Electronic Intifada Gets Lost in Translation

A good chunk of Pro-Palestinian propaganda consists of the “Israelis killed themselves” narrative, alleging that many, if not most, of the civilian casualties of October 7th were in fact the result of IDF fire. Deconstructing this false narrative will demand its own lengthy article, which I may write down the road, but right now I want to focus on the way that Pro-palestinian outlets poorly use Israeli media to construct said narrative.

On December 12th, Electronic Intifada came out with an article titled “Israel admits to ‘immense’ amount of ‘friendly fire’ on 7 October”, written by known antisemite Asa Winstanley. Winstanley’s article is basically just a biased summary of a different article; an Israeli article from December 10th, by Ynet’s military correspondent Yoav Zeitoun.

Zeitoun’s article, it must be said, is not even about October 7th. Zeitun reports on official IDF statistics that were published the same day that have shown that since the beginning of the IDF incursion into the Gaza Strip – a full three weeks after October 7th – around 20% of its casualties were killed in friendly fire incidents, or as they would be known under IDF jargon, “ירי דו-צדדי”, a “two-sided shooting”.

October 7th is only mentioned towards the end of the article, or as Winstanley frames it, “The key declaration was buried in the penultimate paragraph”. Right off the bat we have an attempt to imply some sort of cover-up. On their Electronic Intifada podcast, Winstanley and his friends, including another old friend of ours, Ali Abunimah, REALLY harp on this “buried at the end of the article” point, not realizing that that’s not how actual Orwellian-style censorship works.

Regardless, Winstanley does actually quote Zeitun correctly (which is at least more than can be said about the way that his friend Max Blumenthal started this whole “Israelis killed themselves” narrative to begin with). As both Zeitun and Winstanley say:

“Casualties fell as a result of friendly fire on October 7, but the IDF believes that beyond the operational investigations of the events, it would not be morally sound to investigate these incidents due to the immense and complex quantity of them that took place in the Kibbutzim and southern Israeli communities due to the challenging situations the soldiers were in at the time.”

He doesn’t do so in his article, but in the Electronic Intifada podcast, Winstanley (and co.) immediately tie this quote to their analysis of how events unfolded in Kibbutz Be’eri. Once again, this discussion is deserving of a separate article. In short, since the Battle of Be’eri did feature the only known incident of tanks firing at a target that did have Israeli civilians in it, unfortunately killing ten of them, (an incident that was covered extensively by Israeli media and has not been “covered-up” by anybody), the people at Electronic Intifada really harp on this point.

Most, if not all the articles pushing the “Israelis killed themselves” narrative, like Electronic Intifada or the aforementioned Max Blumenthal, are making a huge logical leap by taking this incident, as well as a few other isolated incidents (which aren’t as concrete as the Be’eri tank incident), and applying it to the bigger picture. Or, to use more professional language, this is an inductive fallacy, or a faulty generalization: an argument that improperly moves from specific instances to general rules.

Winstanley, on his twitter account, quite literally uses an argument that, while written in a sophisticated manner, amounts to nothing more than a childish, “Well, I know for sure that around 10 Israelis were killed by the IDF, than it MUST mean that MOST of them were killed by the IDF as well, even though I don’t have any evidence to back it up!”. If he wants his claims about how most of the Israeli civilian casualties are the result of friendly fire to make sense, he’ll need to provide us evidence for more than 400 Israelis that were killed by the IDF.

But isn’t the reason we’re all gathered here is that now Winstanley has an ultimate “gotcha!” thanks to Zeitoun’s article? An article in which the military correspondent for one of Israel’s biggest mainstream media outlets basically confirms what Electronic Intifada has been saying all along, while using official IDF stats? “Casualties fell as a result of friendly fire on October 7 […], the immense and complex quantity of them that took place in the kibbutzim and southern Israeli communities”. That’s the IDF confirming Winstanley’s claims and is obviously referring to the Be’eri tank incident and other similar alleged cases of “Israelis killed themselves”, right?

Well, no.

You see, when I said Winstanley quoted Zeitun correctly, I was lying. Sort of. I am a sneaky Zionist Jew after all.

Winstanley does correctly quote Zeitoun’s article… or more precisely, its English version. But the original Hebrew version reveals a different story. In Hebrew, the paragraph that Winstanley was quoting is as follows:

בשבעה באוקטובר חללים נפלו מירי על כוחותינו אך בצה”ל סבורים כי מעבר לתחקירים המבצעיים של אירועי אותו היום, לא נכון יהיה מוסרית לתחקר ברמת מחלקת הבטיחות ביבשה את כמות האירועים האדירה והמורכבת בקיבוצים ובמושבים בשל הסיטואציות חסרות התקדים בהן היו הלוחמים.

The key word in here is the word חללים. In Hebrew, it means “soldiers who have fallen in combat”. It is a word that is exclusively used to distinguish between military and civilian casualties. The soldiers who fought and died on October 7th are therefore חללים, while the civilian casualties are mostly referred to as נרצחים, “murdered ones”. For example, the full name of Israel’s memorial day is יום הזיכרון לחללי מערכות ישראל ונפגעי פעולות האיפה – “The day of remembrance for the fallen in Israel’s wars and victims of terrorist attacks”. Meaning, this semantic distinction is both crucial and is official. Zeitun has even written another article about basically the same topic, in which he repeated this in an even more precise language:

“ב-7 באוקטובר נהרגו לוחמים מירי על כוחותינו”.
“On October 7th, IDF combatants were killed in friendly fire incidents”.

Can’t get any clearer than this.

So, even Zeitoun’s penultimate paragraph, the one that was supposedly “buried”, did not even deal with any alleged case of IDF-on-Civilian action. Not the one in Be’eri, and not any other supposed incident. This paragraph, just like the rest of the original article, is about MILITARY friendly fire incidents. All it says is that events in which IDF soldiers accidentally killed other IDF soldiers occurred on October 7th as well, while the rest of the article deals with their prevalence AFTER the incursion into the Gaza Strip began. This paragraph has nothing to do with any civilians.

Any native Hebrew speaker would have never mistaken this paragraph for being about anything else because we all know what the word חלל means. But for some odd reason, this key semantic distinction got lost in its translation into English. It might be just one tiny word, but it makes a huge difference. Instead of making it clear that the subject matter is fallen combat soldiers, whoever translated this article into English chose the more general “casualties”, which without the relevant context can be read as if referring to both soldiers and civilians.

Since Winstanley and company desperately want to believe that Israel killed its own citizens (as doing otherwise would mean admitting that their precious Hamas freedom fighters might not be so sweet and cuddly after all), they chose to interpret the word “casualties” as if it refers to civilians. And… Voila! Just like an archer who shoots an arrow into a wall and then draws a target around it, they now have the smoking gun they wanted so badly.

Obviously, whoever was responsible for the translation on Ynet messed up royally and would probably get a pay cut if it was up to me, but the guys at Electronic Intifada somewhat embarrassed themselves by building a mountain of arguments and discussions on what is basically just a mistranslation. One would think that a bunch of people who claim to be experts on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would have at least one native Hebrew speaker who could have read the article in its original form.

But remember guys, “independent journalism” is REAL journalism.

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