Tuesday, October 28, 2008

How Do We Know What We Know - And Are We Right?

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.


Anonymous said...


Sorry, the word "push" doesn't quite describe what happens when a woman of 60 (and unknown weight. She could have been the size of a cow) is "pushed."

Seems she went backwards and cracked the base of her skull. Hence, she died.

And, this is because?

Let's see some reasons, Sherlock.

Was she hiding a tunnel entrance? Was she doing something that could have threatened the soldiers?

Am I to feel "pity?" Where the IDF are at risk, playing these games which the arabs don't play at all.

In other words?

Suddenly, in enemy territory, you're told "civilians." Even bigger: GRANDMAS. Can't hurt them. They're just flies on the wall.

Better to understand that there's only one reason you're putting troops at risk! Something fowl exists inside the homes. Which you can attack in other ways.

Up ahead? It's very possible that the world of robotics will enter in? Seeing eyeballs in the dark. And, your forces at computer screens. Far enough away so that no fowl play takes place.

As to bumps and bruises under current conditions? Is this any worse than a car's bumper hitting a pedestrian? We don't put drivers in jail!

But we do seem to know how to feed animosity.

Same things happens in history books. In history books? You'll never hear of Wild Indians. You'll never hear of the savagry purpetrated against civilians who were eke-ing out a living ... and Wild Indians, probably very hungry. Came to steal food in the night.

Brought about worse consequences than you can imagine.

And, that's pretty much human behavior.

Till you get to try and educate everybody. And, someone tampers with the lines. As if everything's a fairytale in a story book.

By the way, Israel won territory during the 6-day-1967 war. What you didn't get afterwards were millions of hostile arabs.

And, then? The fantasy that "democracy comes" to Islam. Sure. But if you didn't notice, George Dubya Bush blew his whole legacy chasing this ideal.

While I think he chased it for the Saud's. Who hungrily thought they'd pick up real estate. No. They weren't going to offer "democracy" to shi'ites. But they didn't get the real estate.

You could learn a lot if you applied yourselves to "trades" like that. Because? Nothing trickles down. Not even knowledge.

Oh, you can't make all those arabs leave, either. Where would they want to go? Go ahead. Pick a place. Because they're not moving! They like it hostile, just where they are!

Poor Israel. Too many lazy asses. Too many who will never "get with the program." But will always go to the taxpayers to steal "easy" money.

What lessons can you learn from this? Well, you could learn that the Haredi are of European extraction. And, Olmert handed the Haredi Jerusalem. Made the place go backwards in time. With the exception, perhaps, of improving the plumbing.

Imagine telling the squatters (settlers) they need to move along; and get along.

While the IDF is taxed with doing the heavy lifting.

As to the communists, they love shining the flashlight on freedom. But if you shove them into russia they're never heard from again!

Well, it's been said before; there are plenty of politicians who hate reading the morning papers. But it's still the best darn system of managing people you can find.

Oh, as to tragedies; lots of groups perished. The lessons in survival, here, should be the FIRST LESSON absorbed. No free lunches. You want to keep it? Fight. You want to protect yourselves from thieves. Have good laws. And, a better police force.

And, on that scale, "better police force" ... Israel's already failed.

Meanwhile? Livni holds her own. You may even notice that she grows in stature. Teaching "the other lesson" ... From bad there's good.

Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said...

Well, you know, war is a messy thing, and war reporting is just as messy. All journalists make mistakes, so why do you obsesively focus on Gideon Levy's? Intolerance of dissent? An aversion to contrarian views? I'll call it by its true name: anti-Levytism.

Seriously speaking. As I noted in a post on my blog, you're using Holocaust denial techniques to delegitimize Levy & Co. Yes, he may have been wrong with regard to the grandmother who dropped dead -- but he didn't err in a vacuum. The story was plausible because the IDF has a history of not assisting injured Palestinians. See here how the Israeli army blew up the door of a house, severely wounding the woman inside. The soldiers are caught on video tearing down the house as they leave the woman to die without anyone assisting her. No terrorist was hiding in the house; the soldiers took it over only to gain secure access to a neighboring home by opening a hole in the wall.

So you cherry pick a few instances of misreporting and make an indictiment of the whole leftwing camp, while not noting that if it were not for B'Tselem, the brutal clubbing of elderly Palestinians by Jews wearing masks disturbingly reminiscent of the KKK would not have come to light.

Maybe one day "good" journalists will begin to report on Israeli soldiers leaving wounded civilians to die, Israeli settlers kicking prisoners in the head with the soldiers looking on, Israeli soldiers shooting blindfolded and handcuffed prisoners or IDF soldiers using an 11-yr-old girl as a human shield. But up to now such proven atrocities have been overwhelmingly reported by unreliables such as Levy, B'Tselem and Ilana Dayan. That's why we need them.