Another epistemological challenge. Tim McGirk of Time Magazine has a report of an Israeli randomly murdering three little girls and an old lady. Pay attention to his idea of what constitutes confirmation of allegations he repeats as true. (H/T Cynic)
Voices from The Rubble
By Tim McGirk / Jebel al-Kashif Thursday, Jan. 29, 2009
A scene of the devastation near a house in Jebel al-Kashif where Palestinians say three young girls were shot by an Israeli soldier. Two of the girls later died.
Standing with his grieving wife, Khaled Abed Rabu insists on showing the old report cards of his 7-year-old daughter Suwad as if the fact that she was an excellent student makes her death any more unfair or inexplicable. He reads out the teacher’s comments in a faltering voice. “See?” he says. “She was the best student in her class.”
You can measure the destruction in Gaza by the number of bombs dropped or buildings flattened or the price to rebuild it all, but the real cost lies within people like Abed Rabu, whose pain and sense of loss are apparent from the moment you meet him. Two weeks after the end of Israel’s 22-day operation against Hamas militants, the battle to control the story of what happened in Gaza continues. The U.N. and human-rights groups accuse the Israeli military of using disproportionate force and even of committing war crimes. The Israeli government has responded to such charges by arguing that Hamas deliberately positioned weapons and fighters in areas populated by civilians. Israel has begun investigating some of the more egregious allegations about civilian deaths, which are multiplying as Gaza picks itself up from the rubble. One such account was presented to Time by Abed Rabu. (See pictures of heartbreak in the Middle East.)
Abed Rabu says his daughter Suwad died in Gaza on Jan. 7, the day Israeli tanks churned across the strawberry fields and knocked their way into a little park about 20 yards (18 m) from the family home. Residents of Jebel al-Kashif recall being warned by the Israelis through loudspeakers to evacuate their homes. “There was no fighting, so we weren’t too worried when the Israelis told us to leave,” Abed Rabu recalls. “I told my girls, ‘Don’t be scared. We’ve done nothing to the Israelis, so they won’t hurt us.'”
Talal made the same verisimilitudinous remarks about Israelis not attacking unarmed people in the al Durah case: “I was afraid the Israelis would think that my camera was a weapon and shoot me,” implying that they don’t shoot cameramen.
The patriarch says he herded his wife, mother and three young daughters, Amal, 2; Samar, 4; and Suwad to the door and gave the children a white flag to wave. “Two Israeli soldiers were beside their tank, eating chocolate and potato chips,” he recounts, waving empty wrappers bearing Hebrew writing that he found later in the debris. “It was like a picnic for them.”
According to Abed Rabu, a third Israeli soldier then popped out of the tank with an M-16 and fired a single shot. “I didn’t understand what happened,” says Abed Rabu. “I thought he was firing in the air, and then I looked down and saw my 2-year-old daughter lying there with her insides spilling out.
“I started screaming, ‘Why are you doing this?’ And then the soldier shot my two other girls. My wife fainted. And when my mother tried to drag Suwad inside the house, the soldier shot my mother in the chest, her shoulder and her leg.”
This is an incomprehensible narrative. What — other than sheer malice and a reckless disregard for the IDF rules of military activity — could motivate this series of murders? Who — other than someone who believes that the Israelis are covert Nazis — would find this account reliable? And, as E.G. noted, if the Israeli soldier shot the girls and the mother, why did he not shoot the rest of the family, especially the father?
Interviews with Abed Rabu’s wife Kauthar, his mother-in-law and three neighbors, including Saad Abed Rabu and Khadra Abed Rabu (from the same clan), matched his account of the shootings, and certainly the family’s grief and anger appear genuine.
The story was confirmed by his family? That’s corroborating evidence what? For a more extensive analysis of the multiple contradictions in the various versions of this account as reported to — and dutifully repeated as true by the Sidney Morning Herald and the Independent, see Israellycool (at 4:05, H/T Dimitry P).
Of course, the notion that they might be lying to him doesn’t apparently occur to McGirk. Apparently he hasn’t either viewed Pallywood, or read accounts like this:
“We come across a local family in one of the buildings. Grandparents, a few young parents, some children and a few toddlers. Sitting on a rug, their legs are covered in blankets and two soldiers are standing guard nearby. “What about them?” I ask. “They’re free to go if they want to, but they don’t want to,” said Eilon Perry, Givati’s operations officer. “They informed us they would be staying in the house and we have no choice but to accept that.”
The family suddenly notices the cameras, and immediately, the expression on their faces changes. “We have no food,” they say in Arabic, as one of the youngsters suggests we interview him in English about their plight. Givati troops are extremely concerned about being portrayed as abusing innocent civilians. Perry points to a stack of canned goods, water bottles and other provisions. “We provided some of that and they cook and eat quite well,” he said. The Palestinians seem to understand him and one of them smiles. It’s a war – they had to try.”
As for the remark, “certainly the family’s grief and anger appear genuine” is quite remarkable. What makes McGirk think he knows what is genuine? What basis does he have for judging? Has he ever, in his career, discarded evidence from Palestinians? Has he ever published an account of Palestinians trying to lie to him?
Two of the daughters died of bullet wounds, Palestinian doctors say, while the third, Samar, was evacuated from Shifa Hospital by the Red Crescent through Egypt and airlifted to a Belgian hospital, where she lies paralyzed. “Samar still doesn’t know that her two sisters died,” says Abed Rabu. “We don’t want to shock her while she is still so fragile.”
They may have died? But who killed them? Their grief may indeed be real, but is their anger directed where it’s deserved? Where are the bullets? Does it even occur to McGirk that he’s might be being used?
Whether the Israeli troops believed they were under threat when they opened fire is unclear. Most residents of Jebel al-Kashif claim there were no Hamas fighters in the area at the time of the alleged incident, but a middle-aged farmer in a battered army jacket took me aside and said, in a near whisper, that Hamas had been firing rockets from the vicinity of where the episode took place. An Israeli military spokesman told journalists investigating the shootings that the army had no information on the alleged incident but said the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is “currently engaged in postoperational investigations.” The IDF has stressed that Israeli troops were under orders to protect civilians during the offensive and have accused Hamas fighters of using civilians as human shields.
This makes matters even more confused. If Hamas were shooting from the area as the farmer whispered, then Israelis probably would have fired back with mortars rather than bullets? Could the girls have died from shrapnel? Did McGirk check at the hospital?
In any case, given this piece of contradictory evidence — which seems to have a certain epistemological priority since it is a) unsolicited and b) given at risk to his own life — undermines the narratives offered by his main source. For more evidence that this area was a major site of military activity by Hamas and conflict between the resident clan (Abed Rabu) who resisted their use of it, see Israellycool (at 7:33 PM). This story could well be a pay-off.
After the shootings, Abed Rabu says, he dragged his wounded children and mother into the doorway and shouted for help. “I could see an ambulance nearby,” he says. The ambulance driver, Samiyeh al-Sheikh, who lives close by, said he heard shots and screams coming from Abed Rabu’s house. “But when I tried to go toward them, the Israeli soldiers beat me up. Then, with a bulldozer, the soldiers backed the ambulance against my house and crushed it like sand.” The twisted wreckage of the ambulance, partly buried under a house, was visible when reporters arrived several days later.
Wow. This is straight out of the Al Durah playbook. Exactly what Talal claimed — with no evidence — about efforts to save the little Muhammad as he lay bleeding for twenty minutes. The twisted wreckage is evidence? Does he have a photo? Does the final resting place confirm the narrative? Is the Milky Way proof that Phaeton lost control of Apollo’s chariot?
Indeed, CAMERA points out multiple inconsistencies in the ambulance driver’s claims to different reporters.
Inside his house, Abed Rabu moved his injured family under the staircase for protection. Frantic, he began phoning the Red Crescent, friends with cars, anyone who might help him reach a hospital. His 2-year-old daughter, shot in the stomach, was demanding water. “I wet her lips with my finger. It was all I could do,” says Kauthar, the mother.
For two hours, Abed Rabu says, he was unable to summon help or move from the house. He says he pleaded with the soldiers to let him leave with his injured family, but they refused. Finally, his aged father picked up Samar in his arms and stood in the doorway. He said, “I’m willing to risk my life to take her to the hospital.” This time, Abed Rabu says, the soldiers allowed them out. He and nine family members followed, carrying the two other wounded children and their grandmother. “I couldn’t tell if Suwad and Amal were still breathing, but there was still a chance they might be alive,” says Abed Rabu. “As we walked up the road, the soldiers shot at the dirt around our feet.” Abed Rabu says he carried his daughters more than a mile. By the time they reached the hospital, the girls were dead.
Who would dare question so pathos-ridden a narrative? Only a heart of stone. And yet… if Hamas was responsible for these deaths — as they may well have been for the deaths of the Ghalia family on the beach, if, as in so many other cases, the narrative does not match the evidence… then what?
Abed Rabu sits alone beside his blasted home. “I don’t understand. I’m not Hamas. My girls weren’t Hamas. Why did they do this to us?” he asks. In a reply to TIME’s query, the military press office said, “The Israel Defense Forces is an ethical army and … has no knowledge of such an incident.”
I’d like to know what’s left out of this quote at the elipsis. But in any case, unless it’s a dramatic warning to McGirk that he may be reporting an outright lie and should be most careful before publishing it because there will be consequences for his accreditation, it’s just one more of the feckless responses to the wave of accusations that have been hitting Israel for decades now.
I have no corroborating evidence from the IDF or any other source for my speculation. My contentions are as follows:
1) The incident did not happen as reported, in particular, the cold-blooded murder of children. That is the core of the blood libel; it was the black heart of the Al Durah affair and so many other accusations (including Chris Hedges); and never has there been a case proven of such behavior by the IDF.
2) I suspect that these people were hit either by collateral damage or by Hamas, intentionally or unintentionally. We need real evidence of the nature of their wounds, and testimony from the Israeli soldiers stationed there. CAMERA provides additional information from other sources (from the time of the incident) in which it is fairly clear they were collateral damage killed by a shell.
What Do Palestinian Sources Say about the Abed Rabbo Sisters?
According to the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency, the Abed Rabbo girls were not shot dead in cold blood as they wave white flags. Rather, the day of the incident, on Jan. 7 the agency reported, under the headline “Airstrike kills three sisters during supposed lull”:
Israeli warplanes killed three Palestinian civilians on Wednesday afternoon during what Israel had earlier declared to be a unilateral three hour halt in its attacks on Gaza. . . .
Medics at Kamal Udwan Hospital confirmed that three sisters were killed by Israeli fire in the east of Jabaliya Refugee Camp. The sisters were identified as two-year-old Amal, four year-old Su’ad and six-year-old Samar. Others were injured, medics said.
Likewise, Palestinian Satellite Channel TV from Ramallah reported on Jan. 7:
The Israeli shelling of the northern strip has been renewed after the end of the three-hour truce announced by the occupation forces at noon. However, Israeli warplanes continued intensive overflights of Gaza. The sources noted that the Israeli warplanes carried out four air strikes on areas in northern Gaza. The sources added that the occupation’s planes bombarded areas in Jabaliyah, causing the martyrdom of three sisters. (Translated by BBC World Monitoring)
In yet another version of events, Palestinian medical officials told the Los Angeles Times that the girls were killed by a tank shell:
Palestinian medical officials said three sisters from the Abed Rabbu family – Suad, 6; Amal, 4; and Samar, 2 – were killed by an Israeli tank shell in Jabaliya.
Ha’aretz likewise reported:
The war returned in the evening. Electricity went out, and the water supply was disrupted. An artillery shell struck the Abed Rabbo home in the northeast Strip, killing three girls, aged 2, 4 and 6.
(Strangely, all of the accounts which attribute the deaths to either air strikes or tank artillery — and not to a cold blooded execution — state that three sisters, not two, were killed.)
3) As it stands this article represents gross negligence on the part of the author, who should have done much more legwork before reporting it. He should be fired.
4) The Israelis need to weigh in quickly.
UPDATE with important details from Elder of Ziyon.
UPDATE II: From the IDF Spokesperson’s Desk
This is the official statement the IDF made (and presumably, lay between McGirk’s elipsis):
“After an additional investigation conducted by the Israel Defense Forces with the Southern Command and the commanders present in the region, we have found no evidence of such an incident.
The IDF soldiers and officers who served in Gaza during operation Cast Lead acted according to the IDF’s core values and as such Hamas operatives – not uninvolved Gazans – were the targets of their missions.
The IDF recommends a thorough investigation of any baseless claims. The Israel Defense Forces is an ethical army and, as noted, has no knowledge of such an incident.”
We’ve got a long way to go before the IDF realizes what it’s dealing with, and the MSM realizes how irresponsible they are, including the devastating consequences of that irresponsibility.
UPDATE III: Tamar Sternthall at CAMERA does an extensive analysis of the multiple contradictions in the various testimonies and alternative accounts of these incidents.