Conspiracy theory 101

Not long after the murder of John F. Kennedy  in November 1963, the Warren Commission was established to investigate the assassination of the United States President and the final report was made public ten months later. It concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the killing of Kennedy and the wounding of Texas Governor John Connally, and that Jack Ruby acted alone in the murder of Oswald.

Even before the findings had been handed down, a number of theories arose suggesting that there was a conspiracy to assassinate Kennedy. A book entitled “Rush to Judgment” was published followed by a hit (pun not intended) documentary film which promoted the conspiracy theory and ever since there has been a plethora of theories about criminal conspiracies involving parties as varied as the CIA, the KGB, the American Mafia, the Israelis, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, the sitting Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, Cuban president Fidel Castro, anti-Castro Cuban exile groups, the Federal Reserve or some combination of the above. In most cases, the basis and the evidence for the claims made was scant and certainly not the sort that would be accepted in a competent court in a respected legal jurisdiction.

These days there is no such confusion when a world shattering event occurs. They all still rush to judgment but almost everybody eliminates most, but not all, of the usual suspects bar one and I will leave it to you to decide which of them seems to be the odd person out.

The first outrageous conspiracy story of 2011 was already hatching as the clock struck midnight just ten days ago.   

On the last day of 2010 the weekly Friday protest against the Israel’s Security Barrier in the West Bank village of Bilin took place. The initial reports of the event were standard fare. Some of the 250 “peaceful” protesters threw stones, the IDF used tear gas to disperse the crowd and subsequently two people were taken to hospital with light injuries and released. Another person, thirty-six year old Jawaher Abu Rahma who was 500 metres away from the protest and not taking part in it, was also taken to hospital at some stage and on the following day she died. The hospital report listed her cause of death as “tear gas inhalation, according to the family”.

Thus, for the first time in medical history “according to the family” became a credible medical prognosis. This was naturally followed by a momentous rush to judgement from the pundits about who was guilty for causing Abu Rahma’s death with the obligatory condemnation from Palestine Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of the “Israeli crime which is part of a series of crimes carried out by the occupation army against our helpless nation”. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat who once infamously lied that there were 500 dead civilians in Jenin during Israel’s 2002 operation against terrorists in that city chipped in with another lie condemning “this appalling crime by the Israeli army against participants in a peace-seeking protest… this is part of war crimes Israel carries out against our nation” (see more).

The scene was set for those in the world media who are quick to oblige the propagandists by picking up on yet another attack on the Jewish State without fact checking and without question to rush. Israel stood not only condemned but the loose cannons of this world were having a field day. One of the looser local cannons who likes to describe himself as “a journalist” jumped onto the bandwagon with a tasteless and inane attempt to point out the “historical irony” of “how Israel gasses Palestinian protestors and sometimes kills them” even though by that time, reports were beginning to filter through seriously questioning the veracity of the story.

While her family had been asserting that Abu Rahma was in perfect health prior to the 31 December incident, Mohammed Eideh, who treated her, said she had asthma. The Palestine Authority initially refused to release her medical reports but then backed down. A news report appeared in the Israeli press suggesting that Abu Rahma had in fact died of an illness, perhaps leukaemia or lung cancer. The IDF disputed the claim that the tear-gas it uses could have caused a death and pointed to numerous inconsistencies but the discrepancies didn’t seem to interest some such as the New York Times which was happy to accept each Palestinian claim as fact, but quick to dismiss Israeli claims because they came from IDF sources who wished to remain anonymous for reasons of protocol.

Nevertheless, it was accepted that Abu Rahma was not at the rally, but rather was watching the rally from a distance. According to her mother, the tear gas must have been swept by the wind. However, this raised an additional problem for those who rushed to judgement. The tear gas could not possibly have been lethal in these circumstances – see this analysis about the dissipation of tear gas, which also shows a map of just how far away Abu Rahma was from the action – approximately two football fields. In reality, to cause a death, this gas would need to be used in the confined space of a sealed room. The flaw in the Palestinian claims was that if the gas killed Abu Rahma, then 250 other protesters who were a lot closer would also have succumbed. As I mentioned above, only two were taken to hospital on New Year’s Eve and both were later released.

More discrepancies arose and many bloggers were doing fantastic work following up these claims, including Barry Rubin, CiF Watch and Elder of Zion, but I will focus the most recent news articles.

Haaretz carried a report which quoted Brig. Gen. Nitzan Alon, who is the IDF commander in the West Bank, as saying “she [Abu Rahma] most probably died as a result of other complications, combined with problems in the medical care she received at the Palestinian hospital” (see more). He also declared, “our assessments were proven during the week after receiving additional documentation from the Palestinians … the documents and data we received show that the type of treatment she received and other medical aspects caused her death” (see more). Despite the confusion there is absolutely no clear cut evidence that the tear gas was the cause of the death.  

We are only ten days into the New Year, and this was the first of the conspiracy stories that turned out a lie. No, it is not the only one and nor is it the most outrageous.

 

If the one about the mossad using animals such as sharks and vultures to spy on other countries is anything to go by, then 2011 is destined to become the year of the anti-Israel conspiracy theory. Please look after your pets, people!

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