Do Human Rights Monitors Increase Violence?

From Richard Landes at Augean Stables:

B’tselem’s Cognitive Egocentrism Increases Palestinian Violence

The Elder of Ziyon blog has an insightful post up about B’tselem’s [A Jewish Israeli Human Rights monitor in the West Bank] decision to provide West Bank Palestinians with cameras so that they can document settler violence. B’tselem, through a shallow understanding of Arab culture, or through wanton desire to demonize Israeli soldiers and citizens, has likely caused an increase in violence through their move. Their cognitive egocentrism keeps them from understanding it, the cameras do not inhibit “Israeli aggression”. Instead, since they benefit from scenes of Israeli violence, Palestinians are actually encouraged to do whatever they can to cause Israelis to react so that they can be captured on film.

This is hard for me to fully integrate. Part of me is proud that a Jewish NGO seeks to reform abusive practices by Israeli soldiers in the territories. Aren’t such left-peaceniks simply holding Israel to its founding liberal, democratic and Jewish standards?  We should not become a monster to fight a monster.

However, there has been solid evidence of Hezbullah’s and Hamas’ manipulation of visual footage to garner  international support and create “martyrs” for the war against Israel.  Richard Landes covers this well at Second Draft and has coined the term “Pollywood” for this practice.  Still, I refuse to declare from now on all footage of Israeli army abuses are staged.

At the same time, I know even tiny manipulations somewhere down the information pipeline obscures the truth and provokes global anger at  Israel. Here’s a person example. A few months ago an Egyptian Muslim friend included me in a mass email which showed footage at an Israeli border checkpoint.  A Israeli solider took a handcuffed and blindfolded Palestinian man off the ground and led him beside an IDF jeep.  The soldier stood 6 feet away, raised his rifle, and fired.  The camera lens shakes at the rifle sound.  (perhaps an edit). We return to see the handcuffed Palestinian lying on the ground by a different vehicle.  Several soldiers are calmly standing around him and one kneels down and leaves.

My heart sank. I was shocked.  I felt this was damning footage.  The clip my friend sent briefly noted in small print that the footage was given to an Israeli human rights organization who issued a public report leading to an army investigation.

Richard Landes’ articles in TIKKUN magazine over the years convinced me that leftist criticism against a liberal society can exaggerate fault, ignore strengths, and omit the difference between liberal and honor-shame based societies. Ironically, leftist cultural values (esp. humanism and relativism) are certainly not publically acceptable in such societies and there exists few if any means or interest in self-criticism and reform. I wanted at least to show my friend that Israel has self-critical institutions and an army with a formal review process and a free press, helping him compare outrage at Israel to his country of Egypt.

I’ve read B’tselem reports in Tikkun Magazine for many year so I went to their website. Within seconds I located much more of the story.  The Palestinian man had been part of an illegal protest at the checkpoint.  The rubber bullet hit part of a toe.  He received medical treatment from the IDF and was released. The officer in the video told the soldier with the rifle to intimidate the rabble-rouser by firing a rubber bullet at the ground near the feet.  The shot was not intended to hit the victim. Such practices are being reviewed by the Army and the courts.  Still, this is far from a vicious murder as the video editing intended to depict. My friend wasn’t part of a conscious conspiracy.  He’d been used by the manipulators, too. I forwarded this info to my friend.  I’d asked that he clarify these facts to the people he sent the video to.  We dialogued online in a friendly but meaningful way on the topi.  I don’t think that he sent a clarification and I was afraid to push harder on it.

Update: By August 7, 2008 the IDF had charged 2 soldiers for “inappropriate conduct.” B’tselem and four other Israel-based NGOs appealed to the High Court for the charges be harsher based on Israeli law.  On August 19, the Court rule ruled that the IDF stop the investigation until the Court is told why it choose those lesser charges. FYI- the Israeli Judicial system has an unusually active role.  The High Court will decide specific cases where national security and liberal values conflict.

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