Countering Bias and Misinformation mainly about the Arab-Israel conflict


DEIR YASSIN - startling evidence
About Maurice Ostroff
The letter below is in response to the Haaretz article copied in the right hand column, which in turn relates to Melanie Phillips' article copied below

March 28, 2009
To the editor
I'll take the chance that Haaretz may blacklist me for the following letter, but the message is sincere and contains fair comment. I dare you to publish it.
Maurice Ostroff

Journalistic ethics and integrity

The headline to Anshel Pfeffer's article "How IDF testimonies led to the 'Haaretz blood libel'  (Haaretz March 27) is artfully deceptive. The rambling discussions at the Oranim Academic College as reported in Haaretz, cannot under any circumstances be described as "testimonies" with the implication that they were declarations under oath. To the contrary, no objective reader can disagree with Melanie Phillips' description of the selected extracts of the soldiers' discussions as anything but innuendo, rumor and hearsay, demonstrably wrenched out of context.

Pheffer's attack on Phillips demonstrates a dismal lack of understanding of what she wrote in her March 22 blog "The Ha'aretz blood libel" copied below
The last sentence in Pfeffer's article succinctly sums up Haaretz's confused concept of ethical journalism. He wrote "if we were to ask ourselves, before publishing every report, how it will be used by Israel's ill-wishers, that would surely be the ultimate capitulation to anti-Semitism". Haaretz may well be unconcerned about, and even relish, the effect of its articles on Israel's enemies, but it should be concerned about infringing good old-fashioned journalistic guidelines like those of the US Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) that include �Seek truth and report it", "Minimize harm", and "diligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing."
In particular the SPJ urges journalists to question the motives of sources and to distinguish between advocacy by biased sources such as Danny Zamir and factual news.



Melanie Phillip's in The Spectator

The Ha'aretz blood libel

Sunday, 22nd March 2009


 On his eponymous BBC TV show this morning, I listened open-mouthed as Andrew Marr invited Tory foreign affairs spokesman William Hague to express his views about the  pretty appalling looking reports coming out of Israel where members of the Israeli Defence Force who were involved in the Gaza operation have talked about effectively being told to shoot at civilians.


Hague replied:

 Well those are absolutely appalling stories. There is no question about that. We don't yet know the truth of them. I think it's very important to say that. This is evidence that now has to be looked at, of course, by Israel's military investigations unit; and it is a good thing that Israel does have provision for that, for investigating these things and for bringing to book any who were responsible for behaving in such a way. But we will expect… I think across the world, we will expect Israel to deal decisively with anybody who committed such crimes. It will be very important for Israel to do that if it is to keep any moral authority in these situations in the future. So we're all appalled by that and we hope that it will be dealt with.


Of course Hague was careful to say the truth of this evidence was not yet known. But there is no evidence.  So far, there is simply nothing to prove or disprove from these reports of the soldiers’ discussion carried in Ha’aretz last week, here and here -- just innuendo, rumour and hearsay, demonstrably (read the second account) wrenched out of context and refracted through the patent prejudice of the soldiers’ instructor Danny Zamir, an ultra-leftist who had previously been jailed for refusing to guard settlers at a religious ceremony and who said of the soldiers who spoke at the meeting in question that they  reflected an atmosphere inside the army of ‘contempt for, and forcefulness against, the Palestinians.’


So what are these  pretty appalling looking reports and absolutely appalling stories?


There are precisely two charges of gratuitous killing of Palestinian civilians under allegedly explicit orders to do so. One is what even Ha’aretz made clear was an accidental killing, when two women misunderstood the evacuation route the Israeli soldiers had given them and walked into a sniper’s gunsights as a result. Moreover, the soldier who said this has subsequently admitted he didn’t see this incident – he wasn’t even in Gaza at the time – and had merely reported rumour and hearsay.


The second charge is based on a supposedly real incident in which, when an elderly woman came close to an IDF unit, an officer ordered that they shoot her because she was approaching the line and might have been a suicide bomber. The soldier relating this story did not say whether or not the woman in this story actually was shot. Indeed, since he says ‘from the description of what happened’ it would appear this was merely hearsay once again. And his interpretation was disputed by another soldier who said:


She wasn't supposed to be there, because there were announcements and there were bombings. Logic says she shouldn't be there. The way you describe it, as murder in cold blood, that isn't right.


So two non-atrocity atrocities, then. What else?


Soldiers mouthing off -- in conversations of near-impenetrable incoherence – that instructions to kill everyone who remained in buildings designated as terrorist targets after the IDF had warned everyone inside to get out amounted to instructions to murder in cold blood. There cannot be an army in the world which would not issue precisely such instructions in such circumstances, where Hamas had boasted it had booby-trapped the entire area. 


Gloating graffiti left in the houses of presumed terrorists.


Tasteless T-shirts emblazoned with motifs crowing about killing, condemned immediately by the IDF.


Rabbis distributing to soldiers psalms and religious opinions about the conflict.


That’s it. Not one single verifiable actual incident of intentional killing of civilians. No evidence whatever of any such rogue incidents -- let alone any order by the IDF to tear up its actual rules of engagement which forbade the deliberate targeting of civilians. Talk by one soldier about the IAF having killed a lot of people before the soldiers went in contradicted by another who said:


They dropped leaflets over Gaza and would sometimes fire a missile from a helicopter into the corner of some house, just to shake up the house a bit so everyone inside would flee. These things worked. The families came out, and really people [i.e., soldiers] did enter houses that were pretty empty, at least of innocent civilians. [my emphasis]


Funny sort of unethical military behaviour, that goes to some lengths to empty houses of civilians before storming them. Indeed, the soldiers’ discussion contains more such material totally contradicting the impression of gross violations of ethics. Such as this:


 ‘I am a platoon sergeant in an operations company of the Paratroops Brigade. We were in a house and discovered a family inside that wasn't supposed to be there. We assembled them all in the basement, posted two guards at all times and made sure they didn't make any trouble. Gradually, the emotional distance between us broke down - we had cigarettes with them, we drank coffee with them, we talked about the meaning of life and the fighting in Gaza. After very many conversations the owner of the house, a man of 70-plus, was saying it's good we are in Gaza and it's good that the IDF is doing what it is doing.


The next day we sent the owner of the house and his son, a man of 40 or 50, for questioning. The day after that, we received an answer: We found out that both are political activists in Hamas. That was a little annoying - that they tell you how fine it is that you're here and good for you and blah-blah-blah, and then you find out that they were lying to your face the whole time.


What annoyed me was that in the end, after we understood that the members of this family weren't exactly our good friends and they pretty much deserved to be forcibly ejected from there, my platoon commander suggested that when we left the house, we should clean up all the stuff, pick up and collect all the garbage in bags, sweep and wash the floor, fold up the blankets we used, make a pile of the mattresses and put them back on the beds.


 ... ‘There was one day when a Katyusha, a Grad, landed in Be'er Sheva and a mother and her baby were moderately to seriously injured. They were neighbors of one of my soldiers. We heard the whole story on the radio, and he didn't take it lightly - that his neighbors were seriously hurt. So the guy was a bit antsy, and you can understand him. To tell a person like that, 'Come on, let's wash the floor of the house of a political activist in Hamas, who has just fired a Katyusha at your neighbors that has amputated one of their legs’ - this isn't easy to do, especially if you don't agree with it at all. When my platoon commander said, 'Okay, tell everyone to fold up blankets and pile up mattresses,’ it wasn't easy for me to take. There was lot of shouting. In the end I was convinced and realized it really was the right thing to do. Today I appreciate and even admire him, the platoon commander, for what happened there. In the end I don't think that any army, the Syrian army, the Afghani army, would wash the floor of its enemy’s houses, and it certainly wouldn't fold blankets and put them back in the closets.’


This is what instructor Danny Zamir described as  ‘contempt for, and forcefulness against, the Palestinians.’


No mention of any of that in the world’s media, is there? Do you think Andrew Marr or William Hague read those bits? Do me the proverbial. All they’ve picked up and run with is the lazy and malicious boilerplate carefully spun by Ha’aretz: rumour and hearsay about two incidents related by two soldiers (one of whom wasn’t even in Gaza) -- one an accidental killing, the other maybe not a killing at all -- plus some wild mouthing-off by soldiers, some unpleasant graffiti, ditto T-shirts, plus some leaflets by unidentified rabbis making statements that carry no weight with the IDF or reflect Israeli policy whatsoever. 


On that basis, however, it’s proof positive for the likes of Andrew Marr, William Hague, the New York Times, Guardian, Independent, BBC and Uncle Tom Israelbasher and all, that yes!! Israel is now shown (unless specifically disproved -- and how do you disprove something for which  no evidence is offered whatever?) to have been committing atrocities after all in Gaza; and so has now forfeit what remains of its moral authority, which was already hanging by a thread as a result of all the previous blood libels, and almost certainly its right to exist at all.


This is not just bigotry. It is medieval witch-hunt territory. And it’s global.


How IDF testimonies led to the 'Haaretz blood libel'

By Anshel Pfeffer


Haaretz 27/03/2009                           


It wasn't even my story, but I should not have been surprised by the amount of flak I took this week for Amos Harel's report. The stories told by alumni of the Oranim pre-military academy about their experiences as soldiers in Operation Cast Lead were not going to blow over anytime soon, and when you work for a newspaper that has just come out with one of the most controversial stories of the year, you are guilty by association. You also share part of the glory - and indeed, a number of Israel Defense Forces officers I spoke to in recent days, both active-duty and reserve, said how important they believe the report was in opening a long-overdue public debate.


One night I came home and launched one of my periodic forays through the Jewish blogosphere and suddenly discovered that I had become an accomplice to blood libel. So said one of the most popular Jewish columnists in the world, Melanie Phillips, in a blog post titled "The Ha'aretz blood libel." In two lengthy posts, Phillips excoriated this paper for, among other things, publishing rumors and hearsay, exaggerating and overplaying the soldiers' accounts, playing into the hands of a notorious ultra-leftist (Danny Zamir, the head of the Oranim Academy), distorting the truth in our hatred for the "occupation" and, worst of all, giving succor to Israel's enemies.


I believe that Israelis should be grateful to Jews around the world who are ready to stand up for this country. In many places, and especially in Britain, the role of Israel's advocate is a thankless job. Few successful Jewish journalists in London are prepared to constantly wear their heart on their sleeve for Israel as Phillips does. It is not just the inherently hostile atmosphere toward the Jewish state, it is also sheer exhaustion. Barely a week goes by without another couple of reports from nongovernmental organizations or United Nations agencies lambasting Israel for war crimes, with at best only scant mention of the crimes of its enemies. Just this week, there were four new reports detailing the IDF's alleged atrocities in the Gaza operation.


So just imagine: You have spent untold hours picking apart a 120-page report, hunted down ambiguities and hypocrisies, painstakingly found evidence to refute the claims, and the next series of allegations is already upon you. But now, it is not another group of latent anti-Semites and Israel-bashers; this time, it is coming from Israeli newspapers, quoting Israeli soldiers. I can understand the frustration. But all too often, that frustration translates itself into angry responses that brand Israelis who are sincerely concerned for their society and the actions of their government as traitors to the cause.


Take Danny Zamir, who chaired the Oranim alumni's symposium and compiled their stories. Since 1998, the academy he founded has prepared hundreds of young men for IDF service in combat units. Many have gone on to be officers. In 1990, as a reserve company commander, he refused to guard a settlers' procession in Nablus. He was disciplined and sat in a military prison for a month. Despite this, the IDF realized that his concern for the army's moral stature was real: He remained in service and has since been promoted. Maj. Zamir is deputy commander of an elite reserve battalion and, in his role as academy head, works closely with the IDF to educate new generations of soldiers. Now he is being vilified by people like Phillips as a dangerous subversive for giving his graduates a voice.


Discussions like the one in Oranim Academy are going on in many places around Israel. The vast majority of Israelis still believe that the Gaza operation was unavoidable and that in fighting an enemy such as Hamas, significant civilian casualties are inevitable despite all the precautions. But the question of whether those precautions were sufficient, or alternatively excessive, and of how we minimize the number of "rotten apples" that turn up in every army will not go away.


These debates are taking place in academies, in homes, in yeshivas, in kibbutz dining halls and also in many parts of the army itself. Some of them are being recorded and will come out in the media and, later, as books. And they have a hallowed place in Israeli culture. Some call it "siach lochamim" (warriors talking) and others refer to it, perhaps disparagingly, as "yorim ve'bochim" (shooting and crying). But it is an integral part of what this society is about.


For the last 40 years, Haaretz has seen the promotion of this debate as its central role. This paper has never made a secret of its opposition to the occupation and the subjugation of another people - not just because of the injustices inflicted upon the Palestinians, but even more because of the deep moral and material damage it has caused Israel. In doing so, we have incurred the wrath of those who believe we are serving Israel's enemies. For that reason, despite the fact that the Oranim soldiers' story also appeared in Maariv and on Channel 10 television, it was Haaretz that took all the blame.


Having represented this paper abroad for much of the last year, I naturally enjoyed basking in the glory of the high regard in which it is held around the world. But there were also uncomfortable moments, when I heard praise from those who could barely conceal their hatred for my country. None of us work for Haaretz so we can be regarded as "the good Israelis" by those who instinctively put Israel in the dock. After the paper published the report on the soldiers' stories, Amos Harel turned down dozens of requests for interviews in the international media. No one had any illusions that the story would not be picked up by newspapers and television channels, but we were not doing it for them. It was for us, Israelis.


Jews in Britain and other countries who speak up for Israel before hostile audiences are often bullied and told that they cannot be staunch supporters of Israel and loyal citizens at the same time, and that they should blame only themselves when Jews are attacked in response to "Israel's crimes." To that they respond, quite rightly, that as citizens of a democratic country, they have every right to support Israel, and that being afraid to do so would be surrendering to anti-Semitism.


"Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East," they constantly say in its defense. We also believe that. But if we were to refrain from voicing our concerns over the direction in which the country has been going for too long, it would not be much of a democracy any more. And if we were to ask ourselves, before publishing every report, how it will be used by Israel's ill-wishers, that would surely be the ultimate capitulation to anti-Semitism.




Please enter your comments here. Thank you
Full name:
Email address: