In Palestine and Israel, there are no ‘clashes’

A video shows two Palestinian boys were killed in calm circumstances, not in ‘clashes’.

Mohammad Abu Thaher and Nadim Nuwara were shot dead on al-Nakba [AFP/Getty Images]

Colours clash. Opinions clash. Couples clash. Palestinians and Israelis do not clash.

Palestinians protest the colonisation and theft of their land, the kidnapping and imprisonment of their children, the indefinite detention of their fathers and brothers, mothers and sisters.

Israelis fortify their occupation, justify their right to detain without charge, and deny their theft of Palestinians’ water, resources and land. And yet “clashes” defines the interaction between Palestinians and Israelis, so much that “clashes” have become a story that we think we already know.

On May 15, two teenage boys were shot dead in the West Bank, outside Ofer Prison. The boys had been demonstrating on al-Nakba – the annual commemoration of the expulsion of Palestinians from their homes by Zionist militias in order to establish the state of Israel between 1947 and 1948.

Rather than joining the Nakba festivities put on by the Palestinian Authority in downtown Ramallah, Nadim Siam Nuwara, 17, Mahmoud Odeh Abu Thaher, 16, and others demonstrated at Israel’s Ofer Prison in Beitunia, where over 100 Palestinians have been on hunger strike since April in protest of their detention without charge and under secret evidence. Between 1.45pm and 3pm that afternoon, both boys would be killed there.

International newspapers and online publications quickly began filing reports of the deaths. The New York Times, Reuters and Associated Press all reported with authority that the youths were killed amid “clashes”. Reuters even included a bold detail that asserted the youth were throwing stones, as if that justified a deadly shot to the heart.

CCTV footage: Two Palestinians shot dead by Israeli forces

“Clashes” – a word that has crept into and made itself very comfortable in the lexicon of English-language media covering the events in Israel and Palestine – is perhaps the most popular euphemism aside from the other ubiquitous and inaccurate word, “conflict”.

The word is popular for its supreme utility. In The New York Times’ Jerusalem Bureau Chief Jodi Rudoren’s report, she gives the floor to Israeli military spokesperson, Libby Weiss, who says the 150-plus Palestinian demonstrators had been throwing stones and firebombs, and claims the army used “nonviolent means” to dispel the protesters.

As for the shootings, Weiss assured Rudoren that an “investigation” was underway. Readers of The New York Times would not know that near-blanket immunity applies to Israeli soldiers who shoot and kill Palestinians.

A recent study by Israeli human rights organisation, Yesh Din, shows that of the 5,000 Palestinians that had been killed by Israeli security forces since 2000 – including 1,000 minors – the army has opened 179 investigations. Of the sparse oversight this hints at, 21 soldiers have been indicted and seven convicted, most sentenced to a few months in prison with the exception of one soldier who spent a year in prison for killing British citizen, Thomas Hurndell, in 2003.

After allowing the military spokesperson first go, Rudoren then turned to a representative of the Palestinian Medical Relief Committee, whose ambulances were at Ofer Prisons. Not surprisingly, Ahmad Badwan disputed Weiss’ version of events, stating that the demonstration became violent after Israel shot live ammunition at the protesters. The disagreement was, for Rudoren, irreconcilable. But she had done her job, filed an article that purported to present both sides, and provided no truth or answers.

“Clashes” is a useful word if you’d like to tell your readers very little. “Clashes” doesn’t give details. At best it compresses “the conflict” into the most visible examples of tension, while ignoring the incessant drone of the occupation and apartheid, its daily injustices and violence.

But footage released on May 17 by Defence for Children International which was first reported by The Electronic Intifada, shows the actual circumstances in which the two young men were shot by the Israeli army with live ammunition. The footage caught on a CCTV camera shows the events with pristine and terrifying clarity: A few people idling amid calm, not chaos, far from any soldiers. The first shot hits Mahmoud Abu Thaher in the back. He falls gently to the ground, seamlessly turning from alive to lifeless. Just over an hour later, Nadeem Nuwara is shot in the chest. The moments the bullets hit the boys’ living, breathing, walking selves are sudden and shocking, but not explosive. A boy stands in a spot, then falls in the same one.

But the footage is not revelatory for exonerating the boys as culpable in their own murders; they would have been no less innocent had they been throwing stones or slinging Molotov cocktails at the time of their murders.

Rather, the video incriminates two parties: the Israeli army that shot and killed Nuwara and Abu Thaher like “hunting game”, as journalist and editor of The Electronic Intifada, Maureen Murphy, described on Twitter; and the establishment media, which consistently reports events in Palestine without witnessing or investigating them. Tossing out bland and careless – and therefore insidious – words like “clashes” to describe what should be treated with the rigour and caution of a crime scene, journalists’ mendacious reports are held to account by this footage.

If bureau chiefs and foreign correspondents are obliged to report on murders they were not present to witness and couldn’t be bothered to properly investigate, they now know that their lies can catch up with them. 

Charlotte Silver is an independent journalist currently based in San Francisco. She has written for Inter Press Service, Truthout, The Electronic Intifada, Al Ahkbar and many other publications. She is a graduate of Stanford University.