Careless Talk Really Does Cost Lives

Last night the Israeli media began reporting on the findings of the IDF investigation into the death of Jawaher Abu Rahma of Bil’in almost three weeks ago.

Readers will no doubt remember that the Guardian’s Harriet Sherwood was quick to jump on a rather overcrowded bandwagon which unquestioningly regurgitated the unproven claims by the Abu Rahma family, their supporters, and officials right at the top of the Palestinian Authority that Jawaher had been killed by CS gas used to disperse a violent demonstration. In addition, Sherwood took advantage of the opportunity in order to resurrect the decade-old Al Dura hoax on the pages of CiF, implying – in the spirit of a long held Guardian tradition – that here was yet another ‘martyr’ victim of Israeli atrocity.

The IDF investigation indicates that Jawaher Abu Rahma died as a result of medical malpractice: for some reason she was apparently given unusually large doses of the drug Atropine. What is not yet clear is why mistakes were made by the staff at the Ramallah Medical Complex in administering the drug, or why that drug was chosen as treatment for her symptoms.

One possibility is that, as ‘Elder of Ziyon’ very plausibly suggests, she could have ingested a pesticide or chemical fertilizer for which Atropine (in the right dosage) is the antidote. If that is the case, then obviously the underlying cause of her illness would have been known from the outset both to medical staff and family, which means that an awful lot of people – including doctors – were lying with regard to the cause of her death.

Another possibility is that for some reason the doctors, whilst making their diagnosis, chose to rely upon the anecdote reported by the family. Those of us who watched Israeli television at the time will remember the wild claims made by a family member interviewed outside the hospital that Jawaher had been injured by a phosphorous-based nerve gas used by the army. Atropine (again, in the correct dosage) is also the antidote to this kind of chemical weapon. Of course the IDF does not in any circumstances use nerve gas of any kind, but in an atmosphere such as the one cultivated in this region by various interested parties – including the foreign media – it is common practice for some to believe the very worst, no matter how fantastic, about the IDF without the need for fact-based evidence.

The irresponsible repetition and propagation of rumours such as the Al Dura hoax or the so-called ‘Jenin massacre’ by journalists who long since abandoned their professional ethical requirement to check facts before putting finger to keyboard contributed not only to the defamation of Israel, but also to waves of actual violence which cost Israeli lives.  In the case of the unfortunate Jawaher Abu Rahma, it may well be that a climate of hysteria and illogical assumptions which have no basis in facts or truth contributed to her death.

The mainstream media, including the copious numbers of foreign correspondents based here in Israel, have played an important role in helping to create this dangerous climate, particularly over the past decade or so. Eager to believe, and repeat, almost any story which paints Israel in a bad light, and anxious to get hits for their websites by offering up the most sensational headlines, they often blindly and cynically regurgitate information provided to them by unreliable sources. Deliberately or not, they contribute substantially to creating and sustaining the atmosphere of incitement which rules supreme in some parts of this region and often costs lives.

The need for journalists to start recognising and taking responsibility for their role in the incitement which ultimately contributes to the violence in this region is long overdue.   One small step for media-kind would be for Harriet Sherwood and her editors to swiftly publish a prominent retraction of their claims and insinuations regarding the IDF’s responsibility for Jawaher Abu Rahma’s death. They should also publically apologise for printing the ridiculous statement made at the time by Saeb Erekat to the effect that the incident constituted a ‘war crime’.

Should the Guardian fail to take these necessary steps, questions as to whether their complicity in fostering an atmosphere of anti-Israeli incitement is deliberate or not will have been answered once and for all.

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