Palestinians Caught in Another Libel?

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On January 2, 2011, a number of mainstream media outlets, including the New York Times, Washington Post, BBC, CNN, Reuters, AFP and The Independent, reported on the death of a Palestinian woman, Jawaher Abu Rahma, 36, allegedly killed by inhaling tear gas during a protest against Israel’s security barrier near the West Bank village of Bil’in.

Questions were raised at the time, not least as to how it was possible that non-lethal tear gas of the same kind used for riot control around the world could have adversely affected one person in this manner. Predictably, this didn’t stop the Palestinian propaganda machine from making accusations that Israel had employed some form of nefarious weapon.

In this case, the IDF was accused of mixing phosphorus with the tear gas despite the obvious fact that had this been the case, then everyone at the violent demonstration would have been affected and not just one individual.

Those questions have become even more acute following an IDF investigation into the incident. As YNet explains:

According to IDF officials, Abu-Rahma may have not even participated in the protest in question.

Sources familiar with the material said that unlike similar incidents in the past, the report about Abu-Rahma’s injuries arrived late and contained puzzling details.

According to the medical report, there was no clear cause of death, the burial was undertaken via an accelerated procedure, and no post-mortem was performed.

The information also reveals that Abu-Rahma was administered an unusual quantity of drugs, used to offer treatment against poisoning, drug overdose, or leukemia. Moreover, her family’s report that she was “hurt by Israeli gas” was not corroborated by any other source.

The IDF also discovered that the deceased was recently treated at a Palestinian hospital, a fact that was not mentioned in the medical reports.

Were the Palestinians lying? This would not be the first time that Palestinian deaths blamed on the IDF have turned out to be, at best, mistaken, or worse, outright libels.

Indeed as recently as April 2010, an allegation that the IDF had killed a Palestinian boy turned out to be false when the boy was found alive and well. We questioned the veracity of Palestinian medical sources as well as the media’s reliance on Palestinian “eyewitnesses” or spokespeople who have been found to be, at best, inaccurate and in some cases outright liars.

Is this another example of what David Harris of the AJC calls “confirmation bias” – the habit of favoring information that confirms what you believe, whether it’s true or not, and ignoring the rest?

The “Ha’aretz Syndrome”

Israel has a vibrant and highly self-critical free press. The story of Abu Rahma was covered extensively by the Israeli media and there were even demonstrations by Israelis protesting against their own army and government following the woman’s death. It is extremely rare that a negative story concerning Israel in the international press has not already been covered by the Israeli press. Most of these negative stories are lifted straight from the pages of the international journalists’ paper of choice – Ha’aretz.

The IDF’s latest findings led the headlines for some time on the Ha’aretz website while the story also appeared on page 2 of the print edition. Do international journalists cherry pick stories from Ha’aretz that suit their political agenda while ignoring those that do not?

Those media outlets that reported on the original story have a duty to inform their readers of the latest developments lest Abu Rahma’s death becomes yet another in a long list of anti-Israel allegations presented as unassailable fact employed in the delegitimization campaign against Israel.

So far, only AFP has seen fit to file a report on the IDF’s findings. Please write to those media outlets mentioned above and demand that their journalists who have yet to do so, follow up on this story and present the latest information. Some contact details are provided below:

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