Here's an example of what context means.
Yesterday a Palestinian child, 11-year-old Ahmen Moussa, was killed by a shot to the head. The IDF concedes that the shot came from our side, so this isn't one of those cases where responsibility for the death is contested. The full circumstances are not clear, and could range anywhere from the intentional and cold-blooded shooting of a child to a stray bullet accidentally shot from an IDF weapon as its bearer was ducking Palestinian projectiles (one of which took out the eye of one of the IDF troops at the same event yesterday).
So far so bad. Even once the immediate context is clarified, however, there's still the broader context. For example, the fact that this article appeared on the front page of Haaretz this morning: Amos Harel (a serious and knowledgeable reporter), "Israeli security forces losing control in the West Bank".
Recent protests around the village of Na'alin in opposition to the separation fence seem to show a loss of control... However, a series of events - the shooting of a bound Palestinian protester; two Military Police probes; and as of Tuesday the suspension of a battalion commander - show a worrying and dangerous downward spiral. The fact that these happenings are taking place under increased scrutiny by the international media encourages the opponents of the fence to ratchet up the conflict. Apparently, it also increases pressure on IDF officers, who are having difficulty keeping events in check.No mincing words there. The situation is bad, and seems to be getting worse. And indeed, at the end of the article Harel calls for changes to be made:
The situation in Na'alin is the kind of problem that requires the personal attention of Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, as well as of GOC Central Command Gad Shamni. In an interview in 2004, Ashkenazi, then deputy chief of staff, said: "My greatest concern is that the IDF will lose its humanity because of the continued fighting." That has not happened to the extent Ashkenazi feared, but neither does the chief of staff's campaign to restore discipline to the IDF after the Second Lebanon War seem to have been a great success in view of the events in Na'alin.
According to IDF statistics, the boy who was shot Tuesday was the first Palestinian citizen to be killed in the West Bank this year, after the killing of 34 terrorists (the Palestinians count a number of civilians killed, but they, too, concede that the number is low). That figure reflects more care in this matter than in previous years, along with a lessening of friction with the Palestinian population. The control by PA security forces in the West Bank, as well as security coordination with the IDF, are improving.34 dead fighters and one innocent civilian. That's one too many, of course, but it's also the sign of an army that's waging a low-level war with significant care not to harm anyone but the armed fighters facing it. During the same period 11 Israeli civilians have been murdered in Jerusalem, which ought to remind us that the IDF isn't waging a campaign against an imaginary foe; earlier this week they killed a terrorist who had dispatched a murderer into Israel some months ago and would have done so again if he'd been able to. The lessening of friction with the Palestinian populace: doesn't sound like a brutal and callous army to me, rather an army trying to figure out how to do things with as little damage as possible. The growing coordination with the PA indicates that there are another positive aspects to the story, too.
And did you see the comment about the small number of dead civilians the Palestinians claim dead at the IDF's hands, while the IDF refuses to take responsibility? Interesting, isn't it? Sometimes IDF troops kill innocent Palestinians and set up inquiries; other-times Palestinians try to blame Israel for deaths Israel didn't commit. How are you going to know who's right? If you automatically believe either side, you're potentially putting your preferences before truth. If you try to follow past experience you'll have to agree that the IDF officials don't generally lie, but that doesn't automatically mean they'll never screw up. Especially as in some cases the truth simply isn't knowable, as for example when the corpse is hurriedly buried and there's no possibility to do an autopsy to determine the type of bullet that did the killing.
Then of course you have the unquantifiables, such as how the general Israeli populace sees the whole story and its parts. If you want to damn Israel, surely you need to know that, too? Well, I can't tell you, because I don't really know - which in itself is an interesting finding.