One of the classic warning signs of abuse is when a child shows a pattern of injuries, but the abuser forces the victim to go along with cover stories claiming the victim simply had a series of unfortunate accidents.
Israel, as a serial and systematic abuser, is once again demonstrating how shameless it is in its attempts to cover up its horrifying mistreatment of Palestinian children and to blame child victims for its own crimes.
On 15 December, in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, an Israeli occupation soldier shot Muhammad Fadel Tamimi with a rubber-coated metal bullet at close range, causing devastating head injuries.
Photos of the 15-year-old have circulated around the world showing the effect of having one-third of his skull removed during life-saving surgery. While he awaits restorative surgery he remains very vulnerable, and faces a long recovery.
His case has been all the more embarrassing to Israel because he is the cousin of Ahed Tamimi, the 17-year-old who has been in prison for two months and is being subjected to a military trial in an Israeli kangaroo court for slapping and shoving two heavily armed occupation soldiers shortly after Muhammad was shot.
Both are members of the Tamimi family, against which Israeli leaders have vowed collective punishment and revenge because of their prominent role in the nonviolent resistance campaign to Israel’s theft of Nabi Saleh’s land for colonial settlements.
In the predawn hours of Monday, Israeli occupation forces raided Nabi Saleh and arrested 10 people, including six children. One of them was Muhammad Fadel Tamimi.
They took him away for interrogation and released him hours later leaving observers once again stunned at Israel’s callousness and cruelty.
It was obviously a carefully planned operation, as the newspaper Haaretz noted that the detention of the severely injured child “was approved by a military physician.”
Yet all became clear Monday night, when Yoav Mordechai, the general who runs COGAT, the bureaucratic arm of Israel’s military occupation, posted on Facebook what he clearly thought would be the revelation to absolve Israel of its crimes against Muhammad.
And it fit the classic pattern of the serial abuser. According to Mordechai, the boy had not been shot in the head after all, but had merely fallen off his bike.
“What is the truth regarding Muhammad Tamimi?” Mordechai wrote. “Wonder of wonders! Today the boy himself confessed in front of the police and in front of COGAT representatives that in December his skull was injured when he was riding his bicycle and fell off it and hit his head on the handlebars.”
Mordechai followed this up by claiming that the “culture of lies and incitement continues among the children and adults of the Tamimi family.”
His post was accompanied with a graphic with the words “fake news” emblazoned across it in Arabic.
Mordechai, it should be noted, works closely with the Palestinian Authority – collaboration between occupier and occupied that is actively promoted by UN officials.
Human rights defenders and journalists were quick to debunk Mordechai’s outlandish story.
Sarit Michaeli of the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem described Mordechai’s claim that the boy merely “fell off his bike” as Orwellian.
What was stunning, she said is “not how big a lie it is” but that “such easily debunked lies show the only target audience is [the] Israeli right.”
Along with this denunciation, Michaeli tweeted copies of a medical report from the hospital that had performed the emergency “bullet removal” surgery from Muhammad Tamimi’s head.
Haaretz noted that “the version of events described by Mordechai does not coincide [with] eyewitness accounts obtained by Haaretz, according to which the day Tamimi was injured, IDF [Israeli army] forces were firing at Palestinians who were throwing stones, with the aim of dispersing them.”
“Tamimi, witnesses said, was standing on a ladder behind a wall and was hit in the head the moment he raised it above the ledge,” the newspaper added.
It also published photos of the bullet removed in the surgery and of a CT scan showing it lodged inside Muhammad’s head.
The boy himself gave a similar account in this video published by Haaretz in early January:
And Defense for Children International-Palestine reported days after the shooting, citing an eyewitness, that “Israeli forces shot Muhammad Tamimi, 15, with a rubber-coated metal bullet shortly after clashes had ended.”
“According to the eyewitness, Israeli forces appeared to have exited the area around 4 pm when an Israeli soldier shot Muhammad in the face with a rubber-coated metal bullet at close range,” the group stated.
“He [Muhammad] was laying on the ground. His face and clothes were covered in blood,” the eyewitness said.
The doctor who treated Muhammad told Defense for Children International-Palestine that the boy “underwent two operations to remove the rubber-coated metal bullet, which lodged in the back of his skull and caused severe bleeding in his brain.”
Coercing a frightened boy
A journalist for the French news agency AFP reported on Tuesday that Muhammad Tamimi “confirmed,” that following his nighttime arrest he told the army he had had a bike accident, “but said he lied to avoid jail for protesting.”
Gaby Lasky, a lawyer who defends members of the Tamimi family, accused COGAT head Mordechai of “cynically abusing” a “miserable, made-to-order” investigation that induced “a frightened child [to] lie during the interrogation.”
Lasky confirmed to The Electronic Intifada that Muhammad was interrogated without a lawyer or a parent present, one of many abusive practices Israel uses against detained Palestinian children to coerce confessions.
B’Tselem’s Michaeli also quipped that Muhammad Tamimi is “the only Palestinian boy in history who denied throwing stones and was believed [by] the Israeli army.”
Israeli conspiracy theories
All this evidence will not convince the Israeli army, nor Israel’s most fanatical supporters; the goal of sending soldiers to arrest a badly injured child in the middle of the night and then having a general post his “confession” on Facebook is not to seek the truth but to sow doubt.
And this is where the pattern comes in: Israel’s obfuscation, lies and denials are legion, but it suffices to point to just a few.
B’Tselem’s Michaeli recalled another instance of Israel’s Orwellian lies: Beitunia, 2014.
Both were shot dead in cold blood the same day and in circumstances where they posed no conceivable threat to anyone – killings that were caught on video.
After the shootings, Israel’s spin doctors were out spreading their Orwellian lies.
Michael Oren, now a deputy minister in the Israeli government, went on CNN to claim that the two boys shot dead on 15 May 2014 might not even be dead.
In order to cast doubt, he cited the videotaped shooting of 12-year-old Muhammad al-Dura in Gaza in 2000 at the outset of the second intifada, which generated worldwide outrage.
Oren recycled the far-right conspiracy theory that the shooting had been staged, even questioning whether the child “was shot at all.”
Israel also first denied live ammunition had been used in the Nakba Day killings but when the evidence could not be buried it finally indicted one of its occupation soldiers, Ben Dery, with manslaughter for killing Nuwara.
Though Dery’s indictment was a rare instance of an Israeli having to answer for harming a Palestinian, the soldier has been offered a plea which will reportedly get him a “light punishment.”
No one has been charged in the killing of Abu al-Thahir.
And it’s hardly surprising to see that Oren quickly took to Twitter to promote Mordechai’s claim that Muhammad Tamimi just fell off his bike:
Peter Lerner, a former Israeli military spokesperson, also promoted the claim as an example of “Pallywood” – a term anti-Palestinian conspiracy theorists use to describe what they imagine is an organized Palestinian effort to fake human rights abuses to embarrass Israel:
Israel won’t listen to words
B’Tselem’s Michaeli made an astute observation that Mordechai’s fabrications are intended solely for the consumption of the Israeli right.
That’s an indication that Israel understands that it is badly losing support among international audiences who care about human rights.
To sustain the level of oppression that Palestinians face, Israel needs to constantly convince its “home front” that it is in the right, that its soldiers are doing good and that Palestinians are uncivilized beasts who never really suffer, but only lie and fabricate to harm the image of Israel’s “most moral army in the world.”
And on the world stage, Israel is ever more reliant on alliances with a global far-right that is eager to lap up such lies, just as it shares Israel’s rampant Islamophobia, racism and xenophobia.
The message for anyone who cares about human rights is very clear: an Israel this unhinged and brazen doesn’t care about what human rights groups say in their meticulous reports, and is not bothered by the timid bleatings of European Union and UN officials.
Israel only cares what people do, so the answer to this outrage must be more efforts to isolate this regime and make it pay a price through boycotts, divestment and sanctions.