How to Fake a Debate

Posted on January 5, 2011

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This New York Times article on the death of a Palestinian woman, apparently from tear gas inhalation, or complications associated with it, is a primer on how to create an artificial debate on issues that are fairly straight-forward. On one side of this “debate”, we have the woman’s family, the ambulance driver and three doctors, including the hospital’s director, claiming that Jawaher Abu Rahma died as a result of inhaling tear gas. On the other side of this debate, we have  an anonymous military official who disputes the fact, but provides no evidence for his assertions. Here is the almost comical debate, paragraph by paragraph:

On Saturday night, an Israeli military official said the army had received an initial report from the Palestinians that a woman who was hospitalized after inhaling tear gas had been released and died later at her home. While not disputing that Ms. Abu Rahmah had been affected by tear gas, the official questioned whether she had some pre-existing medical condition that might have contributed to her death, or whether her death could have been a result of medical negligence.

A report dated Jan. 2 from the hospital and signed by two doctors and the director, Dr. Muhammad Aideh, said her death was caused by “unknown gas inhalation” after an “attack by Israeli soldiers as the family said.” Dr. Aideh also said the patient “died from lung failure that was caused by tear gas inhalation, leading to a heart attack.”

On Tuesday, the military official said that records showed that Ms. Abu Rahmah was given a drug at the hospital that can be used to treat leukemia or a drug overdose. The official also suggested that Ms. Abu Rahmah could have had asthma. The military also said that Palestinian medical officials had not immediately provided the military with the medical reports, a lack of cooperation that the military considered problematic.

The hospital report states that Ms. Abu Rahmah had “no history of chronic disease.” Family members said she underwent a CT brain scan in late December after complaining of headaches. A report from the Shafey Diagnostic Center said the scan showed everything to be normal. The family said the problem was an inner ear infection that was subsequently treated and cured.

The military official noted that there were no photographs or video showing Ms. Abu Rahmah at the protest on Friday, but that is not surprising since she was not at the forefront of the demonstration.

The Israeli military’s questions focus chiefly on discrepancies in timekeeping. The military says that according to one medical report, Ms. Abu Rahmah’s laboratory test results were registered at 2:45 p.m. on Friday, whereas another report states that she was admitted at 3:20 p.m.

Her brothers said that 3:20 p.m. was the time when she admitted to the intensive care unit. The tests, they said, were carried out earlier in the emergency room.

There you have it. An unnamed military official proposes all kinds of things, presenting no evidence–or at least Isabel Kurshner, the reporter, provides none. Its almost as if the military official is saying the first thing that comes to his/her head to cast doubt on any and all allegations and the reporter is simply writing it down.

Along the way, Kershner pitches in, casting doubt on other Palestinian deaths on behalf of the Israeli military:

Video of a 12-year-old Palestinian being shot to death in Gaza in 2000 during a gun battle between Israeli forces and Palestinians provided an iconic image that fanned Palestinian rage in the early stages of the second intifada. Israel first apologized for the death of the boy, Muhammad al-Dura, then concluded he had probably been killed by Palestinian fire. Some critics even charged that the whole episode had been staged.

You see there. There are two sides to every story. There’s the side of the six thousand or so Palestinians who’ve died at the hands of the Israeli military. And there’s the Israeli military side, that claims that when they attack people, those people are somehow dying another way. Not exactly Oxford style, but whatever.