Philip Weiss comments today on the IDF's use of You Tube to sell its attack on the Gaza Strip, referring specifically to an incident described by the BBC's Paul Reynolds, in which a blurry piece of footage that the IDF describes as the destruction of Grad missiles being loaded onto a truck turns out perhaps to be instead the destruction of a Gaza family trying to salvage oxygen cylinders from its destroyed workshop.
Reynolds points out that this incident really sums up the problem with accepting IDF war footage as factual: on their own, these grainy images don't unequivocally show you anything. The only indication you have that you are witnessing belligerent activity is that the IDF says so. And "the IDF says so", is not necessarily a reliable indicator of fact.
Last time I remember the IDF offering us video proof of its enemies' nefarious deeds in the Gaza Strip, it included this image of a U.N. ambulance driver loading something into the back of his vehicle:
Black and white video footage from an Israeli military drone over northern Gaza shows what the army says is a Palestinian loading a Qassam rocket into a United Nations ambulance on September 2, 2004. Israel demanded on Sunday the United Nations investigate whether Palestinians filmed in the Gaza Strip were militants using a U.N. van to transport rockets for use against Israel. (REUTERS / Israeli Defense Forces-Handout)
The outraged Israeli government insisted this was proof that U.N. personnel were transporting Qassam missiles to their launch sites in the Gaza Strip. The U.N. denied any such thing had happened. Analysts who viewed the video said the object in the ambulance driver's hand looked very lightweight for a Qassam, and thought it rather unlikely that someone loading an explosive device into an ambulance would casually throw it in from a distance, as happened in the video. Furthermore, although the lightweight object being thrown into the ambulance didn't really look consistent with a Qassam, it did look rather like ... a rolled-up stretcher which, coincidentally, the driver of the ambulance in question had insisted all along he was carrying and throwing into the back of his vehicle when the video was shot:
A Palestinian medic from the United Nations Wael Ghabaen carries a stretcher at the United Nations headquarters in Gaza City, Sunday, Oct. 3, 2004 demonstrating the action for reporters in the wake of Israeli accusations that Gaza militants used a U.N. vehicle to transport a homemade rocket. The Israeli army released video they say was taken by an unmanned aircraft flying over Jebaliya that they allege shows militants loading a rocket into a vehicle with UN markings. The United Nations denied the accusation Sunday, saying the footage showed a worker loading a stretcher into an ambulance. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
Ultimately, Israel's video"proof" of the U.N.'s alleged complicity in the firing of missiles ended up with a graceless acknowledgement from Israel that its false and inflammatory accusation was unfounded, and some hilarity for the cartoonists at Ha'aretz:
Defence Minister Mofaz to Chief of Staff Ya'alon: "We can't rule out the possibility that this is a stretcher".
So Paul Reynolds is right: you can't simply accept the IDF version of what they say you are looking at in their war footage, because it's perfectly possible the IDF interpretation is mistaken.
What Paul Reynolds doesn't say is that you also can't take the IDF's word for what is going on in their videos because in the past they have not only been mistaken about what their footage represents, they have also been caught issuing footage with deliberately deceptive commentary, designed to cover up their own illegal actions.
On 20 October 2003, the Israeli Air Force assassinated Hamas militants Khalid al-Masri and Iyad al-Hilo as they drove through the Nusseirat refugee camp near Gaza City. They were killed by a helicopter-launched missile that struck their car. Subsequently, about 140 passersby in the same street were horrifically wounded - as many as 14 of them fatally - by a second missile that struck while EMS personnel were arriving to attend to the victims of the first. IDF spokesmen denied that the appalling civilian casualties were anything to do with their operation. They insisted they had used Hellfire missiles in the attack, which would have had the shrapnel range of a hand grenade, and could therefore have been lethal only to people standing in the immediate vicinity of the car. To prove they were not responsible for the civilian carnage, they made available to international journalists a video of the killing showing that no bystanders were in the immediate vicinity at the time (ergo it could not have been the Israeli missiles that killed the bystanders).
The video is no longer available on-line - by the time you get to the end of this post you'll understand why the Israeli government took it down - but you can read the story of its release to the press, and see a still from the video, courtesy of BBC News:
So there you have it. Palestinians claimed that the IAF had fired two missiles into a Gaza street, one of which targeted two wanted men in car, while the other cut down indiscriminately large numbers of passersby in the street. The IDF acknowledged it had fired two missiles of limited range at the targeted car, which could not have killed anyone outside the immediate area, and offered video evidence that there was no-one in the immediate area, proving they could not have caused all the civilian casualties.
But, in the weeks that following the assassination at Nusseirat, Israeli MK Yossi Sarid repeatedly asked the IDF to clarify the operational details it had released to the press about the mission. Sarid was a member of the Knesset foreign affairs and defense committee, and had received classified information that events at Nusseirat were not as the Israeli military had suggested. It was not until Sarid threatened to go public with what he knew about the operation that the IDF came clean:
The Israeli military has admitted that it lied about a rocket attack on a Gaza refugee camp, which according to the army led to no casualties, but which the Palestinians have claimed killed 14 civilians.... [T]he army now admits that it lied in briefings to the Israeli and foreign press, because the second rocket was not a Hellfire missile. The military refuses to identify the weapon used, on the grounds of "operational security". But the speculation is that it was an American-made Flechette, which is illegal under international law because it fires thousands of tiny darts over hundreds of meters, causing horrific injuries. Israel has used similar weapons in Gaza in the past...
Evidence from the attack scene indicated that the second missile exploded in the air, not on impact, suggesting an intention to cause casualties in a wide area instead of just destroying the vehicle.
-- Israel Admits It Lied Over Missile Raid on Camp; The Guardian, 21 Nov 2003.
Flechettes (left) are small darts that can be packed into tank shells and air-launched missiles, and used as an anti-personnel weapon. They are absolutely not a precision weapon of limited range. Upon detonation, the shell/missile ruptures releasing approximately 5,000 flechettes, that scythe indiscriminately through anything in their path for a distance of up to 300 metres from the point of impact (further if the shell is detonated mid-air). They are the rich person's equivalent of the bomb belt stuffed with nails that a suicide bomber uses to maximize his casualties.
It is illegal under international law for Israel to use such indiscriminate weaponry on the streets of the Gaza Strip, where it will inevitably mow down civilians. Nevertheless, Israel has used flechettes repeatedly in the Gaza Strip since the beginning of the second intifada. (It doesn't use them in the West Bank, because the indiscriminate nature of the weapon means that they are too dangerous to use where settlers and Palestinians live in close proximity. [Footnote]).
And that's what the video of the Nusseirat assassination was meant to cover up. It was a genuine operational video of the assassination in question, and it was apparently solid evidence of the IDF's version of events. But the explanation the Israelis gave as to what was going on was a lie, and that's what made the video fraudulent. It did not show two Hellfire missiles of limited shrapnel radius killing the passengers in a car while posing no danger to other people in the neighborhood. It showed one Hellfire missile being fired at the car, and a second - much more powerful missile - being fired a minute later, causing an explosion that rained lethal darts over hundreds of metres, an outcome the IAF knew was absolutely inevitable once it chose a flechette to do the job. That is how - even though they were not in the immediate vicinity of the car - up to 14 civilians were killed in the attack, including two children and the doctor who had gone to the scene to treat the victims of the first explosion. That's how 140 civilians were wounded including these two children...
Unidentified children, two of about 140 civilians wounded when an Israeli helicopter fired a flechette missile into Nusseirat Refugee Camp, 20 October 2003. (al-Quds al-Arabi, 21 Oct 2003).
...and Muhammad Abu-Shmaleh who was struck in the neck by a flechette dart from the second missile, as he rode in a taxi on the same street, and left irreversibly pentaplegic.
And that's how you use video "proof" to tell lies.
Of all the people in the Israeli military, political and security establishment who knew the truth of this incident, only ONE came forward to confront the IDF over its lies about how all those civilians were killed at Nusseirat. Were it not for Yossi Sarid, that fraudulent video defense of the IAF's actions on 20 October 2003 would probably still be on-line, falsely "proving" the IAF didn't kill all those civilians, and allowing Israel's defenders to make their usual callous cackling about all those dumb Palestinians blowing themselves up with their own bombs in "work accidents".
Remember the indiscriminate killing at Nusseirat, and the way the Israelis used video "evidence" to lie about what they had done there, every time you watch the current crop of IDF war porn videos on You Tube.
Footnote: "Israel says it uses the flechette only in the Gaza Strip, explaining - no less appallingly - that in Gaza, there is a clear division between Jewish settlements and Palestinian locales". The IDF's 'Permissiveness' in the Territories; Gideon Levy, 9 Feb 2003.