Friday, March 27, 2009

Media on IDF Brutality in Gaza

Alex Safian at CAMERA sums up what's now known about the allegations made by Danny Zamir's soldiers: the two worst allegations, about IDF snipers gunning down Palestinian women and children, simply never happened.
Two central incidents that came up in the testimony, which Danny Zamir, the head of the Rabin pre-military academy presented to Chief of Staff Gaby Ashkenazi, focus on one infantry brigade. The brigade’s commander today will present to Brigadier General Eyal Eisenberg, commander of the Gaza division, the findings of his personal investigation about the matter which he undertook in the last few days, and after approval, he will present his findings to the head of the Southern Command, Major General Yoav Gallant. Regarding the incident in which it was claimed that a sniper fired at a Palestinian woman and her two daughters, the brigade commander’s investigation cites the sniper: “I saw the woman and her daughters and I shot warning shots. The section commander came up to the roof and shouted at me, 'Why did you shoot at them?’ I explained that I did not shoot at them, but I fired warning shots.” Officers from the brigade surmise that fighters that stayed in the bottom floor of the Palestinian house thought that he hit them, and from here the rumor that a sniper killed a mother and her two daughters spread.

Regarding the second incident, in which it was claimed that soldiers went up to the roof to entertain themselves with firing and killed an elderly Palestinian woman, the brigade commander investigation found that there was no such incident.
I admit, this is not particularly surprising. It is not easy to figure out the facts of a simple killing in a civilian setting, as any police officer will tell you; peering backwards through the fog of war is even harder. Not impossible, mind you; the shelves with history books that do it are long and laden; but rushing to prove the bestiality of IDF troops is often a fool's errand, motivated more by the determination to convict Israel of immorality than by painstaking respect of facts.

As I wrote a few days ago, Israelis routinely and publicly examine their actions at war, as it should be; in this case, the full investigation tells the opposite story from the first one: The Palestinian family had been held in a house alongside the IDF troops, and now they were being directed out of harm's way. A woman with two children didn't follow the directions given her. A sniper indeed identified a woman and two children in a place they shouldn't have been in; he fired warning shots meant to frighten, not harm. His officer shouted at him for firing in the direction of civilians, since even the officer thought he was shooting at them. The sniper - the only person in this story who was looking through the sights and doing the shooting - reassured his commander he wasn't about to harm anyone. Other soldiers, within sound range but not eye contact, thought the sniper had killed civilians, and were so disturbed by the incident that it eventually reached Haaretz, triggering an investigation that unraveled the facts of the case and refuted the allegations.

Sounds like a moral army to me, and a moral citizenry too. Commendable, wouldn't you say? Conduct to be proud of.

But don't expect anyone to do any commending. The initial allegations were quoted - very literally - worldwide. Their refutation won't be. There are banal reasons for this, having to do with the profound unseriousness of the business of media and news as entertainment. Yet that is not a satisfactory explanation. The act of slandering Jews is one of the most fundamental in Western society, and has been for millennia, often with lethal results. When educated and respected stalwarts of their societies engage in the pastime, they bear full moral responsibility for their acts. They may or may not be antisemites (shorthand: the Guardian is, the NYT isn't), but their actions are.

How about Haaretz? Had they published the allegations in Hebrew alone, thus enabling the crucial internal discussion without translating it for the rest of the world to gloat over, would that have been better? Anshel Pfeffer, one of their columnists, agonizes over the issue. I tend to agree with him. The Israelis need to have their discussions; the observers will disseminate the incriminating parts no matter what, and won't disseminate the exoneration no matter what; Haaretz bears some responsibility for this dynamic, but not much.

The opprobrium belongs fully to those engaged in antisemitic acts.


Gavin said...

I have to disagree with you on this one Yaacov. It's not the fact that Haaretz printed the article that is problematic. It's that Haaretz made very obvious efforts to present the stories as being true. They even quoted un-named soldiers as verifying that the stories were 'unsurprising'.

All Haaretz had to do was put the correct context into the story and make it clear that the alleged killings were hearsay only. They appear to have made no effort at all to even enquire about the veracity of the stories. Did they ask Zamir to confirm that the soldiers had actually witnesses the shootings they described? Did they investigate the claims at all? How hard is it to get on the phone & start asking other soldiers in the Givati brigade what they saw & heard?

Every Israeli newspaper knows what happens when stories like this get printed, and Haaretz had an absolute duty to ensure that the story was properly balanced. It was shoddy journalism, they breached the most fundamental journalistic ethics by knowingly printing hearsay as fact.

Regards, Gavin.

Dimitry said...

Surprisingly, NYT ran an article on this (and included the part about the casualties as well). As far as I could see, pretty even handed (with maybe the exception of the leading picture).

Anonymous said...

no matter how evenhanded the article may be (and I find Bronner an improvement over Erlanger), one look at the picture they used stopped me from reading it. No matter how fair your writing may be after you have depicted the victims as innocent farmers whose only cow I am to presume was killed by those Israelis it will do absolutely nothing towards getting the facts acknowledged.

Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said...

While truth is not the paramount concern of blind partisans, it must be told.

To set the record straight:

The story has been researched and the woman has been identified. Her name is Abir Hijeh. She, along with her 5 kids, were told in broken Arabic to go south. They went the wrong way and came under fire from Israeli soldiers. Abir was hurt, not killed, but her 2-year-old daughter was killed. See here.

Conclusion: the family was told to go one way in bad Arabic, they went the wrong way and were mercilessly shot by the Israelis, killing one toddler. Not exactly the original story, but comes very close.

The most moral army, my foot.

Also, Yaacov, your version is not independent. It comes from Israelis, and Israelis customarily lie about their war crimes. For instance, in the Bus 200 incident two Arab prisoners were savagely murdered in captivity and the Israelis denied it, until a video exposed them.

Liars, liars, pants on fire.

Gavin said...

Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said... blah blah....

You just have to laugh at these characters trying to put their anti-Israel tirades together. Look at this fool, he can't even see the contradictions in his own post.

Ibrahim try doing some thinking before you next expose yourself in public. If Israelis lie about their war crimes then that must mean any crimes they admit to are also lies. By your own logic the original Haaretz article must itself have been lies, since it was discussing what potentially were war crimes, and therefore the incidents cannot have occured at all. It they had occured then Israelis would have been telling the truth, and and that can't be because you said they lie.

Your last paragraph refutes the rest of your claims. You contradicted yourself.

When I see poor reasoning like this I'm always intrigued with how similar Epimenides Cretan is to the word cretin.

Cheers, Gavin.