Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Whom Should You Believe? The Gazans or the IDF?

Some of my readers say, "You are always quick to adopt the Palestinian position and to reject as untrue the IDF position. Why is that?" The answer is that, with some experience, one can usually determine when the IDF speaks the truth (they do that, actually) and when they are covering their tuchas.

For example, in today's must-read article in the Times about Gaza, we have the following story.

Many [Gazans] here believe that Israelis feel the same about them, and that they were treated with suspicion and contempt, as would-be fighters. That might help explain what happened, they say, when Omar Abu Halima and his two teenage cousins tried to take the burned body of his baby sister and two other living but badly burned girls to the hospital on that Sunday. [According to the Times, the burning was due to the white phosphorus. – JH]

The boys were taking the girls and six others on a tractor, when, according to several accounts from villagers, Israeli soldiers told them to stop. According to their accounts, they got down, put their hands up, and suddenly rounds were fired, killing two teenage boys: Matar Abu Halima, 18, and Muhamed Hekmet, 17.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said that soldiers had reported that the two were armed and firing. Villagers strongly deny that. The tractor that villagers say was carrying the group is riddled with 36 bullet holes.

The villagers were forced to abandon the bodies of the teenage boys and the baby, and when rescue workers arrived 11 days later, the baby's body had been eaten by dogs, her legs two white bones, captured in a gruesome image on a relative's cellphone. The badly burned girls and others on the tractor had fled to safety.

Now, I wasn't there, and I am not a judge or a panel investigating the incident. So why am I fairly confident that the two boys were shot without provocation, and that they were not armed and firing?

Several reasons: first, why would Hamas operatives be taking a tractor to town with dead and wounded girls? And if they were, why would they stop what they were doing and shoot? And then leave their baby sister to be eaten by dogs?

Second, if the IDF soldiers indeed shot the Gazan youths dead without provocation, would they have told that to their superiors. Wouldn't they have told their superiors that they were responding to gunfire, especially since there are documented cases of that?

Third, we already have cases in the past where the soldiers lie to their commanders, the IDF initially backs them up, and then is forced – generally due to video footage – to investigate and admit that the soldiers were lying.

Fourth, note that the spokesperson did not say that the two boys fired on the IDF soldiers, but rather that the soldiers had reported that the boys fired. That is giving the IDF wiggle-room for later investigations and implies to me that they don't necessarily accept the report.

Do these considerations prove that the boys are telling the truth? Of course not. Does this mean that the IDF soldiers kill Gazan for kicks? Certainly not.

But if you are asking me whom I consider to be more believable, in light of what I know about the players, then I am telling you – the Gazan boys. Too many cases have been collected by groups like "Breaking the Silence" and other international human rights groups to think otherwise.

Unless you are a moral chauvinist.


Anonymous said...

And how do your, just for example, explain widespread "eyewitness" reports of a massacre of hundreds or even thousands of Palestinians in Jenin in 2002? Old men telling the media that their whole families were buried under the rubble of the market area? Etc., etc. All completely, and shamelessly, made up, and of course disseminated by the British media and Amnesty International (so much for the inherent accuracy of NGOs).

Marcel Dubois said...

Some guy comes here to say that everything is made up and there's an international conspiracy to defame good virtuous Israel.

Somewhere, an anti-semite must smile at the irony of a zionist resorting to his tactics.

Anonymous said...

Previous anonymous--

Care to give a cite for the widespread eyewitness Jenin accounts? As I recall, it was an Israeli general who first used the term "hundreds" for the number dead in Jenin and then Palestinians assumed the worst and the media reported both sides. The human rights groups went in when they could and found the number of civilian dead was about 20, and some of these were killed in war crimes. The truth, then, was in the middle--there were war crimes and as Robert Fisk says, it was a massacre, but on a scale an order of magnitude smaller than the initial rumors.

Anonymous said...

I just went to the Guardian website and found a column by a Haaretz reporter which is obviously biased in the pro-Israel direction. The writer, for instance, doesn't seem to think Israeli war crimes in Jenin were any big deal--if you don't kill hundreds it doesn't matter. But the fact (which the writer admits)that the Israelis themselves gave the world good reason to think that hundreds had died is more than enough reason to explain why so many people thought so at the time.


Anonymous said...

Here is an Amnesty report on Jenin--


Jay Dub said...

i don't see any mention of the burns being caused by phosphorous in the Times article.

Anyway as the Times article itself notes, when the two accounts are total opposites of each other, the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle. A story like this one is extremely suspicious. If IDF soldiers could shoot teenagers in cold blood and get away with it, I think we'd hear far more examples of it.

But again, even in citing an article that says to take each side's story with a grain of salt, you use it to argue that it bolsters your opinion that the Palestinian version is the 100% truth.

Jay Dub said...

Also, it's astounding how many times Palestinians accuse the IDF of cold blooded executions of some members of a group, but inexplicably the IDF lets other members of the group escape safely.

Again, perhaps I'm more cynical than you Jerry, but I think if the IDF was going to shoot to kill people in a tractor just for sport, they would have made sure to kill everyone in the tractor and every villager who apparently witnessed this before they could then tell the story about such a heinous war crime to the media.

Anonymous said...

I cannot help but to link the Gaza
war with the destruction of the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila --and Jenin. Real knowledge
of these events has radically altered my thinking about the need to have Israel as a linchpin of Jewishness. I no longer care if this corrupt and brutal country continues to exist.

Most horrible is the fact that the past history of Jews as victims has
oddly permeated Israel's government and governors.They act
without any regard to what it might feel like to inflict pain as it has been inflicted on them. Though our co-religionist's(Freud) theory of the unconscious is at work in Waltz with Bashir.Perhaps, this film might act as a teaching to those who are benumbed to pain.
I am overwhelmed with the fact that so many Israelis feel upset that the world doesn't understand
how the deaths of 20 Israelis is not the same as the deaths of 1300 Arabs many of whom were women and
children.They even deny the horrors
as your anonymous has.

Israeli policies reflect the Orthodox Jewish view of the gentile-- here read as Arab as the coin of the realm. I think there is something very wrong with
its interpretation of religion and its adherents.Israel at any cost is a price I don't want to pay either as an American, or as a
or as a Jew.

Anonymous has seen the destruction, but denies the images and stories.He is among the benumbed.

JR said...

I believe the IDF.
The existing IDF Code of Tohar Haneshek is something every Jew should be proud of.
Hamas is a terror group that does not have any codes or ethics.

Anonymous said...

It's always a different standard applied to the Palestinians (or Arabs in particular). I just read Mouin Rabbani's stinging criticism of HRW and it really hits the mark.

Think about it: if we had to use the doctrine that the IDF wants to impose on what constitutes war crimes, you would have to rely on the perpetrator's honesty and statements and "investigations". Imagine how asinine this would be if we took it as dogma that Ahmedinejad said that there were no human rights abuses of gays in Iran. Whose testimony do they rely on the "facts" here?

It's still slandering the media who was clearly present in Gaza but who aren't consulted because they happened to be Arab.

Jerry Haber said...

JL Whitewater

1) Did you read the entire Times article?

2) "If IDF soldiers could shoot teenagers in cold blood and get away with it, I think we'd hear far more examples of it."

Not if they got away with it. Do you know how many years it took for IDF soldiers to admit killing Egyptian prisoners of war.

3) "The truth lies in the middle." OK, so here is where the middle is. The Palestinians say that the white phosphorus is used as a weapon, which is illegal. The Israelis say that it is used to provide a smoke screen for soldiers' protection, so it is not illegal. The "middle" is that by using it in a dense urban location, for which it was not intended, the white phosphorus will maim and kill civilians.

It is understandable that Israel will take care to protect its soldiers. But it has to also take care not to harm civilians.

You assume that the soldiers wanted to massacre all the Arabs. Maybe the two started yelling at them, and they shot them. Why should they worry about what the others will say or do.

You see, JLWhitewater, you don't know what soldiers do when they have absolute power in their hands. Read some of the testimonies of IDF soldiers on the Breaking the Silence website.

Anonymous said...

Et hata'ai ani mazkir - I served in the IDF Spokesman's Unit during a very troubled period, and Jerry's post is right on the mark. In my experience, NGOs and individual Palestinian testimonies are generally far more reliable than the IDF, which is concerned mostly with covering its own ass and perpetuating the myth of "the most moral army in the world".

Anonymous said...

There is substantial and independently proven evidence of killings in Gaza, for instance the Samouni family in the Zeitoun area, and nevertheless we are seeing once again the denial machine, the amnesic process blowing at full speed and blinding the Israeli/Jewish opinion and conscience.

Anonymous 12h24 is right : most Israelis and diasporic Jews are suffering a collective "Waltz with Bashir" syndrome. This is the jewish blind spot. And it is more important and urgent to analyze this syndrome than to davenen. I can feel on myself these inner workings of amnesia. For instance, I have long forgotten (but I remember it now) how bad I felt at the time of the first intifada. In the beginning, Israeli soldiers were firing rubber bullets at the youngsters who were throwing stones. Then suddenly, they started shooting with real bullets. Then it became a habit. At least once a week, a young Palestinian got killed. The process had become irreversible and everybody became accustomed to the fact that soldiers shot real bullets at kids throwing stones. It became a normal event, business as usual. It was normalized. Something alien (to the Jewish ethics and human behavior) had succeeded to creep inside the realm of normalcy.

Unknown said...

Here is a piece from Ha'aretz regarding the views of Prof Asa Kasher who wrote the IDF code of ethics, which were used in the recent Gaza War. He is a "progressive", like you, although I think he is more a MERETZ type than HADASH.

Any army of a democratic country would use the same tactics as we did in Gaza.

Jay Dub said...

"Care to give a cite for the widespread eyewitness Jenin accounts? As I recall, it was an Israeli general who first used the term "hundreds" for the number dead in Jenin and then Palestinians assumed the worst and the media reported both sides."


On April 7, Saeb Erekat suggested to CNN that 500 Palestinians had been killed in the camp.

On April 10, Israel estimated 150 Palestinians had died in Jenin,

On April 12, Five days later, when the fighting stopped, PA Secretary Ahmed Abdel Rahman told UPI that the number was in the thousands, hinting, along with other Palestinian figures, that Israel had snatched bodies, buried Palestinians in mass graves and under the rubble of ruined buildings, and otherwise conducted on a scale compatible with genocide.

Yasser Arafat compared the fighting to the Battle of Stalingrad

April 18: Amnesty International officer claims that evidence of massacre is "growing"

April 18-20: The U.N. goes into full bore accusation mode, with its envoy hinting at a massacre and a probe set to investigate.

Of course, it took about another half a year for all the people who cried wolf to admit the death toll was about 50, almost all fighters. At that point of course the Palestinians claimed victory for so few dead and so many IDF killed. Pretty sick.

So you had human rights monitors, Palestinian officials, Palestinian fighters and the U.N. all able to access the Jenin camp and all claimed massacre. And all were dead wrong.

Is it any surprise some of us are cynical about their reports during the fighting?
The human rights groups went in when they could and found the number of civilian dead was about 20, and some of these were killed in war crimes. The truth, then, was in the middle--there were war crimes and as Robert Fisk says, it was a massacre, but on a scale an order of magnitude smaller than the initial rumors.

Jay Dub said...

The article by Paul Martin shows in detail the lengths that the Palestinians went to in order to win the propaganda war.

"The propaganda war continues, meanwhile, in the refugee camp itself. Families whose homes had been destroyed were ordered to sit and lie inside tents pitched near the destruction, to be available for interviews and filming with foreign reporters and photographers. At dusk, with the press opportunities concluded, they returned to houses offered to them in the undamaged city or in the rest of the refugee camp.

Other young men, members of various factions, have been on duty in the camp's narrow streets, eager to conduct foreign correspondents to places where they say Israelis killed militants after they surrendered or had been captured."

Again, is it any wonder people like the first poster here take the Palestinian eyewitness claims with a shaker of salt?

Jerry Haber said...

Moria, Kasher is an apologist for the IDF. He has never once criticized it. He lacks all credibility. If he is a Meretz type, then God help Meretz.

I saw the article. He tries to give the impression that his views are well-received. In fact, Kasher is a nobody in the world of ethics and the military. He has not published his view in any prestigious journal of ethics, nor has he been interviewed. His involvement in the IDF is a personal one, following a personal tragedy. Since then, he has been their house ethicist.

The above, of course, is ad hominem. There is one argument that he brings in the Haaretz article that I will deal with, God willing, soon, and that is the argument that it is permitted to kill civilians in order to reduce danger to one's own soldiers. (Or, more precisely, one can use weapons or tactics that will inevitably kill civilians in order to reduce danger to one's own soldiers.) That is an interesting claim that is worth considering.

Jerry Haber said...

JL Whitewater,

Why don't you cite initial Israeli reports of Jenin, both in the Israeli press and among government spokespeople. As usual, you just select your quotes.

You are right that there was suspicion and accusations of massacre at the outset -- but we are talking about the first week or two. And there were reasons for the mistake. As soon as it was known that there was no massacre, the Palestinians dropped the claim. I was in Israel during that time, and I remembered it.

It was the pro-Israel apologists who continued to claim -- wrongly -- that the Palestinians were inflating numbers.

But I am willing to change my view if you can give me an example of a Palestinian Authority who claimed, say, a month after Jenin, that there was a massacre that Israel was covering up.

Contrast Jenin with Deir Yasin (wait a minute) in which to this day there are differences of opinions/narrative as to whether a massacre took place or not, and what was the extent. My point is that it is the right wing who always claims -- wrongly -- that the Palestinians should massacre.

But more importantly, I have noticed a pattern in your responses.

You are simply unable emotionally and intellectually to deal with the counterevidence presented by the human rights groups and Israeli soldiers themselves. I told you to go to the Breaking the Silence website. Wny don't you listen, at the vest least, to the confessions of Israeli soldiers that witnessed or participates. Why are you so willing to cherry-pick evidence.

The world isn't flat, you know.

But not everybody dropped the claim that the Palestinians were si

Anonymous said...

Anyone who ever read 1984 would know better that to create a criterion called "Purity of Arms". It an example of the Israeli "most moral x in the world" syndrome.
The US has "greatest x in the world" syndrome. and France ""most reasoned reasonable and cultured x in the world"-- but see each statement in the light of its own national folly

Anonymous said...


I have read enough IDF soldiers' testimonies and talked to enough former soldiers to understand the "logic" behind the soldiers who killed the two unarmed young men and didn't kill the rest of the group they were with. It has become acceptable for IDF soldiers to kill anyone who is "fighter age", i.e. from 15-35 years old, because the thought process of many IDF soldiers goes that all Palestinian men that age either are fighters or will soon become fighters. So it isn't really necessary to have them shoot at you to be "justified" in shooting them. You have killed a "fighter" even though you killed an unarmed civilian, or so the warped mind set goes. This mindset is not discouraged by the IDF. You do not need to kill Palestinian women or children who accompany these young boys and men because no one in the IDF will listen to what a Palestinian eyewitness has to say. They are totally discounted, even if time after time the eyewitness accounts have proved to be accurate. After all, they are only Palestinian, or so the thinking goes. If you kill the women and children you might have trouble getting the IDF to believe that they were firing at you, but you can lie about a young Palestinian boy or man firing at you and no one in authority will question you at all. That is the "ethic" of the IDF.

Anonymous said...

You're not very good at reading comprehension, JL Whitewater. It's simply a fact that an Israeli general initially claimed "hundreds" dead in Jenin, and that obviously fueled suspicions that there was a massive coverup.

And it didn't take "half a year" for people to "admit" that the death toll was only about 50, almost all fighters. It took people a few weeks to discover the death toll was about 50, nearly half of them civilian, some killed in war crimes.

May 2002 HRW report

The human rights groups did their job, correcting the initial wildly inflated reports with sober investigations revealing war crimes on a much smaller scale. You, on the other hand, are clinging to lies.

Anonymous said...

I wonder, though, J Whitewater, where you got your collection of half-truths? I remember it all at the time--I was one of those who initially gave credence to the possibility of 500 dead, in part because of the Israeli general's statement, only to find out a few weeks later that the truth was the civilian death toll was in the 20's, though with evidence of IDF war crimes. The claim that "almost all" of the 50 were combatants apparently comes from the Israeli government, and it bears a family resemblance to the claims the US government makes every time it kills a bunch of Afghan civilians in an air raid. Governments do this sort of thing.

You must be reading dishonest summaries of who said what and when. The summaries you read must say that Palestinians initially made wild claims, which is true, and that some Westerners believed them, which is true, but leaves out that the human rights groups did a thorough investigation within a few weeks.

Anonymous said...

BBC News, April 18, 2002. Note the Amnesty investigator who claimed to "know" that whole families were buried under the rubble, and the eyewitnesses who told them so:

A British forensic expert who has gained access to the West Bank city of Jenin says evidence points to a massacre by Israeli forces.

Prof Derrick Pounder, who is part of an Amnesty International team granted access to Jenin, said he has seen bodies lying in the streets and received eyewitness accounts of civilian deaths.

The Dundee University expert said the Amnesty investigation has only just begun but Palestinian claims of a massacre were gaining foundation as the team continued its analysis.

He said: "The truth will come out, as it has come out in Bosnia and Kosovo, as it has in other places where we've had these kinds of allegations.

"I must say that the evidence before us at the moment doesn't lead us to believe that the allegations are anything other than truthful and that therefore there are large numbers of civilian dead underneath these bulldozed and bombed ruins that we see."

The professor said recovering the bodies would be difficult because many buildings collapsed during bombardment.

He said: "We know there are families who were there and killed and buried.

"We were on the ruins yesterday and two elderly men came forward, each of them pointed to where their houses had been and one of them told us that 10 members of his family were buried under the rubble."

Anonymous said...

Guardian, April 17. 2002:

A senior Palestinian, Nabil Shaath, accused Israel of carrying out summary executions and removing corpses in refrigerated trucks. He said close to 500 people had been killed. Israel says 70 Palestinian fighters died in the fighting. "The Israeli army took six days to complete its massacre in Jenin and six days to clean it up," Mr Shaath said.

Jerry Haber said...


Can you contact me via my gmail address


Jay Dub said...

Jerry, my point is not that no IDF soldier has ever shot a Palestinian in cold blood. There was a particularly heinous case in 2004 or 05 where an IDF soldier claimed he accidentally discharged a weapon and killed a Palestinian toddler at a checkpoint.

My point is that I believe it's incredibly unfair to discount the IDF's story and credit the Palestinian version, when there is a plethora of examples where Palestinian civilians outright fabricated stories in Jenin, and Palestinian officials and human rights officials cried wolf about massacre for weeks straight. Where was the Amnesty International official getting his information when he claimed evidence pointed to a massacre? He was clearly getting it from his own subjective bias and any eyewitness testimony presented to him.

As for the HRW account of the war crimes: consider the fact that IDF soldiers had to enter houses, many of which they knew were boobytrapped or housing Hamas fighters. Wouldn't you be quick to pull the trigger if someone in the house surprised you?

If anything, the fact that fewer Palestinian civilians than IDF soldiers died in a refugee camp laden with booby traps and Hamas terrorists is a tribute to the morality and discipline of the IDF.

Now as to this case in question, it'd be one thing if the IDF had managed to kill every Palestinian male of possible fighting age, but they didn't. The cousins who told the story were the same age as the two boys who were killed. So again, I ask, why would IDF soldiers deliberately kill a couple of males in cold blood, let other similarly aged males live, and do it in front of witnesses who can then go to journalists with a sensational war crime story?

Jerry Haber said...


Please read the testimonies of IDF soldiers on the Breaking the Silence website.

For example, revenge killings by IDF soldiers:

"We heard about the (Palestinian) attack at Eyn Arik from our radio news reports. The following night….we received the Operation Order. For the same night. The Order called to approach three Palestinian checkpoints, manned by Palestinian Police in the Nablus area, from what I remember: approach three positions, and shoot at the Palestinian Police."

"Who gave the order? The commanding officer of the Unit? "

The commanding officer. The Brigade Commander was also present.

Who is the Brigade Commander?

Brigadier Cochavi. I remember him as he hung around there. I don’t remember whether he himself gave us the Order. It was a very rapidly drawn up Battle Plan.

What exactly were you told in that Order?

Again, I don’t remember an orderly drawn-up Order. We didn’t sit through any briefing , maybe only officers did, I don’t remember. But I do remember we were told to shoot at the Palestinian policemen.

Was ‘revenge’ mentioned?

We used it, indeed. That was at our level and at the level of the unit commander. Again, I don’t remember if the Brigade Commander used that term… but that was what we were told. Even if it wasn’t spelled out, it was clearly implied. It was definitely there—just so you’ll understand the situation, these were Palestinian policemen that we advised about our operations."

Anonymous said...


If you read the HRW report, you'll find some incidents that can't be explained away as civilians shot by accident.

What's frustrating about the I/P conflict are the number of people who just can't face up to the fact that both sides commit war crimes. There are a few people on the far left who excuse Palestinian terrorism, but more commonly, you have people who will make any and every argument possible to excuse the Israelis.

And to the other anonymous--the fact that people were initially misled into thinking that war crimes in Jenin were on a much larger scale than was in fact the case doesn't mean very much. There are exaggerations of that sort in most conflicts--the fact remains that the human rights groups investigated those stories, refuted them, and put out reports about the real (but smaller scale) war crimes that did occur and they did this within weeks. Nowadays one is more likely to encounter people who believe that because hundreds weren't murdered in Jenin, nobody was murdered at all.