In the Palestinian arena, the Israeli public relations machine had a bad week. Explaining the occupation is a much more complicated task than stressing the dangers of the Iranian threat through the use of a few background conversations with foreign journalists.
Even when the Israeli–Palestinian conflict has been pushed far down the agenda of the international community, every once in a while an incident occurs that reminds one of how difficult it is for Israel to explain its position and in particular its actions in the territories.
This week it happened twice concerning the death of a Palestinian who attacked soldiers in Jericho, joining along with the never-ending affair of the Tamimi family from the village of Nabi Saleh, near Ramallah in the West Bank.
Yasin al-Saradih, a resident of Jericho, was shot on February 21 after he ran at soldiers with an iron rod in his hand. The Israel Defense Forces presented contradictory versions of the story, in which the circumstances of the incident and cause of death changed. At first the IDF said Saradih tried to steal a gun from a soldier and later that he was holding an iron rod. Before that they said the medical team that examined him did not notice the bullet that entered his body and the possibility was raised that he had died from a beating or had choked to death from tear gas inhalation. Later it turned out he had been hit by a bullet after all.
Another video clip from a Palestinian security camera, which B’Tselem released on Wednesday, showed the full picture. Saradih was seen in the video running with a long object in his hand, a soldier can clearly be seen shooting at him from close range, and then a group of soldiers can be seen hitting him while he is laying on the ground.
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The video also shows that 20 minutes passed from the time of the attack and Saradih was shot until he first received medical treatment, which could no longer save him.
The incident in Jericho is not the same as the so-called Hebron shooter affair, in which Elor Azaria shot a subdued terrorist lying on the road. The Azaria affair caused a storm when it broke into the public debate in Israel on the Purim holiday two years ago. As the film shows in this case, the soldiers were clearly in danger and they fired immediately to stop the terrorist, and not 11 minutes later when he was already immobilized, as in the Azaria case.
But the continued beating, the lack of medical treatment and the unreliable versions of the story are all examples of things that repeat themselves in a number of the incidents in the West Bank. In an ironic coincidence, the Knesset passed the “Breaking the Silence Law” this week that grants the Education Minister the authority to ban representatives of “organizations that act against the IDF” from appearing in schools.
Israel’s making a mockery of itself in the Tamimi affair and it is no less worrying than what happened in Jericho. Since 17-year-old Ahed Tamimi was filmed hitting, kicking and slapping two soldiers from the Givati Brigade, it seems the Israeli defense and legal establishments are sinking into the mud of a petty and excessive campaign of revenge against the entire family. This reached a new height this week when the Coordinator of the Government’s Activities in the Territories (or COGAT) released an absurd claim according to which 15-year-old Mohammed Tamimi, Ahed’s cousin, was not injured by a sponge-tipped bullet that hit him in the head, but rather by a bicycle accident.
COGAT's statement on the matter was based only on the youth’s own “admission,” made to an officer of the IDF’s Civil Administration in the West Bank, after IDF troops came to his house and arrested him along with other family members. The family has X-rays that prove the opposite: The bullet is still inside his head. The youth, who has not yet fully recovered from his wound and is expected to undergo more medical treatments, may have thought that such an invention would make things easier for him while in detention. It is rather surprising that coordinator, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, one of the more talented IDF Spokesmen in recent decades, lent his hand to such a bizarre media failure. Maybe it is less surprising that some Israeli journalists bought this spin without asking any questions.
The coordinator’s office has been busy over the past year, at Mordechai’s instruction and with the encouragement of Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, with an extensive public relations campaign aimed at the Palestinian public, part of which is being conducted on social networks. But the statement concerning Mohammed Tamimi is exactly the case in which a military organization becomes confused between matter of fact issues and PR tricks – and its failures are exposed. This is of course just one more embarrassment, after the ridiculous claims of deputy minister MK Michael Oren (Kulanu) that the Tamimi family might be faking the injuries of their relatives – and may not even really be related to each other, a fake family.
The Tamimi family is a bitter enemy of Israel in the propaganda war being fought in the territories. It is reasonable to assume that a large part of the incidents in which the Tamimis are involved were initiated by them as part of this battle. Yet, it would have been better if those in charge would have reined in the system a bit. The decision of the Givati company commander – and outstanding officer marked for promotion – to withdraw and end contact with the women attacking them in the filmed incident with Ahed Tamimi and not to confront them, was seen in the military and some of the media as a superfluous humiliation from the minute the clip was released.
This quickly led to the overreaction: The night-time arrest of Ahed Tamimi, the insistence on arresting other relatives, including her cousin – despite his injuries – and most of all holding her in detention for two months so far.
Of course, no one is interested in the bedbugs in the cells of Palestinian minors, or in guaranteeing a proper legal process when the court functions as a rubber stamp for extending detentions time after time. Israel may think it is teaching the Tamimi family a lesson, but as it became clear this week – the longer the story takes, the more damage it causes mainly to itself.