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By Barry Rubin

What happens when the New York Times publishes, with no investigation, an atrocity story about Israel that is not only false but ridiculously so, based on the most obvious starting point: death by tear-gas doesn’t happen?

There’s a long history of Palestinians (including the Palestinian Authority) making up atrocity stories that blame Israel and then having these widely disseminated by the mass media. This is one of the main factors leading to increased hatred or criticism of Israel. These tales are disproven but the facts never catch up with the lies. Here’s a history of the phenomenon with a number of examples.

Now we have the first phony slander of 2011. You can check out the cartoon version also. The Palestinian Authority claims that Jawaher Abu Rahma, 36 years old, died during a demonstration, killed by “poison” in tear gas fired there by Israeli soldiers.

This was put out by Saeb Erakat, one of the main PA leaders, and the story was published as true by the French press agency (AFP), the Guardian and Associated Press (note the picture of the huge funeral given her as a “martyr” to an Israeli “war crime),”  The IndependentUPI, Voice of America, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, China’s news agency and main newspaper, and also in important Dutch newspapers. Even the U.S. State Department apparently gets its information from reading misleading newspaper stories. Here’s a round-up of the online reporting and an analysis of the incident appropriately entitled, “Repeating Palestinian Allegations without Evidence.”

By the way, Saeb Erakat was the man who claimed that Israel massacred 500 Palestinians in Jenin, a claim that was massively covered in the media and turned out (as even the UN admits) to be a total lie for which he had no evidence at all.

And so, these publications reported as fact something about which they had zero direct knowledge merely because partisan Palestinian sources–with a bad track record due to past misstatements of fact–claimed it.

So far, as I can discover, only AFP has even published additional information showing the story might be false or even mentioning the results of the IDF’s quick, detailed investigation of the incident. Will any of these places publish a prominent correction? Will any of them learn anything from this experience, though they haven’t from dozens of previous, precisely-the-same experiences?

[On the other hand, the Washington Post–as usual–does a better job with an article about past anti-Israel propaganda scams. But note the fifth paragraph accuses Israel of making up stuff about the Palestinians albeit without citing a single example!]

In fact, it is impossible for any normal person to die from tear gas in an open area. There is no recorded incident of this happening in any country. But that’s only the beginning of the truth, explained also here and here. The woman was not even at the demonstration itself where she was supposedly killed–according to her cousin–though she might have been in the general area (where tear gas concentrations would beeven lower).

Equally, the PA refused to produce any medical record and there is no emergency room report at all. The Palestinian story about her medical history keeps changing. The family says that she went to the hospital from home, not the demonstration (another contradiction), making it less credible that her death came from tear gas since even a short time outside the place of highest concentration dispels symptoms. Moreover, she had been given a CAT scan previously, implying she had some serious health problem.

What the hospital records for the day of the demonstration do show–obtianed by Ha’aretz and others–is that two people were taken there with light injuries and released. She wasn’t one of them. Only later did the story change and it was claimed that she had died. Studying the videotape of the demonstration doesn’t show any picture of her there. In fact, according to videotapes she had not participated in previous demonstrations there either.

And what does the PA death certificate say? “Cause of death: Inhaling gas of an Israeli soldier according to the family.” But there was no autopsy, no certification of that cause of death by a doctor, and she was buried with suspicious speed, quite the opposite of what would happen if the Palestinians thought they had a real case.

Oh, by the way, her brother, Rahman, is a militant anti-Israel activist who was leading the demonstration. Presumably he is the source of this claim.

So that’s the bottom line: The whole worldwide story and still another blood libel is based on…zero evidence.

As you’ve probably guessed by now, however, few people–and most incredibly of all, very few if any journalists–are going to read this article or go through all of this evidence.

That’s precisely my point: Anti-Israel sources can produce an infinite number of these stories that take time and a detailed explanation to debunk. And then nobody will pay any attention to such responses. That’s why this kind of thing should be systematically discounted and not reported unless some real evidence is offered that there is any truth in the accusation.

The huge anti-Israel demonstration at her funeral and mass media coverage shows us that Abu Rahma will be remembered as a Palestinian martyr to an Israeli war crime. She will also figure anonymously in the statistics intended to prove how evil Israel behaves. In future, people might be killed in terrorist attacks intended to revenge her death. And so on.

Only when it is understood in general that the Palestinian Authority and such sources as extremist anti-Israel activists who happen to be Jewish do everything possible in order to slander Israel–and that none of these claims should be accepted unless accompanied by real proof–will the situation improve. Haven’t the mass media and others had enough lessons that they should discount such claims?

Here,  here, and here are some sources on the story. But these are all on blogs that will be read by hundreds or a few thousands. The credulous behavior of spreading anti-Israel propaganda and making it credible for a big audience is on mass media outlets read or seen by hundreds of thousands or even millions of people.

Again, what is needed is not the obligation to disprove these wild stories one by one, but rather their being discredited as a group, in general, as a propaganda technique that no one should believe. There will be 365 days in 2011 but there will be far more than 365 information scams manufactured by the Palestinian And Friends propaganda machine.

Meanwhile, the mass media hardly ever reports what Palestinian leaders, media, and clerics actually say in Arabic unless it can be spun as proving moderation. Indeed, it barely reports that this month marks the second anniversary of the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to negotiate with Israel.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict, and Crisis (Palgrave Macmillan), Conflict and Insurgency in the Contemporary Middle Eastand editor of the (seventh edition) (Viking-Penguin), The Israel-Arab Reader the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria(Palgrave-Macmillan), A Chronological History of Terrorism (Sharpe), and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley).  

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