Why did Amnesty say one thing in English and another in Hebrew?

Palestinians mourn over the bodies of three Palestinians who were killed by Israeli troops in the West Bank city of Hebron on 31 October, after their bodies were released by Israeli authorities. Amnesty International says several youths in the city were extrajudicially executed by Israel.

Shadi Hatem APA images

A week ago, Amnesty International published a report on Israel’s summary executions of Palestinians.

As The Electronic Intifada reported, the human rights group said it had “documented in depth at least four incidents in which Palestinians were deliberately shot dead by Israeli forces when they posed no imminent threat to life, in what appear to have been extrajudicial executions.”

It examined the killings of teenagers Saad al-Atrash, Dania Irsheid, Fadi Alloun and Hadil Hashlamoun.

“In some cases,” Amnesty said, “the person shot was left bleeding to death on the ground and was not given prompt medical assistance, in violation of the prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment.”

Amnesty published an Arabic-language release of its report that is faithful to the English version.

Yet the no-holds-barred report was considerably softened for the organizations’s much shorter Hebrew press release (translation below).

“Israeli palate”

At the Hebrew-language news website Local Call, journalist Noam Rotem wrote that the Hebrew version looked like it had been changed “in order to adapt it to the Israeli palate.”

He observed that the Hebrew release sent to journalists by Amnesty’s Israel office “is entirely different from the original press release issued by the organization in English.”

The English version is clear right from the headline about who is responsible for violence: “Israeli forces in occupied Palestinian territories must end pattern of unlawful killings.”

The Hebrew headline is more circumspect: “Lethal force should not be used to eradicate a violent incident.” (The Hebrew version does include the headline that appeared in the English version, but only as a sub-heading.)

The differences go deeper. “The Hebrew version makes significant efforts to stress Palestinian violence,” Rotem observed.

It does speak about “unlawful killings” by Israelis but, unlike the English/Arabic version, omits the term “extrajudicial executions.”

The English/Arabic version also includes several quotes from Philip Luther, director of Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa program.

“There is mounting evidence that, as tensions have risen dramatically, in some cases Israeli forces appear to have ripped up the rulebook and resorted to extreme and unlawful measures,” Luther states. “They seem increasingly prone to using lethal force against anyone they perceive as posing a threat, without ensuring that the threat is real.”

Luther also notes that “Israel’s investigation systems have long served to perpetuate impunity for unlawful killings of Palestinians by Israeli military and police forces,” and he warns of the potential for international justice to take its course.

The Hebrew language version omits these key quotes and includes only one where Luther emphasizes “a wave of recent stabbing attacks by Palestinians against Israeli civilians and military or police forces in Israel and the occupied West Bank.”

Finally, most of the specific cases in the English/Arabic version are absent from the Hebrew release.

For the one case that is discussed – the killing of Yousef al-Atrash on 26 October – the Hebrew version leaves out key details. It acknowledges that al-Atrash was shot as he tried to pull out his ID to show Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint in Hebron, and that an eyewitness “said that the young man did not constitute a life-endangering threat when shot.”

But it omits testimony that after al-Atrash was shot six or seven times, soldiers left him bleeding on the ground without medical care for 40 minutes, and then when an ambulance arrived, delayed it for a further 20 minutes.

The Hebrew version also does not mention that the eyewitness claimed to see soldiers plant a knife in the dying youth’s hand.

Amnesty’s response

“It is normal practice for national sections of Amnesty International to condense press releases issued by the organization’s International Secretariat during translation,” Amnesty’s Philip Luther explained in an email responding to an inquiry from The Electronic Intifada.

He said that the national sections typically only issue one-page press releases “while making the full English-language original version available as well.”

“The intention is always to produce a faithful summary of the original.”

But Luther acknowledged that “in this case, the condensed Hebrew-language summary was not of the quality we would normally expect and we can see how a comparison of the Hebrew-language and English-language versions of the press release in question would provoke questions about discrepancies between the content of the two texts.”

Luther said that unspecified “Action is being taken now to ensure the quality of such translations is always of the right quality in the future.”

He added that “there was no intention to alter the strong messages contained in the English-language original, which was, as always, shared with Israeli media.”

Given how complicit Israeli media are in inciting and covering up violence against Palestinians, Amnesty should be making extra efforts to ensure that its findings are not whitewashed, no matter what the reason.

Dena Shunra provided Hebrew translation.

Translation of Hebrew press release

[Emphasis in original]

Amnesty International 28 October 2015 Press Release

Amnesty: lethal force should not be used to eradicate a violent incident

Israeli forces must put an end to the unlawful killing of Palestinian civilians in the occupied Palestinian territories

Israeli forces have carried out unlawful killings of Palestinians in a series of events, using lethal force intentionally with no justification, it transpires from the findings of a study performed by Amnesty International.

The information is based on the findings of research that is still ongoing in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Amnesty International has documented in depth at least four incidents where the Israeli forces intentionally killed Palestinians, despite the fact that there was no life-threatening danger to those forces. Since 1 October, Israeli forces have killed more than 30 Palestinians in the Occupied West Bank and in Israel, after individual Palestinians stabbed Israeli citizens or after Israel suspected there was an intention to perform a stabbing.

“There is recently a pattern of using lethal force by Israeli forces following the wave of stabbing attacks by Palestinians against Israeli civilians, military forces and police forces in the occupied Palestinian territories and in Israel,” said Philp Luther, director of the Middle East and North Africa programs at Amnesty International.

Among documented cases, Israeli forces shot 19-year old Saad Muhammad Yusif al-Atrash in the Old City of Hebron, when he tried to draw out his ID document, as he was asked to do in the Israeli army checkpoint on 26 October. The Israel Police labeled the case as an “attempted stabbing,” but eyewitnesses from a balcony near the site of the incident said that the young man did not constitute a life-endangering threat when he was shot[.]

“Israeli security forces and Israeli civilians have contended with real attacks and threats to their lives in recent weeks,” stated Luther. “However the armed soldiers and the police personnel wear body armor against possible knife attacks – lead to the use of lethal force[.]” [sic]

Amnesty International calls upon the Israeli authorities to conduct independent, unbiased investigations into all the events specified in the report. Intentional killing of Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territories are serious violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

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Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.