The army spin machine at work in the Abu Rahmah killing

By Jerry Haber

A female protester dies at a Bil’in protest from tear gas inhalation. The army is not only faced with a public relations nightmare, but also with the real possibility that there will be pressure to change its mode of operations, and to use a less effective (from its standpoint) tear gas. There may even be pressure to conduct a military investigation, which the army certainly doesn’t want. So the only thing that it can do is to attack the credibility of the woman’s family and witnesses.

So this is how they do it:

With the willing help of a rightwing blogosphere, they start the rumor mill and run with the “multiple accounts” trick that is the mother’s milk of conspiracy theorists and bloggers. Jawaher Abu Rahmah wasn’t even at the demonstration, wrote a “friend” of the family in a facebook post, she was at home 500 meters away. (Of course, even if that were true, that would be an indictment of the gas used by the IDF.) But how do we really know she even died from gas inhalation? Rumors start to fly that she was pregnant and that this was an honour killing. The IDF and the “responsible” rightwing blogosphere reports the libels as “unconfirmed” – but report them nonetheless.

And then, the insinuations begin…why won’t the Palestinian Authority release the medical report? What is it trying to hide? (By the way, has the PA ever received a medical report from the IDF?)

But – aw, crap – the PA then releases the medical report! So now the task is to use the medical report to try to discredit the testimony. She had been treated with doses of antibiotics – maybe that means she had leukemia. Ergo, she had cancer. Ergo, she died of cancer (by a remarkable coincidence, at the very time of the protest. ) And no postmortem was conducted; only the family’s word was taken for it. And the body was buried on the same day. What are the Pals trying to hide? Why can’t they be like Jews, who rarely conduct postmortems and bury their dead a long time after death?

All this information is presented by the army twice – first as fact to a select group of rightwing bloggers who will lap up any vomit (sorry, it’s a Biblical phrase) the IDF Spokesperson gives them. After all, there is a hasbara war. Then, as “questions” that the IDF will release late in the evening for the morning papers. The differences in formulation are striking. For the press they give one set of information; for the bloggers, another

Fortunately, one newspaper, Haaretz, after printing on its website Anshil Pfeffer’s report of the IDF “questions” (with Michael Sfard’s rebuttal) updates the article with good reporting by Avi Issacharoff. And surprise, surprise – it does turn out that Abu Rahmah had a medical condition – she had water in her ear, balance problems, all associated with local infections, which explains the antibiotics in the medical record.

To be on the safe side, a physician had her get a CT scan – the medical document appears in the print Haaretz — and the scan is normal. She sees a physician in a Ramallah hospital who tells her not to worry, and to see him in a month.

According to a document obtained by Haaretz, Badwan prescribed a common remedy for dizziness and instructed her to bathe her ear in hot water. Samir said Badwan thought the problem was caused by water trapped in the middle ear, but nevertheless ordered a CT brain scan.

Physicians consulted for this article said Badwan probably suspected another condition.

After receiving normal results from the December 27 brain scan, Abu Rahmah saw Dr. Nasser al-Mualem at the Ramallah hospital, who, according to Samir, said her problem was common and told her to return in one month.

The medical documents seem to support Samir’s claim that with the exception of the headaches and dizziness, his sister was in generally good health. None of the doctors consulted for this article could think of a condition or symptoms that could be fatal in the presence of tear gas.

Badwan – like my doctor, or any doctor – wanted to rule out something more serious, and so he acted like a good doctor and ordered a test. The test said things were okay. I hardly call that “suspecting another condition”; I call that “being on the safe side.”

We now have a ridiculous account out there of a woman who was not at a demonstration dying of cancer (or being stabbed by her family), and then being whisked to a hospital, buried suddenly, with documents not released for (mirabile dictu) two days — and trumpeted by the hasbara-niks as “another example of Pallywood.”

Who cares about the facts when we are now are in a “battle of narratives”?

And that is precisely what the IDF wanted. No investigation, for the moment.

Cross-posted with permission from the Magnes Zionist blog.