Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Thinking Person’s Guide to the Abu Rahmeh Story

Until new evidence emerges, it is possible – and important – to summarize what can be reasonably believed about the death of Jawahir Abu Rahmeh at the Bil'in protest last Friday. It is always interesting for partisans (and my sympathies are clear) to attempt to step back and examine critically the evidence. Jawahir Abu Rahmeh's death is a personal and familial tragedy, but the reactions to it speak volumes about where the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is heading.

For more details on the evidence, see two articles by Avi Issacharof (and one with Amos Harel) here and here. What follows is based, inter alia, on their (mostly) fair reporting.

There is no serious ground for disputing that Jawahir Abu Rahmeh was at the demonstration though not as an active participant. There is no serious ground for disputing that she inhaled tear gas and was affected by it. There is no serious ground for disputing that she died after her inhalation of tear gas, and that her death was related to that inhalation. What is clear to some and not clear to others is the nature of that relation. Amos Harel and Avi Issacharof argue in today's Haaretz that because nobody else died from tear gas at the demonstration, the tear gas could not have been a decisive factor in her death. This, of course, is fallacious reasoning. Every year millions of people suffer from the flu but only a tiny fraction of those die. It is rare for people to die from flu, but people do indeed die from flu, and not only those who have other medical conditions. (Coincidentally, Haaretz ran an article today about a 15-year old boy who died from the flu "who was not known to have prior conditions." Nobody questions the cause of his death because it is in nobody's interest to question it.) It is rare for people to die from tear gas inhalation, but people do die from it, and not only those with other medical conditions. As Paul Woodward pointed out yesterday on War in Context

The U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine warns that at a concentration of 2mg per cubic meter, CS gas "is immediately dangerous to life…" The Army advises, in the event of inhalation: "remove the victim to fresh air immediately; perform artificial respiration if breathing has stopped; keep the victim warm and at rest; seek medical attention immediately."

There is also no serious ground now for disputing that Ms. Abu Rahmeh had been suffering from water in her inner ear, dizzy spells, and problems of balance several days before the demonstration, that she had gone to doctors and taken tests, including a CT scan, which did not show anything out of the ordinary. Whether this in any way contributed to her death is not known now, nor will it be known, barring exhuming the body and performing an autopsy (even then?) But nobody in or out of the IDF has given any plausible hypothesis linking these symptoms to her death, even as a contributing factor. Until medical experts do so, why would anybody assume otherwise – unless that person had an agenda.

Haaretz and others (including myself) have misdescribed the competing views on the Abu Rahmeh story has a "conflict of narratives." At the moment, however, it is not clear what the Israeli counter-narrative is, besides "Abu Rahmeh did not die from the inhalation of tear gas." What we have here is one side with an account, and the other side skeptical of the account, without having any serious evidentiary basis for a counter-account. And only one side, the Israeli side, has had to backtrack repeatedly from early questions raised.

Had the IDF acted wisely, it would have announced that it was launching its own investigation and simply conceded that Abu Rahmeh died from the tear gas, expressed regret, and said that it saw no reason to switch to another method of crowd control because this was a rare occurrence. Instead, General Mizrahi tried to poke holes in the Palestinian account, convincing nobody but the hard-core rightwing bloggers and some Jewish supporters of Israel. As many of those holes have been subsequently filled, this heavy-handed tactic has backfired. Now the story is not whether tear gas is an acceptable method of crowd control, but rather whether the IDF is acting credibly (or rationally) in its move to put out fires. The Abu Rahmeh story is much bigger now than it would have been because of the IDF's heavy-handed attempt to turn it into a war of competing narratives.

The other side of the story is the complicity of the Israeli media in all this. With the exception of Haaretz media outlets have swallowed everything that Mizrahi and the conspiracy theorists have put forth. Not their finest hour; one could describe it better as a series of "Srak Srak" moments. (That's a reference to the conspiracy theorists who deny that Yigal Amir assassinated Yitzhak Rabin.)

Unfortunately, this is yet another case of the IDF shooting tear gas at itself.

13 comments:

willyrobinson said...

"Until new evidence emerges, it is possible – and important – to summarize what can be reasonably believed about the death of Jawahir Abu Rahmeh"

It is important - thanks for taking the time, I've been following all of your posts on this and greatly appreciate your honesty, thoroughness and the speed at which you've put this together. These kinds of tactics are way below the belt.

bacci40 said...

sorry jerry, but the vid and photo that are making the rounds on the nets, allege that she was an active participant...cant have it both ways

amazingly, the woman showed in the vid and photo, has her face obscured...and also seems to have no problem dealing with the gas that can be seen clearly in both.

as to your earlier assertion that muslims, like jews, have problems with autopsies....what about Ziad Jilani? didnt his family demand an independent autopsy, to prove he was murdered by the border police?

and is it normal procedure for the hospitals and er workers in the pa to write their reports, in bad,broken english

and forget others dying....why was not one other person treated for inhalation of that poison gas?

give it up jerry....we all know pallywood

we will never know what caused the death of jawahir...unless the family allows the body to be exhumed....but they dont want justice

and as this is a straight out blood libel...you are treading on very dangerous ground

Tamar Orvell said...

Ulpan lesson of the day: Srak Srak ... ma zeh? I found reference only to an Israeli film by that name. Would you translate, if relevant, and explain how the term came to refer to the Rabin assassination?

Jerry Haber said...

bacci40

"sorry jerry, but the vid and photo that are making the rounds on the nets, allege that she was an active participant...cant have it both ways

amazingly, the woman showed in the vid and photo, has her face obscured...and also seems to have no problem dealing with the gas that can be seen clearly in both."

bacci40, what evidence do you have that this vid and picture have anything to do with jawahir abu rahmeh? Are you so gullible? It hasn't been mentioned in any media except the neo-nazi bloggers you hang around with.

As for autopsies, what possible reason could there be for them to do one? The IDF is not responsible for her death if it legally used tear gas, unlike the border police case. The family will get no benefit from an autopsy at all.

"and forget others dying....why was not one other person treated for inhalation of that poison gas?"

Nobody said the gas was poison. What is wrong with you? And people were treated for tear gas inhalation; but none had such a violent reaction to it. Maybe she was allergic to this tear gas. Have you heard of the term "allergy"? We know that this tear gas can be lethal and has been lethal -- that is what the US army says.


"is it normal procedure for the hospitals and er workers in the pa to write their reports, in bad,broken english"

rightwing commenter do all the time

bacci40, why don't you read some of the holocaust deniers. Do you know how similar you are to them.

Even the IDF has backed off from some of the claims it made -- leaving only the rightwing nut cases out there still arguing.

Disturany said...

Yes- indeed the debated has broadened. Most of the skeptic's are content to use circumstnatial evidence - towing the line of the IDF. Bacci40 above is a great example, it is worrying how he/she contrues increased involvment in the protest as underming the story. As an outside this highlights her potential exposure to the gas while excercising her right to protest. Let's not forget the context: CS gas is being used against civilians protesting the building of an illegal wall built on foreign land (their land). Bil'in is in the W. Bank and a protest there is no threat to any Israeli citizen.

Disturany said...

Yes- indeed the debated has broadened. Most of the skeptic's are content to use circumstnatial evidence - towing the line of the IDF. Bacci40 above is a great example, it is worrying how he/she contrues increased involvment in the protest as underming the story. As an outside this highlights her potential exposure to the gas while excercising her right to protest. Let's not forget the context: CS gas is being used against civilians protesting the building of an illegal wall built on foreign land (their land). Bil'in is in the W. Bank and a protest there is no threat to any Israeli citizen.

Truegreta said...

I'm amazed at some of you apologists for Israeli brutality. First of all, none of you has EVER and I mean, EVER, been at these demonstrations in Bil'in. For those of us who have been (and I was there for several weeks in 05 and 07), we can all attest to the fact that the tear gas used, even then, caused us injuries, some of us having to go to hospitals for inhalation of tear gas.

Second, and this is MUCH more important: the Israeli army has NO RIGHT to be there in the first place. They are on illegal ground shooting tear gas, sound bombs, rubber coated bullets and live ammo at those of us peacefully demonstrating for the rights of the Palestinians.

You 'armchair' warriors make me ill. This woman, like her brother, was protesting the illegal seizure of her land. It is the illegal actions of an occupying force that should be on trial here, and not whether Jawahir had a pre-existing condition.

Some of you are disgusting

Michael Davis said...

Tamar,
Yizhak Rabin's assassin called out "srak, srak", (blank, blank) as he fired the three fatal shots at Rabin. Supposedly, he wanted to delay the reaction of Rabin's bodyguards.
The ruse was successful. Rabin's bodyguards did not fire on Yigal Amir. They would have been listening for "Allahu akbar" and not for Israeli military jargon.

Michael

Kol Shalom
cantormichaelsblog.blogspot.com

Bumbaclaat said...

Re: srak srak ... see this web page

Eric said...

Everything has been politicized by denial, blame shifting, and accusations of treason by the right. Their stock response (and often the Israeli governments response)is

1)It didn't happen.
2)It was their fault and we acted rationally.
3)It doesn't matter what the truth is, only traitors and seditious provocateurs would make such claims.
4) Our internal investigation will clear us of any responsibility for what was alleged to have occurred.
5) Arrest and seize the assets of the seditious provocateurs. If it is illegal to do so change or ignore the law!


Lesson well learned from totalitarians whether far right or far left. (No mention of lessons learned from or "moral equivalence to" the USSR or Germany in the 1930's is implied.

bacci40 said...

jerry, it is your side that is passing around the vid and the pic...not mine

if the line is now that she was watching the protest and not an active participant...why is your side passing around the pic and the vid?

bloggers dont write official reports...your comeback makes no sense

if someone is accused of a crime, that person has a right to defend his/herserlf

the idf had every right to request an autopsy and pertinent med records, and as the family has stated that they will be filing a lawsuit against the state, i believe the state will have every right to demand an autopsy be performed

as for your assertion that others were treated for gas inhalation....where are the reports?

Juan said...

Eric,

You left out point #6, which is:

"If the evidence shows we did it, we promise not to ever do it again."

Seth said...

Hi there,

This isn't about the article, but I didn't see your email address anywhere on your blog. Just wanted to let you know about this in the Forward, if you haven't seen it:

http://www.forward.com/articles/134451/

A Pacifist Leader Who Was More Prophet Than Politician
After Decades of Neglect, the Ideas of Judah L. Magnes Are Getting a Second Look