The Haaretz website is growing ever more exasperating as a source for blogging. The paper version, however, while less useful for blogging, is growing more useful for learning things. So since I can't link to English translations of articles, nor even to Hebrew originals from previous days (until recently articles stayed up for a week: now only sometimes), I'll use the old system, the one historians have been using for about 150 years: footnotes. I'll back up the footnotes with links to research queries on the Haaretz website that tell of the cited articles, even though they can't be seen unless you pay. (I already pay for the paper version, but that doesn't help).
On Friday October 24th 2008 on page 9 of section 2, alongside the regular column by Gideon Levy, there's a letter from Dr. Yuval Or, a physician who recently returned from service in his military reserve unit. He objects to a previous column by Levy, published on October 10th 2008, in which Levy told of an IDF raid on a Palestinian home, during which one of them pushed the 60-year-old grandmother who fell, hit her head, and died. (The search result is here).
Dr. Or was part of the IDF unit that carried out the raid. He points out that it wasn't a general search, as Levy states, but rather a pinpointed raid to arrest a specific Hamas figure known to be in the house. As the soldiers entered the building, the woman was asked to sit on a low wall (60 centimeters) in front of the house. While she was sitting there she had a heart attack, fell over, and died. Dr. Or treated her immediately, assisted by the information supplied from her family whereby she was known to suffer from diabetes, high blood pressure, and... heart disease. The doctor and four medics spent more than half an hour doing their best to save the woman's life, but she couldn't be saved. The cause of her death was a heart attack, not the minor abrasions on her head that were caused by her fall during the heart attack.
So yesterday Haaretz told us that Btselem routinely supplies unreliable data about Israeli military actions. This tells us that Gideon Levy, one of Israel's harshest critics, may perhaps also not be totally reliable (some of us have known this for years, but it's nice to read in the paper, too). What about the mainstream press? Say, Ilana Dayan's investigative TV program Uvda (Fact)? Her program is probably the most influential investigative program in the history of Israeli TV, and Dayan, a doctor of law and immensely talented reporter enjoys about the highest credibility in the branch.
She's on trial right now, sued by Major R, the Druze officer who on October 5th 2004 shot and killed 13-year-old Aiman el-Hams on the perimeter of an IDF outpost near Rafah. The international media told that the officer (his name is still under a gag-order) had murdered the girl in cold blood, and Ilana Dayan did a report documenting this fact. Alas, (or perhaps, thank God, depending on your perspective), once R. was indicted, the court threw out the whole case, having been convinced that, tragic though the death undoubtedly was, the officer had behaved professionally and in accordance with the conditions and what it was reasonable to think was going on. He was fully exonerated and reinstated; it wasn't a case of lack of evidence or reasonable doubt.Amos Harel from Haaretz reported from the courtroom on October 27th on page 9 of section one (here's the search result).
Dayan is apparently furious that she's being forced to answer questions, and that her interrogators are allowed to cut her off when she seems to be straying; the judge has had to reprimand her a number of times that the rules in a court of law are different than in her TV studio. She has repeatedly responded to specific questions about her editing practice ("why did you show that and not that") with the statement that she's experienced and that's her job. She has admitted that she never visited the outpost itself and drew all her information from the raw material - the same raw material that led the court fully to exonerate the officer, one might add. She admits that journalists often don't have a full picture, but claims that if they had to wait for fully convincing evidence they would have to shut up most of the time. And so on and on.
Btselem, Gideon Levy, and Ilana Dayan are all Israelis. They know Hebrew (though pehaps not Arabic), and should be able to understand nuances, complexities and to have a feeling for what is plausible and what not. They are vastly more qualified to be doing their job than almost any foreign journalist stationed in Israel who is here today and gone tomorrow. And yet, the closer you look, the more you have to ask yourself if they're reliable. I'm not talking about their interpretations of the facts, I'm talking about the facts themselves. If they aren't reliable, how can the foreign fellows be reliable? And if the foreign professionals may not be reliable, what are we to do with the pundits, politicians, bloggers and other bloviators?
PS. Of course, none of this discussion will be relevant to the those who reject Israel's right to exist, and hence it's right to defend itself or its citizens. But then, those folks don't need facts anyway, nor are they interested in them, unless as dressing for their animosities and prejudices.