January 23rd, 2009 12:15 EST
Gideon Levy's War " Operation Cast Lead "
During the 22 days of the war on Hamas, the Haaretz Arab Affairs correspondent (who does not speak Arabic) had lead the pack in proclaiming the Arabs` inalienable right for impunity in firing rockets on Jews.
This sensitivity, combined with contacts obtained through his Swedish girlfriend, landed Levy prominent column-space in the Swedish leading daily, Dagens Nyheter.
What better time than now, then, to recall what the former editor-in-chief of Israel`s second-largest paper, Maariv, had to say about Levy`s work ethics and practices. Amnon Dankner, who is one of Israel`s most prominent journalists, looked into the matter in 2006.
Amnon Dankner`s findings in probing Haaretz and Gideon Levy`s level of professionalism were published in Hebrew but are brought here in English for the first time
More than just an analysis of Levy`s standards in one case, this sinuous tale offers a rare portrait of the ambulance-chasers working the space that separates the Mediterranean Sea from River Jordan.
Following the controversy over the death of the Ghalia family in Gaza, Amnon Dankner, former editor-in-chief of Maariv, wrote a damning report about Gideon Levy of Haaretz. His conduct, Dankner accused, is professionally irresponsible, outspokenly political and sloppy - yet successful in blackening Israel`s name.
On the day that the Ghalia family was killed on the beach of Gaza, and as the media were gripped in fierce discussion about the culpability of the Israel Defense Forces in the family`s death, Haaretz correspondent Uzi Benziman referred to an article by his colleague, Gideon Levy, who had supposedly exposed a shocking case of abuse which was widely publicized not only in Israel, but elsewhere in the world.
It`s the case dubbed as "the donkey procedure." In short, it concerns a Palestinian who had been arrested by Border Police officers near Jerusalem, and was found dead a few hours later with one hand tethered to his mule, being dragged along side it by the thread, with a terrible blow to his head. He died from this injury a few days later in the capital`s Hadassah Ein Karem Hospital.
On December 23, 2005, Haaretz`s weekend supplement ran a front page picture of the man`s corpse, Mahmoud Shawara was his name, with the face peeking from under a head-cover concealing the blow.
The headline read: "The Donkey Procedure." The sub said: "Hours after his arrest, Mahmoud Shawara was found tied to his mule, dragged on the ground with his head bashed in. Internal Affairs says the mule threw him off. Maamoun Ali has a different story: two months ago, Border Police in the same area tied him to his donkey, told him to lie on his stomach, placed a building block on his back and spurred the donkey on. Who`s the ass in this story?"
Indeed, it is interesting to find to spot the ass in this story. It`s interesting to see who is fabricating fibs that receive international attention, and who is behaving unprofessionally as a journalist.
Attorney Moshe Sa`ada, an investigator for the Justice Ministry`s Internal Affairs department, the man who probed this case, can hardly be suspected of someone interested in covering up the Border Police`s mess. On the contrary, he administered some harsh investigations against Border Police officers suspected of abusing and murdering a Palestinian young boy in Nablus and the serious case of abuse which was recently exposed at Abu-Dis. These investigations resulted in stiff indictments, and convictions.
Saada began probing the donkey case following a complaint by Shawara`s family, and determined that there was evidence of testimony to support a claim that Shawara was victim to abuse by BP officers. Saada found that the Palestinian ambulance driver who rushed Shawara to hospital heard from the village`s residents that the deceased was "probably hit in the head because he bought a crazy mule." The not-unreasonable assumption was that he tied this animal to his arm to restrain it, but was then kicked off, hitting his head against the ground, and was dragged bleeding and unconscious.
Who Saw the Dragging?
Gideon Levy contacted the Justice Ministry and asked whether they had heard of a Palestinian who had survived a similar event, and suggested the ministry run a thorough probe into the issue. He said this was a serial form of abuse with BP officers. Saada called Levy to ask for the contact details of the man who had been abused in a similar manner, allegedly, but Levy refused to put Saada in contact with the man. He nonetheless published the man`s name in the paper.
It was the very same Maamoun abu Ali from the sub headline. According to him, only weeks before Shawara`s death, abu Ali was detained by a BP team who tied him to his donkey`s reins, told him to lie down, face down, on his stomach and placed a building block on his back. They whipped the donkey to start running, but the beast was old and tired, and maybe stubborn, and would not budge. The BP men told him to rise to his feet, dealing blows to his face, which left a scare, according to the man`s version. Then they told him to be off.
Internal Affairs tried rather diligently to verify the story. After all, if there`s a previous case of someone who`d been tethered to his donkey, it does raise concerns that Shawara died of a similar fate. Maybe it was this who caused his death, and not a crazy mule. Since Levy named the man and his village in the article, Internal Affairs decided to pursue the story without his assistance.
Internal Affairs therefore contacted the Palestinian Authority and asked its officers to check the authenticity of the account. The Palestinian Authority told Internal Affairs they had no record of the man or any similar story. Internal Affairs then contacted the Palestinian researcher, who roved the occupied territories to garner Levy his stories, and asked for him to meat with one of the unit`s detectives. They said they would come to meet him at a Palestinian-controlled checkpoint, but the man refused. He told them he would meet with the victim of the abuse the next day, and would get back after that. He never did.
In the meantime, the case was quoted on Haaretz`s pages, in an accusing editorial, as though it were solid truth. That article and how it was phrased merits some close inspection, because it demonstrated how matters that were never resolved or proven take on the shape and form of facts and truths.
For example, the editorial entitled the article as "the story of Mahmoud Shawara." Since he is dead, it is obviously not his story in the sense that one tells one`s story to someone else.
Well, then, what does "his story" mean? The obvious answer it that it is a story which happened - in all actuality - to Mahmoud Shawara. And so, after the editorial described how he was tied, pure and simple, to a donkey which BP officers chased away, the editorial says that Shawara`s half-dead body was discovered by "eyewitnesses." Eyewitnesses to what? Did they witness the horrible abuse with their eyes? Maybe they only witnessed how the deceased was dragged on the ground by his mule? The impression given here, through a delicate smoothing-over of truth, is that they witnessed the abuse.
No second guesses
The story of Maamoun abu Ali is also presented as absolute truth. "Haaretz located the day before yesterday a man who had been tortured in a similar manner by BP officers," the paper said. On January 10, 2006, Yaakov Galanti, spokesperson for the Justice Ministry, contacted the paper`s editor-in-chief, David Landau, and asked him to assist in putting the ministry`s detectives in touch with the man claiming to have undergone the donkey abuse.
Haaretz, which earlier claimed to have "located" the man, referred Galanti to the spokesperson of B`Tselem, a human rights group accused of sporting a political agenda after it attended demonstrations against Israeli ministers and Palestinian rallies.
This organization is usually very eager - and rightfully so - to expose severe cases of abuse of Palestinians. This time, its spokesperson sufficed in giving Internal Affairs a phone number which allegedly belongs to the donkey abuse victim, She didn`t know what the detectives were talking about. Her son, she says, was 21 and he never leaves the Palestinian Authority. There was a beating, she said, about five or six years earlier but nothing to do with donkeys. Goodbye.
Internal Affairs closed the case in March, failing to obtain a shred of evidence pointing to the involvement of BP officers in the death of Mahmoud Shawara. Given the circumstances, it is untreatable to assume that had the deceased`s story been true, B`Tselem and the
Palestinian Authority would have a burning desire and interest in proving the veracity of the claims. That is usually what they do - they produce evidence and make accusations. This time, they didn`t.
No one appealed the case`s closing, as happens quite often in similar incidents. Not a whisper was heard, and filed was shelved. So much for the Donkey Procedure that Haaretz heralded.
Or maybe not. Because the term has already been burned into the consciousness of the local and global media. Another case of brutal and terrible crimes by the Israeli authorities. TV stations and papers the world over picked up the story from Haaret`z pages and it was let to fly high as a symbol and proof of our culpability and brutality, and, of course, as another medal on the exposing chest of Gideon Levy.
Well, the truth is that the circumstances of this case show Levy failed professionally, but succeeded in branding our collective forehead with yet another small scarlet letter. "Gideon Levy," Benziman writes, "leaves it to his readers to choose whom to believe: the family, of the authorities." Really? Any quasi-intelligent reader would instantly understand that it`s screaming: Believe the Palestinian, not Internal Affairs.
"The Israeli authorities, including the various branches of the defense establishment, have acquired for themselves a dubious reputation, and therefore they have little reason to marvel when the international community and their own citizens do not believe their accounts, until proven otherwise," Benziman adds. In Haaretz`s case, it`s a good opportunity to try to find the faults in their own houses first.
Because Gideon Levy has acquired for himself a glaringly non-credible reputation here and elsewhere in his career. So he and his paper should really not marvel when serious people don`t believe their accounts on matters like this one. Not everyone who rushes to sling mud on the authorities is automatically right, and not every official probe is a cover-up job. It depends on the circumstances, stuff like that.
And the only cover-up here, is for a sloppy bit of journalism and baseless blood tale.
For another example. A few years ago, Levy published in Haaretz a heart-wrenching story about a Palestinian baby who died of an illness after the IDF refused to let him and his mother through and IDF checkpoint. Central Command GOC back then, Moshe Ya`alon - who would later become chief-of-staff - called Levy to share with him the findings of the IDF probe into the affair, a probe which refuted the dreadful accusation. "The details don`t matter," Levy told Yaalon. "The problem in the occupation."
It is almost redundant to mention that Levy never retracted or corrected his accusations, and even went on repeating them as examples of IDF atrocities in the territories.
Now, you be the judge. Who`s the ass in this story?
The original Hebrew version:
Haaretz`s editorial based on Levy`s "scoop":
Source: Monotreme Prototheria firstname.lastname@example.org