Never believe the Israeli army killed an unarmed civilian until it’s officially denied. This paraphrasing of Mark Twain’s “never believe anything until it has officially been denied,” should become a mantra for journalists operating in the Middle East.
It is a point reinforced recently by the death of a West Bank Palestinian resident, Jawaher abu Rahmah, who died from tear gas exposure during the recent demonstration against Israel’s separation wall and land annexation in the village of Bil’in.
It has become an almost predictable pattern: a Palestinian civilian is killed during a demonstration or Israeli military incursion and the evidence and witness testimony clearly demonstrates Israeli culpability. Then, military sources give farfetched and contradictory statements that become the central focus in Israeli and American media reports.
Jawaher, the 36-year-old sister of Bassem abu Rahmah – who was killed in 2009 from a high-velocity Israeli tear-gas canister fired directly at his chest – was seen by demonstrators, family members and the ambulance driver that took her to hospital, experiencing asphyxiation from a large amount of tear gas. Immediately following her death on January 1, quotes from unnamed Israeli military personnel began saturating the pro-Israel blogosphere. Statements ranging from claims that she was not at the protests and had cancer, to her being released from the hospital and later dying at home moved seamlessly from unvetted blogs to the headlines of Israeli dailies, and then into the main focus of news coverage in the American press.