Tuesday, January 15, 2008

How Do You Know When the IDF Lies? The Brian Avery Case.

Ok, so you are an intelligent, reasonable, human being. You have learned to be skeptical of the claims of dyed-in-the-wool ideologues, government agencies, politicians, journalists, lawyers, etc. You know that people and organizations have agendas and will lie to cover their tushies and to protect their agendas, always in the service of a noble cause. But, still, there are people who will speak the truth even when it is not in their interest.

So how do you know when somebody or some organization, say, the Israel Defence Forces, is telling the truth or lying?

Almost five years ago, International Solidarity Movement volunteer Brian Avery suffered a wound in his face which disfigured and partly disabled him. Avery said he was shot be an IDF patrol. The IDF says that the bullet ricocheted against a wall, and he was filled with shrapnel in his face (i.e., the soldiers did not shoot directly at him). The IDF's rules do not now require it to open a military investigation when civilians are hurt (this, of course, is a change from the First Intifada.) So the IDF didn't at first launch an investigation; they just relied on the field commander's report. Later, in a fit of superogatory kindness typical of people who have been caught with their pants down, they decided "lifnit mi-shurat ha-din" to launch a military investigation. Of course, this was after Avery had petitioned the high court and looked like he would win.In the meantime, Avery has withdrawn that petition, but now has a suit against the state for damages he suffered.

So how do you know who is telling the truth? That's simple. If you are pro-Israel, you will believe the IDF. If you are not, you will believe Avery. Who the hell cares about truth and justice for one American goy, who shouldn't have been there in the first place? Just read the talkbacks of the Jerusalem Post article.

But who do you believe when the "he-said/she-said" is not between the IDF and the leftwing enemies of Israel, but between the soldiers who allegedly did the shooting and their military superiors?

For some of my rightwinger readers, again, it is no brainer. "So what, we shot him. Big deal. He is lucky he is not dead. OK, so we lied about shooting him. That's good for Israel, maybe. Who cares?"

These are the folks who would not oppose Brian Avery's mother being gassed and turned into soap if they thought it was in the interests of the Jewish State. I really don't care to write for people like that. It is enough that I have to breathe the same air that they do.

But I still have at least one reader out there who genuinely believe that the IDF is different from other armies, that while there may be a few bad apples, like in any army (see: Abu Ghreib), the IDF can be trusted to police its own, etc., to take appropriate steps when necessary, to balance, based on its own Code of Ethics, military exigency with human rights.

So for those readers (including the editors of Reform Judaism Magazine, who last summer featured a cover story on the IDF's "ethical behavior") let Jerry tell you how the IDF works.

Step One. Somebody shoots and disfigures an American civilian, a leftwing loony.

Step Two. The field commander, or whoever has to, writes up a report of the incident in a way as to cover his tush. It's accepted by the higher ups, of course. After all, the guy shot was a goy, and with any luck, his family won't be able to fight for him in court.

Step Three. Surprise! The attorneys representing the civilian petition the High Court for a full-scale military investigation.

Step Four. The state, representing the military, argues that this is unnecessary. When the state's attorneys sense that they are going to lose in court, they hastily change their position and declare that they will investigate. (Note to state -- try to weaken the authority of the High Court)

Step Five. Surprise! The wounded civilian sues the state for damages and receives affidavits from the soldiers that contradict the sworn reports of the IDF Military Adjunct General.

Step Six. The lawyers "leak" the petitioner's claim to left-of-center Haaretz on January 10, 2007, making the army look bad.

Step Seven. A few days later, right-of-center Jerusalem Post picks up the story, this time, giving ample space to the "sources in the Military Advocate General's office" to rebut the charges.

Step Eight. The rebuttals are weak, unconvincing, and partial, but it doesn't matter. Until the matter is settled in court, the story will have passed.

That's how it works. It usually doesn't get past Step Two.

A comparison of the story in Haaretz and the story in the Jerusalem Post, shows that the latter publicized only some of the claims found in the soldier's affidavits that contradicted the Military Advocate General's office.

The story in the Post can be read here and on Haaretz (only in Hebrew!) here

Let me just give you one example. Here is how the Post reports the contradiction:

In his response to the petition, the Military Advocate-General wrote that after the soldiers spotted suspicious figures, the machine gun operator fired eight to 10 bullets "in the direction of the highway, close to the wall of a building."

In the affidavit, however, A.S. said he had ordered L.C. to fire "at the road, between the Armored Personnel Carrier [APC] and the figures," purposely aiming short.

According to Haaretz, the soldiers' affidavits say that the soldiers fired at three suspicious figures.

According to the Post:
• Contrary to the army's claim that the soldiers in the APC did not know (and therefore did not report) that they had hit someone, a detailed report of the incident was registered in the brigade operation's log that night. The first entry was recorded one hour after the incident and stated that "an American was severely wounded in the face by a bullet. Brian Avery is in a hospital in Jenin. They want to evacuate him to Israel."
The "sources" response?

The brigade only heard of the shooting from the IDF Spokesman's Office, which called to inquire about media reports it had received concerning an American allegedly shot in Jenin. Following the phone call with the IDF Spokesman's Office, the brigade operations officer recorded the shooting in the operations log.

According to the Haaretz article, however, the affidavits show that the soldiers themselves told the brigade operations officer that one of the people had fallen.

Look, I don't know who is getting the material in the affidavits right -- the Post, which used its sources in the IDF, or Haaretz, which used the plaintiff's attorney. The army claims it made a thorough investigation, and the affidavits claim that the soldiers themselves were not interviewed till a year and a half after the incident.

But that is how the system works. Were it not for one American's family, a human rights lawyer, and an Haaretz journalist, and the ability, interest, and time, of readers to sift through this stuff, the IDF would get away with murder.

Which they do all the time...and which doesn't matter -- because no matter what they do, you will not find them criticized, certainly not by the pro-Israel supporters.

The IDF is no better or worse than other armies in long-term occupations. Such occupations inevitably corrupt. For every Brian Avery there are tens of thousands of Palestinian civilians who have suffered and who will never see redress. Avery's case attracts attention because he is an American. And because there are no Americans lobbying kassams in Sderot.

Believe, if you will, that Israel must act brutally, immorally, monstrously, and barbarously, in order to survive. Believe that this is the price that must be paid for a Jewish state. I disagree, but one can make that argument.

But don't deceive yourself into thinking that the IDF is the most moral army in the world. You can have all the Michael Walzerian theories of just-war, served up with all the side dishes of Asa Kasherian Ethical Codes for the Army, you like.

The reality on the ground -- something not even considered in the aforementioned article in Reform Judaism Magazine, which, I guarantee you, will not discuss the Avery case -- will still make any healthy person sick to her stomach.

I used to believe that garbage about the IDF being "the most moral army in the world." After all, my four children are moral, and they all served in it. Heck, I am not that bad, and I served in it.

Then I heard what it does on a routine basis. No, not widespread murder or rape. Only torture and thousands, hundreds of thousands, of petty humiliations -- which are part and parcel of the Occupation, every occupation.

So who do you believe?

Don't give anybody the benefit of the doubt.


Anonymous said...

Then I heard what it does on a routine basis. No, not widespread murder or rape.

The lack of widespread rape just shows how racist Israel is!


Anonymous said...


Do you know what military occupation means? Do you live in Israel? Or do you live somewhere which hasn't experienced the threat of occupation for several generations (or like me, where the last occupation by a foreign power was in the 1700's?)

Unknown said...

Very unfortunate that Haaretz hasn't translated this story into English. I hope they will.

As an aside, regarding yr comments about Reform Judaism Magazine, I thought it might be interesting to know that I once wrote a post based on a very interesting story they ran about John Kerry's Jewish roots. The story's author discovered my post & demanded money from me claiming that by quoting from her article I infringed her copyright (the only time in my entire blogging experience this has happened). I wrote to the Magazine's editor asking if they knew of this development & what they thought of it. Guess what? They never responded. Surprised?

Anonymous said...

Hey magnes zionist, have you read Nassralas latest speech?!
It seems hes the head of an organization that Finkelstein thinks represents hope.

Both are sick men.

Anonymous said...

So Magnes Zionist - let me get this straight. You and your sons served in the IDF. You are all allegedly moral people and you all feel you served in a moral way.

You all served with other moral left-of-center Israelis (being that the IDF is mostly left of center).....and yet the IDF turns out not being so moral?

How does that work? I don't get it.

Are those in charge of the IDF all rightwingers who silence or brainwash the majority of IDF troops who are left wingers? By implicating the IDF as not being so moral, you accuse most Israelis who have served in the IDF (mostly liberal progressives) as being part of an immoral army.

And yet the IDF continues to be immoral in a progressive democratic society that tolerates it?

How is that possible? Is it just Israeli Jews who happen to be the most immoral progressive liberals on the planet?