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Incitement Kills — but Not Always Its Intended Target

The Israel Defense Forces has finally published the conclusion of its inquiry into the death of Jawaher Abu Rahmah, the woman allegedly killed by Israeli tear gas while protesting the security fence in the West Bank town of Bili’in last month. The official conclusion of the inquiry, based on Abu Rahmah’s hospital records, is medical error: a misdiagnosis leading to inappropriate treatment. But if that conclusion is correct, then what really killed Abu Rahmah is not mere error but the Palestinians’ own anti-Israel incitement.

The inquiry concluded that “doctors believed Abu Rahmah was sickened by phosphorous fertilizer and nerve gas. She was therefore treated with atropine and fluids, without Palestinian doctors realizing that she had in fact inhaled tear gas.”

Atropine is the standard treatment for poisonous gas. But it can be deadly if given in large doses to someone who hasn’t inhaled poison gas.

And this is where incitement comes in. Anyone who knows anything about Israel would know that the IDF doesn’t even use nerve gas against combatants armed with sophisticated weapons, much less against rock-throwing demonstrators.

But wild allegations of preposterous Israeli crimes are standard fare among Palestinians, and indeed throughout the Arab world. Israel has been accused of everything from poisoning Palestinian wells with depleted uranium to sending sharks to attack Egypt’s Red Sea resorts in order to undermine that country’s tourist industry. And one staple of this genre is the claim that Israel uses poison gas against Palestinians. Indeed, the claim was publicly made by no less a person than Yasir Arafat’s wife in a 1999 meeting with then-First Lady Hillary Clinton: Suha Arafat charged that “intensive daily use of poison gas by Israeli forces” was causing cancer among Palestinians.

Had it not been for the fact that such preposterous claims are so routinely reported as fact that they have become widely believed, Abu Rahmah’s doctors would never have entertained the possibility that her symptoms were caused by poison gas. They would instead have focused on plausible causes of her complaint, and thereby avoided the fatal misdiagnosis.

Palestinian incitement has cost Israel thousands of dead and wounded and contributed to the blackening of its image overseas. But the Abu Rahmah case underscores the fact that the ultimate victim of such lies is the society that perpetrates them. For when the distinction between truth and falsehood loses all meaning, a society becomes dysfunctional.

You can’t run a functioning legal system if rampant conspiracy theories mean key verdicts will be widely disbelieved, as may well be the case with the inquiry into former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination. You can’t run an army if you fall so captive to your own propaganda that you misread both your own and the enemy’s capabilities — a fact that contributed to the Arabs states’ disastrous loss to Israel in 1967. And it turns out you can’t save lives if you let propaganda warp your diagnoses.


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