Questions about the Events of September 30: Responses to M. Nagle

Here’s further honest questioning from Nagle. Good questions, not all of which I can answer.

Dear Richard Landes,

Many thanks for addressing my question in so full, so prompt, and unexpectedly public a way. As I have commented at Augean Stables, you cleared up my confusion.

I still have doubts. A chronological timeline of the day’s events would be hugely useful, and one seems to be in preparation here. Any news of how long that might take?

Working on it now. But it’s more of the larger-picture chronology. I know that Gabi Weimann’s students (including the Druze commander of the post that day), did a systematic chronology of the Reuter’s rushes. I’m still trying to get a hold of that.

Partly, my doubts are inspired by the chronology. As far as I can make out from the material available, the Palestinians began their day of violence by throwing tires, rocks, molotov cocktails etc towards the IDF post, and the Israelis did very little in response. However. I get the impression that, later, the day turned even more violent, with exchanges of heavy gunfire, as can be heard in the France 2 Raw footage, which also seems to show genuine casualties being loaded into an ambulance.

You’re right. The key passages are Segments 10-12 in the rushes. There you’ll note that when the firing begins there are Palestinians who make no move to take cover. My suspicion is that they know this is firing in the air. What other explanation could be plausible?

Talal’s footage seems to be of an entirely different order from the (earlier?) footage that we see in the excellent Pallywood documentary, it seems somehow more genuinely chaotic, less rehearsed and staged. In short, it kind of ‘looks’ convincing, as though beyond all the phoney gun battles and staging, things had got out of control.

Well, it’s the final 3.5 seconds, and it’s far “better” than anything he’d done that day. But it sure looks staged to me. You’ve got to see it in conjunction with the Reuter’s footage for the same time, and AP’s footage. The man shot in the leg by the jeep looks very suspicious to me, especially since they drag him by his injured leg and put him in the ambulance on that leg, and there’s no blood. Anyone really injured would have been screaming bloody murder., A runner goes across the street and tells the guy lying on one elbow and gesticulating wildly, looking like a a survivor of the Radeau de la Meduse, to drive the jeep away. Up he gets and off he goes.

I’m wrestling hard with myself here. I truly want the IDF to be innocent of this death, even though they were in the midst of a violent situation engineered by the Palestinians. However, I cannot allow my heart to overrule my head – it doesn’t feel good when I do that!

This is a fine description of intellectual integrity… and boy do we need some of that!

So, here are my problems:

a) There was a violent and, at times, heavy exchange of fire, including firing by the IDF towards Palestinian positions located close to where the father and son were crouching.

b) From diagrams and aerial photographs, I am not yet convinced that the physics make it impossible for the IDF to have shot Mohammed and his father. The fact that they were aiming in that direction would seem to be suggested even by those who seek to exonerate them, when they say in some accounts that there were indeed bullet marks on the other side of the concrete barrel, but that they did not penetrate it. If there were bullet marks there, then snipers were aiming towards it, and if they were aiming towards it, it’s because they had a target. In short, if it was possible to SEE a target there, surely it was by extension possible to HIT that target?

Eight times the father, three times the son?

There are only two holes in the barrel the next day, and no signs of shots that didn’t penetrate, no signs of the kind of sustained wild firing that Talal describes. Nothing says that two bullet holes could have been added by the PA later. You are assuming these tapes represent honest work and therefore what they show things as they really are. The alternate hypothesis — staging — represents a hypothesis of last resort, that is, when nothing else works. You have to consider staging as at least as plausible. The holes tell us nothing certain, and hardly accord with the argument that the barrel was the object of withering fire for 40 minutes.

c) The footage I have seen makes it all but impossible to see clearly that the bullets MUST have come from roughly ninety degrees to the wall. They appear as roughly circular pixel clusters. I need to see far more detail before being convinced that this detail alone exonerates the IDF. Given the historic and dramatic nature of this event, are there not more detailed photographs of the scene – of blood or bullet holes in particular – from later that day, or from the following day?

Cute. No. No bullets, no blood. The bullet shots need to be examined in the frame after impact (which we do in the documentary ASP II). There it’s circular. By the second frame the cloud has begun to blow downstream. But a shot from the Israeli angle would immediately produce on large cloud away from their position.

See my comments on the next day’s footage.

d) Similarly with the blood: There does appear to me to be a large darkish patch visible on the boy’s top as he lies at his father’s side after the purported shooting. It could be shadow, but it could be bleeding. I cannot in all honesty tell myself there is ‘no blood’, even though I may be surprised that there is not more. I would also love to SEE the evidence that there was little or no blood visible the following morning, until more was added for the media.

It’s hard to say what’s going on. Talal’s photography is (I think intentionally) poor and out of focus. I have seen sharper versions of this in Shahaf’s office frame by frame. The red (bleeding?) is on his thigh in the first (take 4), but has migrated to his stomach for the next two scenes (takes 5-6). You are right, though, I should not say “no blood.” Just not anywhere near what a stomach wound and twenty minutes of bleeding on the ground would produce. Look here for an example of what we might expect.

In essence, the IDF were firing; they had targets in broadly the same direction as the hiding father and child. I am not totally sure from the aerial photographs or diagrams that it was impossible for the IDF to have shot them, thinking them a legitimate target. I cannot see enough bullet hole detail to be sure that the shots did not come from the direction of the IDF post, and I seem to be able to see what might be blood in Talal’s footage.

That’s true: even though the holes in the wall seem like they’re from head on (circular entry holes), none of it is probative. But I think your standards are very low. If seeing what seems to be blood is all you’ve got for a scene in which a child bled to death for 40 minutes and an ambulance man was also shot to death, then that’s really not in the slightest convincing. No?

As for Talal’s palpable and obvious lies – it would be easy to explain them as partisan embellishments woven around an actual event.

It could be. But there’s no corroborating evidence except a bunch of “well if I squint my eyes and postulate several highly unlikely coincidences, then maybe…” Lying about the bullets? You’ve got to be kidding. Have you no standards? And yes, of course it’s partisan. That’s what Pallywood is.

Richard, please do not think this a hostile or argumentative message – I am a keen reader of your work, and think your efforts to get to the bottom of this killing are admirable and important.

It’s just that, supporting Israel as I do, and even knowing the propensity of the Palestinians to lie about these things, my head will still not let me entirely exonerate the IDF in this matter. It’s not a question of psychological resistance, it’s merely that the evidence as presented so far does not convince me as much as I would like it to.

You have the “we need 110% proof” problem. You’re right. It would be nice if we had the smoking gun to convince even the most skeptical. It’s still possible to look at all this and say, “It might have happened the way Talal says.” It’s the “we can argue about every frame” attitude of the media folk in comparison with the “no duh it’s a fake” response of your average teenager. It’s a legitimate concern, but, I’d argue, that concern reflects a typically (and in this region of the world, uniquely Israeli/Jewish attitude of self-criticism. So keep your scruples. But don’t project them by default onto the partisans of the other side.

3 Responses to Questions about the Events of September 30: Responses to M. Nagle

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