Until Proved Otherwise

The state authorities, including the defense establishment and its branches, have acquired for themselves a shady reputation. No wonder the int'l community doesn't believe them.

On the afternoon of Sunday, December 11, 2005, Mohammed Hamadan of Umm Tuba, near Jerusalem, spotted a mare mule galloping toward the village houses. When she drew near, he was horrified to discover that she was dragging Mahmoud Shawara, an acquaintence from the neighboring village of Nuaman, with his head bashed in. The unconscious Shawara was tied to the mule's neck by his left hand. He died five days later at Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem. His family filed a complaint alleging that Border Police officers, who had arrested Shawara in the morning on the grounds that he was illegally inside Jerusalem's jurisdiction, caused his death by tying him to the mule and making her bolt. The Police Investigations Department (PID) at the Justice Ministry claimed that Shawara died in an accident: He bound himself to the mule, because she was wild, and could not free himself after she threw him off while galloping between Nuaman and Umm Tuba.

Gideon Levy brought the story of Shawara's death (Haaretz, December 23, 2005), and left it to readers to decide whom to believe: the claims of the family, which provided supporting evidence from other cases in which Border Police officers had tied Palestinians to their animals as punishment or deterrence; or the version of the State of Israel's sanctioned authority, which after a review and investigation ruled that the unfortunate Shawara had brought death upon himself.

The military reporters and reporters covering the territories also left the public wondering this past weekend: Should they believe the prime minister, defense minister, foreign minister, chief of staff and Major General Meir Klifi regarding the circumstances in which the seven members of the Ghalia family were killed on the Gaza beach, or the version maintained by Human Rights Watch and Palestinian witnesses?

Whereas the Israel Defense Forces claims, after an ostensibly meticulous examination, that the family could not possibly have been hit by fire from its troops, Palestinians - among them doctors at the hospital in Gaza, the ambulance driver who evacuated the wounded and witnesses who were at the scene of the explosion - present evidence that seemingly refutes Israel's version (as Shlomi Eldar's Channel 10 report Friday night showed). In addition, there is the testimony of Marc Garlasco, senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch, who has in his possession a fragment of a 155-millimeter shell of the type the IDF was firing during the incident in question (Avi Issacharoff and Amos Harel, Haaretz, June 15, 2006).

Describing the discrepancy between the versions of the state authorities and the victims of its operations as one that leaves the Israeli public wondering - is an understatement. Many Israelis actually believe the Palestinians, or those who speak for them, and not because they are consumed with self-hatred. They have regrettable precedents: abuse of Palestinians that is initially denied until clear-cut evidence discredits the denials (testimony from "soldiers breaking the code of silence"); deaths of foreign human rights activists, which the state authorities ignore until international pressure compels them to investigate the circumstances in depth (the case of Tom Hurndall); bogus descriptions of how innocent people were killed during assassinations from the air (the Salah Shehada hit); false accusations against international bodies (the claims that UNRWA had helped transport a Qassam rocket while photos proved it was a stretcher); incorrect data regarding the status of built-up areas that had been designated targets for shelling (populated homes in Rafah, May 2004); internal IDF and police inquiries whose conclusions were refuted or required double-checking (the PID on the responsibility of policemen for the killing of Israeli Arab citizens in the October 2000 riots; the IDF on Captain R.'s behavior in the confirmed-kill case of the girl Iman al-Hams); the accepted tradition in the defense establishment to wrap political and settlement-related moves in sham security arguments (just this past Thursday the High Court of Justice ruled that the IDF had misled it in describing the reasons for determining the route of the separation fence in the vicinity of the settlement Tzofin).

The state authorities, including the defense establishment and its branches, have acquired for themselves a shady reputation when it comes to their credibility. Do not be surprised, therefore, when not only the international community but also the citizens of Israel do not believe their versions - until proven otherwise.