Time Magazine and Palestinian Sources: On the Origins of Modern Blood Libels

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.

36 Responses to Time Magazine and Palestinian Sources: On the Origins of Modern Blood Libels

  1. Dimitry Papkov says:

    A couple of relevant posts from Israellycool on this subject
    scroll down to 4:05pm

    scroll to 7:33 pm

  2. Eliyahu says:

    All the little Goebbelses are crawling out of their anthills and dungheaps. Maybe it’s because obama has taken office as prez and he started his presidency with demoting the American Jews, with humiliating them, in his inaugural address. Anyhow they are now more open, franker, with their Judeophobic smears. First there was bill moyers before the inauguration. Then bob simon did a 60-minutes “documentary” in which he claimed that Israel was practicing “apartheid”, at least in Judea-Samaria, although it wasn’t clear why. He left the reasons why he claimed “apartheid” cloudy. He seems to have been insinuating that the very fact that “Jewish settlers” were moving into Judea-Samaria was “apartheid,” as weird as that may seem, but we’re talking about cloudy innuendo which is part of psywar. [the power of suggestion].

    Now we have McGurk in Time magazine, a Hamas apologist rag from way back. Go back to 13 August 2007, for a sticky sweet version of Hamas governance in Gaza. See link here:


    As obama gets a firmer grip on power, the anti-Israel lies in the media may become thicker and heavier.

  3. E.G. says:


    Cynic deserves the H/T – s/he linked to the Time and made the comment.

    But I just found where I read the story before:
    scroll to 4:05PM where he links to the Sydney Morning Herald and to the Independent versionS, and raises a few interesting questions.

  4. E.G. says:

    In addition, the same site above, on Jan 31, 7:33PM provides some more information. There were actually 2 cases involving an Abed-Rabo family, in the same area: apparently it’s a clan’s property and one of the families was used as human shields.

  5. E.G. says:

    Quite a few insights about Gaza people, body-count and categorization, and journalistic practice there Life in Gaza is not ‘back to normal’ (at least, she translates on her own)

    “Everyone we meet has a tremendous need to tell his story. In minute detail. Again and again.”

    “…All of them – not only journalists – are flooding the Strip, taking notes, taking pictures, exchanging information, documenting and carefully cataloguing what are emerging as patterns, phenomena that repeat themselves…”

    The final phrase “The 6-year-old girl who we saw in the Zeytun neighborhood, who holds her hands up in the air in fear every time the photographer brings his camera near her, is not included in the list of the casualties.” is a masterpiece. One image evoked, at least 2 interpretations possible out of the ambiguous formulation, and the cruel (but to whom?) conclusion.

  6. Cynic says:

    The final phrase “The 6-year-old girl who we saw in the Zeytun neighborhood, who holds her hands up in the air in fear every time the photographer brings his camera near her, is not included in the list of the casualties.” is a masterpiece. for a photo=op?
    Is it that like Pavlov’s dogs they are well trained.
    What does one believe?

  7. Lorenz Gude says:

    I had dinner recently with an engineer friend who works in the Maghreb and asked him if he knew anything about the al Durah case and he answered that, if he remembered correctly, it was a ‘beat up.’ I mentioned this website and took some satisfaction at running across someone who knew about it. In the current case I am appalled how MSMers like McGurk churn out this stuff as if it were credible that an army which is working so hard at avoiding civilian casualties would have so little control over its soldiers that they go from eating candy bars to gut shooting little girls. Just like that. Poof. There is a familiar undercurrent here. Like hitting a red cross smack dab purrfectly in the center on an ambulance with a missile. The familiar undercurrent is that of pulp fiction where the villain is always caught out in the most purrrfect possible way. I’d say Time magazine and quite a few other MSM institutions continue to demonstrate that they belong in the er…dustbin of history.

  8. […] Richard Landes has an extensive post on the allegations of IDF murder made by palestinian Khaled Abed Rabu, which includes links to my […]

  9. Aussie Dave says:

    And here’s a different incident, but the same Pallywood on display (6:20PM update):

  10. Cynic says:

    Maybe in a similar fashion to some of those Pulitzer Prize winners ………….?

    Even Dry Bones, albeit in relation to the Turkry/Peres spat, has found it difficult to believe the versions:

    According to Der Spiegel … so I turned to the MEMRI Turkish Media Blog, where I read that Turkey’s state-run Anatolian News Agency has released ..
    He has a nice dig at the Europeans in the actual cartoon.

  11. Cynic says:

    It seems that Western society has become worm ridden with even scientists getting a lift from the media:
    Al Gore regards Hansen as an ‘objective scientist’, but in 2004 Hansen received a grant of $250,000 from the Heinz Foundation shortly before publicly endorsing Teresa Heinz’s husband, John Kerry, for the presidency.

    As Senator James Inhofe, of the US Committee on Environment and Public Works put it, “It appears the media makes a distinction between oil money and ketchup money.

    Certainly no politician is going to have an “in your face” question for the MSM’s agenda nor for the pulitzer prize attempts of their journalists.
    Where is the outrage at being hoodwinked?

  12. E.G. says:

    This is Haaretz report on both cases Aussie Dave referred to:

    Does anyone have an explanation for the recurring potato chips element? I can figure the ringlets’ significance in the British version, and the nasty “picnic” remark’s. But the chips?

  13. E.G. says:

    The Toronto Star on the Abu Halima tragedy

    And the NYT version – da*n moral equivalence aside. Or not.

  14. Cynic says:

    Does anyone have an explanation for the recurring potato chips element?

    Maybe pr***les was hoping for a mention?

    Seriously though from what I’ve heard over the years, it would have been given to the kids, along with other sweet treats, to ease their fears.
    Remember how in Jenin several soldiers were blown up by a “booby-trapped” kid when they went see why he was crying?
    Certainly cannot see them suddenly blasting away at kids.

  15. oao says:

    he started his presidency with demoting the American Jews

    he demoted america itself, by groveling to the iranians and syrians and getting humiliated in turn.

    As obama gets a firmer grip on power, the anti-Israel lies in the media may become thicker and heavier.

    he seems to be getting the grip not because but despite the fact that he’s an idiot. he knows politics for the gullible, which is easy, but not dealing with the arab/muslim bazaar which will wipe the floor with him.

    McGurk churn out this stuff as if it were credible that an army which is working so hard at avoiding civilian casualties would have so little control over its soldiers that they go from eating candy bars to gut shooting little girls.

    that’s all they’re capable of and it’s rather easy and popular. these are not journalists, but just “he says, she says” without the she, that is “pals say only”.

    It seems that Western society has become worm ridden with even scientists getting a lift from the media:

    american academic sources of funds have always biased and corrupted scientists–the notion that they are somehow always honest and objective is an illusion. I know because I was in academia for more than 15 years.

  16. Solomonia says:

    You Can Sell Anything in Gaza As Long As You’re Blaming Jews…

    It’s always a "bull market" for the international press when it comes to shocking stories of IDF soldiers and crying Gazans. Did an Israeli soldier pop out of a tank, machine gun several Arab children, and then smash up the……

  17. […] bookmarks tagged extensive Augean Stables » Time Magazine and Palestinian So… saved by 3 others     gaasakuXsasusaku12 bookmarked on 02/04/09 | […]

  18. justforall says:

    it is not first time Israeli army kills children.It is not surprise.It is how Israel understand cease-fire.
    I am getting surprised when i don’t see news regarding kids killed by Israeli army

    a couple of questions, justforall:
    1) do you think the Israeli army kills children on purpose? if so, why?
    2) is there any evidence that would convince you otherwise? or is this a matter of faith?
    3) do you think hamas kills palestinian children? on purpose?
    4) is there any evidence that would convince you otherwise?

  19. oao says:

    a couple of questions, justforall:

    such questions can be asked only if (a) you know nothing about the religion, culture, history and behavior of israelis/jews and arabs/palestinians. If you don’t want to be misled (the risk is almost 100% these days) I suggest you educate yourself on the subject from reputable, honest sources (not propaganda or the mainstream media). Otherwise, you have no way to assess the validity of the answers.

    1) do you think the Israeli army kills children on purpose? if so, why?

    IMPOSSIBLE!!!! not within the culture. I lived in israel 1961-1978 and served in the army, including one war.

    2) is there any evidence that would convince you otherwise? or is this a matter of faith?

    of course: empirical evidence objectively validated by multiple unbiased sources (which are currently hard to find).

    3) do you think hamas kills palestinian children? on purpose?

    they do not protect the children and use them for their own purposes. watch their tv — they indoctrinate the children with hatred. they train them to serve their own purposes. there are videos that show hamas thugs drag children next to them when they shoot rockets. children with bombs tied to them were deactivated by israeli army–seen on tv. they see all palestinians — children, elderly, women — as expendable in the cause of jihad, killing jews and destroying israel. mothers boast about giving birth to children so they become martyrs and bless them when they go detonate.

    4) is there any evidence that would convince you otherwise?

    how is that possible given the already ample empirical evidence, including the pals’ own???????

  20. oao says:

    you can go at random to reputable web site and harvest ample evidence of kid treatment. For example:


    i reiterate: westerners who have no ME experience and who dk much about the region, its religions and cultures, simply can’t conceive the barbarity of the arab/muslim culture.

    go watch hamas and fatah tv.

  21. Ak Khazar says:

    One of the first, trivial things that would make me suspicious is: How does this fellow know how to identify a military weapon at some distance–and as “an M-16”?

    To be sure, the M-16 (like the AK 47), is well known around the world, and people there have witnessed combat for years, but one could get more technical: Are we talking about the old M-16, or modified versions such as the M-16A2 or M4 carbine, etc.? IDF troops, e.g. especially elite units, are already being issued the newer Tavor assault rifle (which Israel has also begun to export, e.g. to India and Georgia).

    (If we are in fact talking about M-16’s, it’s also interesting to note that Hamas claimed to have captured large numbers of them when it forced out Fatah: http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1204473062672&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull)

    And after a *single shot* from a weapon that fires only a .22 bullet (admittedly, at high velocity), we get “insides spilling out”? Depends on a lot of things, such as the range, the part of the body struck, etc. Some early accounts of the weapon’s use suggested small entrance and exit wounds at short range, but a large exit wound when the weapon is fired at long range:


    It gets more complicated. See also :


    Just a thought, as Victor Davis Hanson says in the piece that you cite.

  22. […] is the same family and same incident — I believe — that later reworked the tale into a blood libel for credulous journalists like Time’s Tim McGirk. Now the “fact” (i.e. Statements) here are two: 1) the death toll (820) and the 2) […]

  23. E.G. says:


    These days IDF soldiers should not give snacks, less because they’d get booby-trapped kids in their face but because some “inventive” parent is likely to accuse them of distributing poisoned snacks. The evidence being, obviously, the K on the pack.

  24. E.G. says:

    Ak Khazar,

    Any Gazan child knows the differences among the various M-16 models. It’s included in the educational programme, sponsored by UNRWA and a few other NGO’s. For those who have visual problems (i.e. identifying the model from 500+ metres vantage point), there are complementary TV programmes. And updates on the net too.

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  31. […] in life is to wholesale lethal narratives about Israelis, have left the world with an image of Israeli soldiers as happy murderers of little kids. I think the smile on this man’s face tells us a great deal about the IDF: they’re much […]

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