Thursday, July 16, 2009

Again, The Media Jumps On Questionable Report Of Israeli War Crimes (Updated)

Back in March, Haaretz treated us to the headline:

IDF in Gaza: Killing civilians, vandalism, and lax rules of engagement

When I blogged about the story, there were already indications that there was less to the story than met the eye--with anonymous sources and accounts based on hearsay and people who were not even there where the alleged issues took place.

Now, the issue of alleged war crimes by the IDF has resurfaced and like clockwork, the media again has jumped on the story--thanks to the NGO Breaking The Silence, which claims to have testimony by IDF soldiers that support the accusation.

Apparently, just as J Street leapfrogged to prominence through controversy--the Palin disinvitation to speak at the anti-Ahmadinejad rally--so too Breaking The Silence hopes to parlay accusations of IDF 'war crimes' in Gaza into prominence.

Amir Mizroch, The Jerusalem Post News Editor, gives some background on how Breaking The Silence went about breaking the story:

It promised the exclusive to Haaretz, because it knows the report would have gotten prominence there. What it didn’t count on was Haaretz learning its lesson from its huge mistake last time it was given a report into alleged Israel Defense Forces human rights violations in Gaza. Last time Haaretz didn’t do its journalistic job and published unsubstantiated hearsay. This time Haaretz military reporter Amos Harel had the presence of mind to send the Breaking The Silence report to the IDF for response.

My military reporter, Yaakov Katz, was in the right place at the right time, and got hold of most of the report himself. Breaking The Silence tried to get Yaakov off the story because it didn’t fit into their strategy to have The Jerusalem Post take a critical look at their report. They promised Yaakov they would give him other stories in the future if he dropped this one for now. Katz refused, rightly so, and we published.

Several days before all this, Breaking The Silence gave out their report to a wide array of foreign media, and not to the IDF to probe into itself, with the caveat that they observe the embargo until after Haaretz published the report first. All of which shows their original intent was to get as much uncritical worldwide publicity for their report. Legitimate, sure. Fair? Not so sure.

The fact that the group receives funding from foreign entities such as the EU, Great Britain's Department For International Development (a government agency), and Dutch organizations as well also serves to call into question their motives.

Dan Kosky, the communications director of NGO Monitor, writes in The Guardian about why the report put out by Breaking The Silence is unreliable:

A brief consideration of the report's flawed methodology exposes the absence of any reasonable research standards. By Breaking the Silence's own admission, the allegations are comprised of "the testimony of around 30 combatants" – a fraction of the thousands of Israeli combat troops deployed during the Gaza conflict. This extremely narrow and presumably hand-picked sample is an absurd basis on which to pass judgment, and even these limited testimonies were entirely unverifiable.

All statements are anonymous, and so-called "evidence" is further compromised by the absence of any details of where and when alleged incidents occurred. Consequently, were the report intended to prompt the IDF to investigate individual allegations, Breaking the Silence has made this impossible.

As for the allegations themselves, they frequently rely upon secondhand evidence and hearsay. Media reports have claimed that the study reveals the use of "permissive" rules of engagement in Gaza. Yet a soldier admits that "I wasn't witness to such cases but I heard people talking, that soldiers shot at people here and there." A chain of whispers is hardly a concrete foundation to condemn an army's response to incessant rocket fire on its civilians.
Breaking The Silence has been successful and their story is being reported--as fact--throughout the media. Now there remains just one more thing to do:

Determine the veracity of the story.

UPDATE: Check out Soldiers Speak Out:
A wave of IDF soldiers have come forward to video their positive, eye-witness testimony to www.soldiersspeakout.com, outraged by a report recently released by ‘Breaking the Silence’, which alleges misconduct by IDF soldiers during Operation cast lead towards Palestinian civilians.

StandWithUs, an international education organization, created the website at the request of IDF members in its student programs who felt compelled to speak out. www.soldierspeakout.com contains testimonials from soldiers who share their personal, positive and humanitarian experiences of serving in the IDF. (This independent initiative is not coordinated with either the IDF or the Israeli Government.)

Crossposted on Soccer Dad

[Hat tip: HonestReporting and Backspin]

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