Just like its namesake, Amnesty's CSI: Gaza is about psuedo-forensics

August 06, 2015 13:20

Amnesty International's political campaign against Israel has a new dimension: pseudo-forensics. Amnesty officials were recently in Israel to market the Gaza Platform, an "online tool" launched earlier this month that purports to "map Israeli attacks in Gaza" during the 2014 Gaza conflict.

Amnesty is marketing its project with a promotional video titled "CSI: Gaza." The video intersperses highly emotive images of dead children with shots of staffers purporting to be remotely "investigating" the Gaza "crime scene".

The video is incredibly telling. By appropriating the CSI brand, Amnesty has unwittingly provided insight into the fundamental problems with its Gaza Platform, as well as the shallow NGO narrative about the 2014 Gaza war.

The highly popular CSI television show depicts investigators who solve crimes using forensic analysis of puzzling crime scenes (CSI stands for "crime scene investigators"). As with many other fictionalised portrayals, not all aspects of the show are realistic, and forensics experts have explained that many techniques are technologically impossible.

However, many viewers are convinced that forensic investigators are able to accurately reconstruct crime scenes and solve crimes on this basis. This "CSI effect", in the words of an anthropological study titled "CSI Science as Wishful Thinking," suggests that many people believe "that CSI science deliver[s] an absolute 'truth'."

Indeed, the Gaza Platform provides no real evidence. The Platform relies solely on publications by Al Mezan and Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), without independent verification and even when the accounts are wholly contradictory.

For instance, regarding the tragic events of July 16, 2014, when four children were killed on a Gaza beach, Amnesty provides the inconsistent narratives of Al Mezan and PCHR side-by-side. Whereas Al Mezan lists a strike from "Israeli gunboats [that] fired three missiles" at "approximately 3.30pm," PCHR attributes the deaths to "an Israeli warplane" and sets the timing at 4.10pm. According to Al Mezan, an 11-year-old boy named Hamada Knames Subhi Bakr was wounded; according to PCHR, he was eight years old.

While the NGOs struggle to get the basic facts straight, the most important element - the perspective of Israeli commanders who ordered the strike - is entirely missing. (Amnesty does provide a link to what they say is the Israeli investigation into the incident, but the link does not work.)

For Amnesty's information, the IDF investigation found that the children "entered [a] military compound for reasons that remain unclear" and, tragically, "it would not have been possible for the operational entities involved to have identified these figures, via aerial surveillance, as children."

A further distortion in Amnesty's Gaza Platform is that conclusions are solely based on the effects of particular strikes. Essential information - location of enemy forces and military targets, nature of combat, and intelligence available to commanders at the time of the fighting - is not incorporated into the analysis.

These misrepresentations are common practice for political NGOs and were endemic in the UN Commission of Inquiry Report on the 2014 Gaza War. Without these details, the Platform's "data" are fatally flawed.

As such, and contrary to Amnesty's claims, the information in the Gaza Platform is not evidence of alleged "war crimes" or "patterns in the attacks" and cannot credibly be used for investigations into the 2014 Gaza conflict. While visually exciting, these sorts of online tools have very limited utility in determining whether violations actually occurred.

This and the erasure of context, such as the more than 4,000 rocket attacks on Israeli civilians, make this "tool" nothing more than propaganda.

For this project, Amnesty is partnering with a group by the name of Forensic Architecture, headed by Eyal Weitzman. Mr Weitzman's political bias against Israel is well-known: he signed a petition during the 2009 Gaza conflict calling for the UN Security Council and the EU to impose sanctions on Israel. Nevertheless, he was awarded a European Research Council grant to create Forensic Architecture - another example of EU funding being exploited for political attacks against Israel.

It is precisely sanctions, "war crimes" trials, and International Criminal Court interventions that Amnesty and its NGO partners have pursued since the Gaza conflict, and what they want to achieve through the Gaza Platform.

We can only hope that the intended audiences - diplomats, government officials, journalists, prosecutors and judges, and the general public - see through Amnesty's facade.

August 06, 2015 13:20

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