Jan. 15, 2009

Israeli denials and explanations can no longer stand on their own


This is now the only description that should be afforded to Israeli denials and explanations of the reported atrocities committed by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) - now practically a daily occurrence in Gaza. It should no longer be acceptable for any member of the news media to include the statements of Israeli public relations personnel without including a qualifier as to the level of credibility that the statements should be afforded.

"The Israeli forces were attacked from there, and their response was severe." This was the statement made by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to United Nations (UN) chief Ban Ki Moon in response to Israel's shelling of the main UN compound in Gaza.

IDF forces had come under fire from forces inside the school. This was the original explanation given for Israel's shelling of a UN school that had been sheltering refugees - forty three people were killed. The explanation changed after the UN's relief director in Gaza denied the initial charge: now, the Israelis were returning fire on a target "in the vicinity of the school". It is not currently clear which of the two versions the Israelis will settle on.

Reports by the BBC and human rights group B'tselem describing a Palestinian woman being shot in the head while waiving a white flag: "without foundation", according to the IDF. Multiple reports that prove Israel is using white phosphorus in civilian areas in contravention of the Geneva Convention: Israel insists "we're not using any weapons that are banned under international law.”

It should now be clear to anyone who allows themselves honest and logical reflection that Israel has one automatic communications response that is to be employed when the IDF engages in activities that result in the death of civilians or non-combatants, denial. This denial can take any number of forms, usually blaming the events on "the enemy", questioning the innocence of the victims, or denying the incident outright. Should the first statement of denial fall apart under scrutiny, then a new sequence of events shall be introduced to counter the statements of the other witnesses.

Some of these events would require intricate conspiracies between seemingly unrelated parties in order for the IDF's versions to be plausible. In recent reports, it would appear that both the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) are working alongside Hamas in order to foil Israel.

For those still in denial about Israel's policy of denial - allow me to introduce you to Lasse Schmidt, a journalist, and a human rights worker with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), who was working in the West Bank in 2003. On April 4th of that year, Schmidt was acting as an observer to a group of Palestinian youth who were throwing stones at Israeli armour. At one point, an Israeli armoured personnel carrier (APC) unleashed a short burst of heavy machine gun rounds at a wall three meters to Schmidt's right. The resulting pieces of stone and shrapnel caused very minor wounds to his back and legs - he required no medical attention.

The following day, Schmidt ran into a reporter for the French news agency APF, and during the course of their conversation, he related the details of the previous day's incident. About an hour after that conversation, he was shocked to hear of an APF story concerning a Danish peace activist who had been injured by Israeli fire that very morning, April 5th.

A few hours later, and Schmidt was reading an Israeli press release in response to the APF story. The Israelis confirmed that, indeed a Danish citizen had been injured earlier that very day, "but it maintained that he had been caught in crossfire between Palestinian militants and Israeli soldiers and most likely was hit by a Palestinian bullet."

In the same article, Schmidt goes on to describe the shooting of three other peace activists and / or journalists who all, the Israelis initially insisted, were caught in a crossfire and likely hit by a Palestinian bullet. In each of these cases, the Israeli denials were later shown to be questionable to the extreme (in one case), or completely false (in the other two). Schmidt's record of the events is highly recommended material for reading.

Israel's policy of denial has been in play for one reason - because it worked. By and large, the corporate media was willing to accept the offerings from Israel's spin machine with few questioning the obvious deficiencies. Now, there are hopeful signs that a public, served by alternative sources of news, and a new generation of news outlets soured by Israel's increasingly heavy hand, may be coming together to form a true conspiracy against the Israeli PR machine.

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