Another case of the “telephone-like” chain of transmission of indictments against Israel that magnify with each retelling. Nor is the NYT the only case. Barry Rubin has looked into the evidence, and behold, it is insubstantial to say the least. Now why hasn’t Bronner covered the much more substantial evidence in the opposite direction?
An Informal Note: Claims about the IDF in Gaza War
Here is the status of this story.
So far only two specific anecdotes have been told.
In one, two Palestinians went in the wrong direction when being directed to safety by soldiers and were killed by a sniper in a different location who saw them approaching the lines. Given the frequent use of people who appear to be civilians as suicide bombers, his orders were to shoot. This is a regrettable accident but even the accuser said it was not done on purpose. This is clearly — if it happened at all (see below) an accident of the kind that happens in war.
The second was that an officer told soldiers to shoot a woman. In the Western media stories it appeared she wasn’t doing anything and this was completely bloodthirsty. But on closer reading of the original story she was approaching the soldiers after being warned not to do so. She was probably innocent but could have been a suicide bomber.
However even this story is not so impressive. If you look at the material, note that while an officer wanted to shoot her, soldiers argued with him, which hardly sounds like some militaristic savagery. Moreover it was not clear that she was shot in the end, merely that there was an argument over whether to shoot someone who was approaching soldiers in a suspicious way.
The only other specific statement cited was by a soldier who said he objected to the rules of engagement that said when you enter a place you believe might be dangerous you kick in the door and shoot anyone who appears unless it is immediately apparent they are not a threat. This is standard practice among armies in such situations and is even standard for American police forces. In addition, even this soldier gave no example of any civilian killed in this situation.
But wait, there’s more! On further investigation by the media here, two specific sources were identified as the source of these stories:
1. A soldier, identified by name in the Israeli media, who said that he did not witness these events but heard them as stories or rumors. In short, there is no evidence that either of these things actually happened at all.
2. A soldier known for extreme left-wing activity, also identified by name, who previously authored an anti-Israel article in a book with a preface by Noam Chomsky is the other source.
3. So far no date, places or names have been given even to give any basis for believing that either of these incidents even happened.
This does not prove that nothing bad happened or that every Israeli soldier acted properly every day. But it shows the media coverage of this story is typical of the kind of eagerness to bash Israel and to misrepresent things. It also does testify to the high moral level and care given to doing things right by the great majority of Israeli soldiers.
The better articles, like that of Ethan Bronner — who I attacked in a previous post about another story but deserves credit here — pointed out that there was a real dilemma about how much to risk soldiers’ lives to protect civilians. What do you do if someone who appears innocent keeps walking toward you and refuses to halt? Do you shoot or try to walk up and talk to them, risking getting blown up or killed by an enemy sniper?
This is why, by the way, international regulations forbid the use of civilians as human shields or belligerents dressing in civilian clothes: because if that happens the chance of innocent civilians getting killed goes sky high. And it is clearly Hamas’s policy to use civilians and civilian clothes and homes in these ways to court the death of civilians both to protect their gunmen and to bring favorable propaganda. The media generally shows little interest in such stories.
To cite only one example, a Palestinian ambulance driver said in an interview how Hamas fighters made him transport them at gunpoint. Not only does this tie up ambulances supposed to be used for genuine wounded people but it makes soldiers know they might need to fire at an ambulance after gunmen jump out and start shooting at him.
Meanwhile, much of the media uncritically repeated stories that were either wrong or outright Hamas propaganda on many occasions, including casualty figures that came from Hamas supporters but were treated as fact. What is most disturbing is that lessons are not drawn from previous experiences. In Lebanon in 2006, for example, the media reported that all Lebanese casualties were civilians until it was shown that this was far from the truth. As Richard Landes and others have shown, atrocity stories are often carefully produced without any basis in fact. (The Dura case, see an earlier post, the so-called Jenin massacre, etc).
As of this moment, regarding both the 2006 Lebanon war and the Gaza war, there is not a single documented case of Israeli soldiers violating international regulatiions regarding war or IDF standards.