injured. In January, a Nil'in rioter hurled a rock, hitting a reservist in the face, causing permanent damage to his eye socket. In another incident during a Nil'in riot in April, both an IDF officer and Border Police officer were seriously injured by hurled rocks and had to be taken to a hospital to treat their facial injuries."

Oh, by the way, her brother, Rahman, is a militant anti-Israel activist who was leading the demonstration. Presumably he is the source of this claim.

So that's the bottom line: The whole worldwide story and still another blood libel is based on...zero evidence.

As you've probably guessed by now, however, few people--and most incredibly of all, very few if any journalists--are going to read this article or go through all of this evidence.

That's precisely my point: Anti-Israel sources can produce an infinite number of these stories that take time and a detailed explanation to debunk. And then nobody will pay any attention to such responses. That's why this kind of thing should be systematically discounted and not reported unless some real evidence is offered that there is any truth in the accusation.

The huge anti-Israel demonstration at her funeral and mass media coverage shows us that Abu Rahma will be remembered as a Palestinian martyr to an Israeli war crime. She will also figure anonymously in the statistics intended to prove how evil Israel behaves. In future, people might be killed in terrorist attacks intended to revenge her death. And so on.

Only when it is understood in general that the Palestinian Authority and such sources as extremist anti-Israel activists who happen to be Jewish do everything possible in order to slander Israel--and that none of these claims should be accepted unless accompanied by real proof--will the situation improve. Haven't the mass media and others had enough lessons that they should discount such claims?

Here,  here, and here are some sources on the story. But these are all on blogs that will be read by hundreds or a few thousands. The credulous behavior of spreading anti-Israel propaganda and making it credible for a big audience is on mass media outlets read or seen by hundreds of thousands or even millions of people.

Again, what is needed is not the obligation to disprove these wild stories one by one, but rather their being discredited as a group, in general, as a propaganda technique that no one should believe. There will be 365 days in 2011 but there will be far more than 365 information scams manufactured by the Palestinian And Friends propaganda machine.

Meanwhile, the mass media hardly ever reports what Palestinian leaders, media, and clerics actually say in Arabic unless it can be spun as proving moderation. Indeed, it barely reports that this month marks the second anniversary of the Palestinian Authority's refusal to negotiate with Israel.

Reference material:

Map of event

Tear gas and its medical effects: (Israel uses CS)

"CN, CS and CR cause almost instant pain in the eyes, excessive flow of tears and closure of the eyelids, and incapacitation of exposed individuals. Apart from the effects on the eyes, these agents also cause irritation in the nose and mouth, throat and airways and sometimes to the skin, particularly in moist and warm areas. In situations of massive exposure, tear gas, which is swallowed, may cause vomiting. Serious systemic toxicity is rare and occurs most frequently with CN; it is most likely to occur when these agents are used in very high concentrations within confined non-ventilated spaces. Based on the available toxicological and medical evidence, CS and CR have a large safety margin for life-threatening or irreversible toxic effects. There is no evidence that a healthy individual will experience long-term health effects from open-air exposures to CS or CR, although contamination with CR is less easy to remove." (emphasis added)

Analysis of NY Times follow-up article:

From: Leo Rennert [mailto:leorennert@verizon.net]

Sent: January 5, 2011 1:21 PM
To: public@nytimes.com; nytnews@nytimes.com; Ethan Bronner; SeniorEditor@nytimes.com
Cc: Isabel Kershner

On New Year's Eve, a weekly protest at a West Bank Palestinian village against Israel 's security barrier turned violent . The barrier was breached in three places and demonstrators hurled stones at Israeli security forces. Isreli troops responded by firing tear gas to disperse the crowd. The next day, Palestinian offcials announced that a Palestinian woman was sickened by the tear gas during the demonstration. taken to hospital and died on New Year's Day.

The New York Times published a dispatch by Jerusalem correspondent Isabel Kershner on Jan. 2, which flatly declared that Israel 's use of tear gas had killed the woman. Kershner relied entirely on Palestinian accounts and failed to inform readers that the IDF has asked to be included in a joint investigation with Palestinian medical personel into the woman's death -- an offer immediately rejected by the Palestinian side.

In the ensurng couple or three days, Israeli military officials raised a series of questions about the circumstances of the woman's death -- whether she had other ailments requiring strong medications that might have been contributing factors. After all, there were about a thousan protesters at this weekly demonstration and nobody else seemed to have been seriously harmed or dealt a lethal blow from the tear gas. Israeli officials also pointed to nconsistencies in medical records released by Palestinian doctors, lack of an autopsy and a hurried process to get her quickly buried.

All these questions immediately received prompt attention from Israeli media. But the Times, like most Western media, kept silent. Until three news cycles later, on Jan. 5, when the paper published a follow-up dispatch by Kershner under a headline that reads : "Israeli Military Officials Challenge Account of Palestinian Woman's Death."

To a Times reader, the headline seems at first blush a welcome initiative by the Times to make up for its exclusive reliance on Palestinian sources in the original Kershner piece and finally present what Israel had to say. Better late than never.

Except that Kershner's story unfortunately does not comport with the straightfoward headline about Israel challenging the Palestinian account of the woman's death.

Instead, Kershner makes it clear that, in sum, she's more than willing to believe what the Palestinians tell her and to disbelieve what the Israerlis tell her.

So, she puts great weight on the fact that the Israeli account is based on unidentified sources -- something that otherwise doesn't bother Times correpondents very much -- and that Palestinian medical records about the woman's death are unassailably true.

Here's Kershner's lead paragraph:

"BILIN, West Bank -- Clashing narratives over the case of a 36-year-old Palestinian woman who died on Saturday is fast making her a new symbol of the enduring conflict here, with the Israeli military anonymously casting doubt on Palestinian accounts -- backed by medical documents -- that she died from inhaling tear gas."

Quite a clumsny, convoluted lead -- but it tells us where Kershner is headed. Note Kershner's emphasis on the anonymity of Israeli sources and the presumed reliability of Palestinian "medical documents."

In fact, a few paragraphs farther down, Kershner preemptorily dismisses Israel 's slepticism about the Palestinian account of events as based on "anonymous conjectures."

When Israeli officials question whether the woman had pre-existing medical conditions that might have contribured to her death or whether there had been medical negligence in the treatment she received from Palestinian doctors, Kershner will have none of it.

"Dr. Mohammed Aideh," she writes, "said her death was caused by 'unknown gas inhalation' after an 'attack by Israeli soldiers as the family said.'''

Here's a Palestinian doctor filling a death certificate and he finds it obligatory to stress that everything happened "as the family said." The official Palestinian narrative already was in full sway and this doctor felt obliged to fall in line. Yet, this doesn't register with Kershner that the doctor might have been coached in what he was supposed to write. After all, what reputable medical examiner would go out of his way to signal that his conclusions were based on what "the family said"? Kershner, however, swallows this Palestinian doctor's report hook, line and sinker.

Kershner would have Times readers believe that there were just two "narratives" about the woman's death -- a credible Palestinian one and a conjectural Israeli one. Actually,therre are three "narratives" in her piece. Not just what the Palestinians said and what the Isrelis said, but Kershner's own narrative that tilts heavyily toward the Palestinian side and is thoroughly dismissive of questions raised by IDF officials.

I was not in Bilin when this incident occured. Neither was Kershner. Short of exhuming the woman's body for a thorough post-mortem, there can be no certainty about this event. Under these circimstances, when faced with conflicting versions, it behooves a news reporter to dispasionately lay out what one side claims and what the other side claims. But this is not Kershner's modus operandi. She's determined to ram her "truth" down readers' throats.

When it comes to Palestinian veracity, there's also no awareness on her part that, while Israeli officials may occasionally fall a bit short, that's nothing compared to the shameless lies that are part of the Palestinians' stock in trade. After all, the doctor who signed the death certificate works for a regime that, as part of its official creed, proclaims that Jews have no historical or religious ties to Jerusalem and that Jesus was a Palestinian.

With that kind of a record, one would think that any journalist would take with a grain of salt any self-serving Palestinian assertions when reporting second-hand abput a disputed, murkey event. But not Kershner, who vouches for Palestinian veracity without batting an eye.

Bottom line: The only part of this Times report that qualifies as good journalism is the headline. The bad part is Kershner's determination to steer readers to believe the Palestinian version and dismiss as "anonymous conjectures" important points and questions raised by Israel . The ugly part is that Kershner and the Times peddle such blatant editorializing as fair, accurate and objective news reporting.

U.S. investigation of teargas
The US General Accounting Office came to Israel to investigate claims of "hundreds" killed by tear gas in 1989. They could not substantiate a single case of death by tear gas inhalation. The State Department concluded that four were killed - all indoors - and with the more lethal CN gas, not the CS gas used now.

And here's a neat little example of how much anti-Israel sources lie on the tear gas issue. What it always comes back to is accepting undocumented Palestinian claims not only without any proof but against all other evidence.

Meanwhile, the world is indifferent and soon forgets the real and deliberate repression by dictatorships who just happen also to hate Israel. Example, "The police opened fire against the demonstrators and that led to a stampede of the pilgrims. Saudi authorities reported 402 dead (275 Iranians, 85 Saudis including policemen, and 42 pilgrims from other countries) and 649 wounded (303 Iranians, 145 Saudis and 201 other nationals). Or those 10,000 to 20,000 civilians killed by the Syrian regime in Hama in 1982. But why go on through scores of examples?
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at http://www.gloria-center.org and of his blog, Rubin Reports, http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com.

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