Nagle Responds: On the Value of Frank Discussion

Michael Nagle has sent me a number of lengthy comments/questions/challenges, and I responded to the last set in an independent post. Here I post his response, with few comments (since he agrees with me :-)). This time I am in blockquotes.


Thanks for an honest reply to my questions. I’m taking the opportunity to respond to them, in the hope that you won’t feel I’m demanding too much of your time. Anything you wish to post, please feel free.

You’ve made me rethink. I had what you might call a Eureka Moment. I was, as you say, going frame by frame through footage shot by a cameraman who is proven to have told lies designed to incriminate the IDF, and I was doing so on the unspoken assumption that, unless there were something in that footage which proved the Israelis innocent, we would be unable to exonerate them. I see now that this is to fall into precisely the pattern of thinking that Talal would hope we would.

So let me start again: Israel’s army is accused by Palestinians of murdering an unarmed child. Israel is entitled to be presumed innocent unless Talal’s footage somehow proves it guilty. Talal’s footage proves nothing except that his words are lies, and his words prove nothing, except that his footage is a lie. On that basis, Israel is innocent of the murder of Muhammed al-Dura.

I’d like to reply in more detail to your responses.

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?

You’re right. People stroll around, another ambles calmly along on a bicycle. It is inconceivable that hostile fire is coming from the nearby IDF position. Also, we seem to see shots impacting the side of the IDF outpost. Though we hear heavy gunfire, I agree with you that it does not seem to be coming from the IDF, and the Palestinian civilians present seem to agree with that assessment. This footage also reminded me of those scenes in Pallywood, scenes which demonstrated one thing clearly: large numbers of Palestinians are happy to take part in large-scale staged scenes, and stringers are happy to film them. This has to be the starting point for credible examination and assessment of Talal’s footage.

Eight times the father, three times the son?

No. I’ve just watched all the footage again. It’s not probable. It seems barely possible physically – and in any case it’s surely not what Talal’s footage shows happening. The footage doesn’t show them getting hit even once – let alone a total of 11 times. I spent too long thinking angles and physics. That’s fine, but common sense says watch the footage and decide what is probable. Talal stood watching for forty minutes while this child was targeted, but missed a total of 11 bullets hitting the pair. If that’s true, he sucks at his job, and I hear he’s an award-winning cameraman…

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. […] The holes tell us nothing certain, and hardly accord with the argument that the barrel was the object of withering fire for 40 minutes.

Only two holes in the barrel after forty minutes of fire, and a cameraman who watches for forty minutes but misses the eleven injuries. So far, then, we have an IDF whose troops are as inept with their rifles as Talal is with his camera. I assumed there were more holes. Isn’t that stupid? I assumed there would be more holes because I unconsciously swallowed half the story even while I sought evidence with which to exonerate the IDF. Again, you are right: things are quite clear – Talal’s story doesn’t match his footage, the footage doesn’t match the story. But somehow, unless we are careful, we can make the mistake of unconsciously merging them into one larger narrative, each of them telling a different part of the story, as though we were compiling a life of Christ by combining synoptic gospels.

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.

Like I said, they look round. They don’t look angled. I was looking for absolute proof, but I don’t need to – they look round.

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.

The blood moves between takes? Maybe it was trying to take cover from the withering Israeli fire! The problem is perhaps that people are not familiar enough with gunshot wounds (thankfully). I agree with you absolutely – they bleed. A lot. I also find it impossible to believe that Talal, who would have seen the shooting as ‘his’ scoop, failed to get the kind of footage that the western media love – lingering shots of pools of Palestinian blood. If this shooting had really happened, if I had been Talal, my footage wouldn’t have been complete without shots of the bloody aftermath, taken after the gunfire had ended.

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?

That’s perhaps true. I am giving the presumption of innocence to the wrong people. Similarly, I like to think my ‘standards’ are quite high, though perhaps I have in this instance been pointing them in the wrong direction!

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.

Lying about the bullets is damning. I agree. There is no explanation for those lies, other than the footage was not what Talal claimed it was. As for my ‘standards’, I’m not sure what you’re implying. If you’re suggesting that I am prepared to excuse lies as dangerous as Talal’s lies about the bullets, you’re wrong. I was merely putting myself in the shoes of an apologist for the Palestinian account of this incident. If you’re suggesting that someone who is simply trying hard to understand the truth of the issue, and is not used to dealing with this magnitude of deceit has no standards, I hope you’re wrong there too! But I take your point – having seen Pallywood, I acknowledge that we cannot project our own thought processes onto PA culture and its apologists.

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.

No self-criticism intended. I have friends who passionately embrace the It’s All Our Fault paradigm, but I am certainly not one of them. I’ll keep my scruples certainly, but my scruples from this point will include the knowledge that – based on so many examples from Jenin, to Qana, to Gaza Beach, and to Muhammed al-Dura – when allegations of Israeli atrocities arise from Arab sources, the presumption from which scrupulous investigation must properly begin is one of Israeli innocence until such a point as Israeli guilt is proved.

And that is something I didn’t realise until I read your work, so thank you for this knowledge. Richard, it’s been a real pleasure corresponding with you.

Many best wishes,

M Nagle.

Thanks for the comments. They may enter Neo-con’s casebook of how minds change. I was being sly when I said your standards are low. I meant that they’re low for the Palestinians. “Okay, so he lied… big deal.” But no, you have excellent standards, and your journey attests to the power of the “they can accuse Israel with virtually no reliable evidence and get away with it, Israel has to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that it’s innocent.” As a test case of civil society’s standards — innocent until proven guilty — the way the media and world opinion treats Israel is a sign of dangerous lapses of judgment. It’s like Enderlin going native with his “artistic truth” — the killing of al Durah “corresponded to the situation…” — or our universities allowing professors from authoritarian cultures to bring their bullying teaching techniques to our academic institutions.

We cannot afford these degradations of the standards of civil society, no matter how well intentioned and “tolerant” they might be their motivation.

One Response to Nagle Responds: On the Value of Frank Discussion

  1. Anat says:

    Excellent. Today is September 14, and let’s hope the Paris judges in Karsenty’s libel case will have the same high moral standards and clear unbiased thinking. I’m aware of the pessimistic predictions, but no doubt Philippe Karsenty and his friends do not expect an easy battle. The court case is not the end of the campaign but merely another milestone.
    Philippe’s courage and resolution are a beacon of light to us all.

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