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Countering Bias and Misinformation mainly about the Arab-Israel conflict

An open reply to Martin Chulov re bombing of Red Cross ambulances

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About Maurice Ostroff
An open reply to Martin Chulov
From Maurice Ostroff                   September 1, 2006  
 
Note. Mr. Chulov's article of August 31, is a response
to a speech by Australian Foreign Minister Alexander
Downer, which may be read in full by clicking here.   
 
                                                                                                 Appendix A

Referring to your reports of August 31 and July 26, may I suggest that you reconsider your views about the relative value of mainstream media versus the Internet, as suggested by your headline; “Downer's unfounded faith in the internet”.

 

In view of recent revelations, there is increasing cause to rate selected bloggers as more credible than some very respectable names in the communication world. Indeed, Mr. Downer is to be congratulated for his foresight in leading the way to recognizing this important fact. 

 

Do you remember how New York Times reporter Jayson Blair shocked us with his admission of plagiarism and his faked reports? How Dan Rather was forced to resign by bloggers? And the recent admission by Reuters of faked pictures?

 

In these circumstances it would be grossly negligent to ignore the very carefully researched and reasoned evidence published on the zombietime site.

 

It is evident that all the allegations that Israel deliberately bombed Red Cross ambulances derive from statements by Red Cross workers. As a conscientious journalist, perhaps you will agree that this creates a serious problem.

 

In a recent BBC Hardtalk interview Balthasar Staehelin, the ICRC delegate-general for the Middle East and North Africa was emphatic that Red Cross workers are not permitted to give evidence as witnesses in any court hearings relating to their work in conflict zones as this might prejudice their access to the belligerents. Moreover, the fact that Red Cross workers in Lebanon are drawn from the local population makes it unrealistic to expect them to be unbiased. 

 

We are therefore faced with the situation, that while you, as a journalist may be impartial and may therefore wish to be objective, you are dependent on sources who are not neutral. And who are free to color their reports without any need to substantiate them. Nor need they fear cross examination.

 

Let us take, as an example, the much-quoted Qassem Shalin, who appears to be your main source.

 

A very comprehensive report of the ambulance incident is presented on the web by Dahr Jamail, the award-winning, independent journalist who is reputed to be one of the best sources on the War in Iraq. He was a very prolific supplier of photographs of this ambulance incident.  Jamail refers to Red Cross worker Kasssem Shaulan, who I assume is the Qassem Shalin quoted by you. Please correct me if I am wrong in making this assumption.

 

There are several inconsistencies in Shaulan’s reporting which give rise to serious doubts about his credibility. He told Jamail that he had been in the ambulance at the time of the bombing. However, in your August 31 article you wrote that Shalin was lifting the rear ramp of the ambulance when the missile hit. This would be quite a feat in view of the fact that according to your July 26 article the two ambulances were traveling in convoy when “fired on by an Israeli Apache helicopter as they sped to the besieged port city of Tyre”, adding that the convoy was struck by two rockets fired from an Apache helicopter, just before midnight, severely injuring all six people on board.”

 

Here we have an even more serious inconsistency, because on August 31 you wrote that the ambulances were not hit by rockets at all, but by missiles with small warheads fired from a drone, not a helicopter and that the warhead was designed “not to kill anyone outside a small zone”.

 

While I am not a military expert by any means, I have heard of drone missiles in which the drone itself becomes the missile but I have not heard of a drone capable of carrying missiles and firing them with such pinpoint accuracy as to strike precisely at the center of the crosses on the roofs of two stationery or moving ambulances.  Your clarification would be appreciated.

 

Jamail’s accuracy also leaves room for considerable doubt. For example, although the number of casualties at Qana has been officially recorded by the Red Cross as 28, Jamail reported from Qana on  his website on August 2 that Israeli bombing killed at least 60 civilians and that Red Cross workers told IPS that no Hezbollah rockets were launched from the city before the Israeli air strike.

 

Appendix A (in the right hand column) contains photographs from Jamail’s web site and from a Reuters picture published on Yahoo News purporting to show one of the ambulances which had been deliberately bombed from the air.  On examination of these pictures, a modicum of logical reasoning shows convincingly that even a small bomb could not have struck the vehicle depicted. A picture of an Israeli bus after attack by a suicide bomber shows vividly what the ambulance would have looked like had it been struck by a missile.

 

Comparing two photos from Jamail’s site, an external view of a hole in the roof shows it as circular and clean cut, precisely in the position of the usual vent hole. It cannot possibly be the same hole viewed from the interior in another picture and claimed to be of the same ambulance but with very jagged edges and non-circular shape.  All the captions in Jamail’s web page refer to the same ambulance and show Kasssem Shaulan, looking unscratched though he claims to have been in the ambulance when it was bombed

 

A picture of the same ambulance ascribed to Reuters appeared on the Yahoo News web site but has evidently been removed. The legend reports that the ambulance was bombed in Tyre, but ICRC Bulletin 03 / 2006 reported that the incident occurred on 23 July, at 11.15 pm in Cana, (sic) a village in southern Lebanon.

 

You wrote that when you and photographer Stewart Innes inspected both ambulances on the day after the incident the “mangled roofs were not rusting at the time. By the time the photos used on the blog site were taken, rust had appeared. But this is entirely normal in Lebanon's sultry summer climate, where humidity on the coast does not drop below 70 per cent”. This statement is incomplete in that you do not tell us when the photographs which appear on the blog site were taken. It is not unreasonable to assume that Mr. Innes took some photographs at the time and it would throw valuable light on the entire controversy if you would publish them, with their unrusted roofs, for all to see. Your mention of “mangled roofs” is interesting as all the published pictures show roofs almost complete except for the neat hole in the middle.

 

 

An aspect which contradicts all the photos of the ambulance and your subsequent examination of them is the AP report  by Kathy Gannon, of July 25, stating that both ambulances were destroyed. Is her report inaccurate and does it call for an apology by AP?

 

Also difficult to understand is the story Shalin told you when you returned to Tyre He said. "There was not a sound in the sky before the explosions. And after that there was a battle for the next hour. We hid in a building nearby convinced we were going to die.”

 

This is the first we hear of a battle. With whom?  With the drone or the helicopter? When the explosion occurred, was Shalin lifting the ramp as he told you or was he in the ambulance as he told Jamail? In either case he was taken to Jamal Amal hospital, where you appear to have visited him. When then, was he hiding in a building?

 

It is not the bloggers, as you say, who are attempting to create a smokescreen. Rather, it is the publication in mainstream media of so many conflicting and biased reports, based on unsubstantiated hearsay, which has created a smokescreen that threatens the credibility of serious journalism.

 

We owe a debt of gratitude to bloggers like zombietime and courageous statesmen like Minister Downer for their serious contributions towards revealing the truth.

 

ambulance4collage.jpg

Captions to above pictures 

Top picture (from Dahr Jamail's web site)  http://dahrjamailiraq.com/gallery/view_album.php?set_albumName=Lebanon_Red_Cross_Ambulance_Target_Israel_Air_Strike
The pictures show Kasssem Shaulan, looking unscratched, though he claims to have been in the ambulance when it was bombed and although, according to an AP report by Kathy Gannon , 07.24.2006, both ambulances were destroyed.

Second from top
Comparing two photos from the Jamail web site, the hole in the picture on the right is almost perfectly circular and clean cut, precisely in the position of the usual vent hole. Although the web page refers to only one ambulance, this cannot be the same hole as the much larger, non-circular hole, shown in the picture on the left with extremely jagged edges.

Third from top
This photograph ascribed to Reuters appeared on the Yahoo News web site but has evidently been removed. It reports that the ambulance was bombed in Tyre. But ICRC Bulletin 03 / 2006 reported that the incident occurred on 23 July, at 11.15 pm in Cana, (sic) a village in southern Lebanon.

Bottom Picture
A typical picture of a bus bombed in Jerusalem by a suicide bomber. The Red Cross ambulance would have looked a lot worse had it been struck by a missile from an aircraft as claimed, or had it been destroyed as reported by AP. Certainly Mr. Shaulan would not have survived had he been in the ambulance when it was fired on, as he claims.


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