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August 9, 2006

Hospitals And Ambulances

Sorry to take down this morning’s “Opposing Windows” post.  In seemed a legit idea at the time, but there was really no equivalence  between the two images  — one being the Dar al-Hikma hospital in Baalbek that the Israeli’s raided last week, the other being the ambulance that was damaged in an Israeli airstrike two weeks ago.

(As we’ve discussed before, this attempt to juxtapose partisan images makes me appreciate just how difficult it is to present a balanced portrait of the visual rhetoric in the current Middle East conflict.)

If there is anything to salvage from the original post, it’s the two images I offered as a postscript.



The photo of the Israeli soldier taking video inside the hospital, and this still frame (from a video taken by Kevin Sites) of the Lebanese Red Cross worker taking the now well-known photo of the vehicle’s roof, illustrates just how “automatic” and integral visual documentation is to this war.

Note: The original comment thread is intact below.

(image 1: Israeli Defense Force/AP Photo.  Baalbek, Eastern Lebanon. Aug. 2, 2006.  Image 2: Kevin Sites/Hot Zone.  July 27, 2006.  Tyre, Lebanon. Via Yahoo.)

  • Pedro

    To the Israeli’s, there are hospitals and there are hospitals. To the Lebanese, on the other hand, an ambulance is just an ambulance.
    I’m kind of confused as to what your point is…
    The Neharnet report you cite states the hospital was evacuated — which can be expected if a) you’re in a region where conflict has just errupted and b) you were built with the “bad guy”s money. The report, however, also states that the three Lebanese captured in the raid were not in the hospital itself but in a house nearby. Also, apparently, no weapons were found. Such an image — weapons stored in an Iranian-built hospital — would have been a goldmine.
    But what is the relation to the bombed-out ambulances? Visually? Morally? The reports you cite of ambulance mis-use stem both directly from the IDF — hardly a facilitator of perspective. The video of Palestinian militants boarding a UN ambulance is old and well known. In the first few seconds of it you can see a wounded militant being caried in by two gun-toting companions — isn’t that what ambulances are for?
    As for the documentation, what is being documented? In the first picutre, an empty room, in the second, a gaping hole in the roof of a red-cross ambulance… What’s the equivalence here?

  • ummabdulla

    From the article that you linked to: “Iranian funding for the Dar al-Hikma Hospital is the kind of evidence the United States and Israel cite to back assertions that Iran uses Hezbollah as its proxy against the Jewish state.”
    I find this absurd, and actually kind of disgusting. (Sorry, Shaun, but I’m going to talk about Kuwait for a minute, only because I happen to be here and am familiar with it.) Kuwait sends huge amounts of money to other countries – including Lebanon – from government funds, charity committees, and individuals. This money goes to supply food aid and medical supplies, and to build hospitals, mosques, schools, infrastructure, etc. in many countries. Charity is one of the pillars of Islam, and every Muslim is required to give a certain percentage of what they have, as well as being encouraged to give much more. Is this something that should be used against them? Are all of these countries now considered “proxies”?
    How many other countries build hospitals in other countries? I assume there are quite a few.
    As for the pictures of religious figures, that’s like seeing a picture of the Pope in a Catholic hospital. Not a big deal.
    The fact that an Iranian charity committee builds and supports a hospital in a poor Shia area of Lebanon seems perfectly normal to me. If someone wants to talk about how Iran supports Hezbollah militarily, then talk about that. But don’t try to make them out to be monsters because they send charity.
    After this raid, Israel claimed that they had caught senior Hezbollah leaders – “some tasty fish” as Ehud Olmert described them. Apparently, they were talking about Hasan Diab Nasrallah, a local grocer they picked up who’s not related to Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah. Nasrallah is a common name; thousands of Lebanese have that name, including the (Christian) Maronite patriarch of Lebanon.
    The grocer’s 14-year-old son was seized but released later: Nasrallah is a bad name to have in Lebanon, youngster finds.
    They killed 17 people, including relatives of the mayor, who was politically opposed to Hezbollah.
    And they killed Nesrine Salloum, whose name – or even death – probably wasn’t reported on your local news:
    Letter from Lebanon
    …Inside the car that rushed out of the hospital area and that was chased and filmed by the Israelis were a man and his wife, eight-months pregnant. The first rocket hit the back of the car. The two passengers leave the car screaming for help. The helicopter makes a U-turn and shoots again. The man manages to escape, the woman doesn’t. A little bit later, the neighbors rush to the car and find her dead, with an exploded belly and the fetus projected outside.
    News announcers of TVs, it’s with great sorrow that I announce to you the death of Nesrine Salloum, eight months pregnant, a victim of the heroic mission of a worthy Israeli commando on terrorist grounds…

  • ummabdulla

    By the way, if the hospital had been emptied to serve as a Hezbollah base and/or to store weapons (not that there’s evidence of either one), how does that match up with the constant Israeli refrain that Hezbollah uses civilians as human shields, hides weapons under civilian’s beds, wants civilians to be killed, etc.?

  • margaret

    If it is true that Hezbollah transports weapons in ambulances, then they are irresponsible toward the people they are supposedly defending from Israel. It doesn’t add up, to me.
    Charity is an international act of mercy. American Hadassah contributes millions to hospitals in Israel, for instance.
    There is no equivalency here.

  • Lighkeeper

    So this is now considered “facilitating perspective and dialogue, and compelling partisans to look across to the other window.”
    Well, if that was seriously your goal, you have failed miserably to look at any other side than that of the IDF.

  • readytoblowagasket

    margaret and Ligh[t?]keeper: Would you kindly elaborate further? I regularly look forward to each of your perspectives.

  • MichaelDG

    I am a child of two Holocaust survivors and reflexivley come to Israel’s defence. Yet the site of an Israeli missle hole in the roof of an Red Cross ambulance certainly gives me pause. How to explain such a photo within my framework? I would hope that Anti-Israel partisans are capable of feeling some ambivalence as well when they see pictures of Israeli civilians suffering, or of Hezbollah duplicity. So, I think the Bag is indeed “compelling partisans to look across to the other window”. The idea here is not to bang drums in unison, but rather to look and listen to other points of view. I applaud the Bag for his efforts.

  • Kerstin

    It seems to me that once you stoop to the level of bombing hospitals and ambulances on suspicion of terrorist activity, you’ve become indistinguishable from your enemy. Perhaps Israel should be building hospitals in Lebanon instead of bombing them.
    It’s getting more difficult to sympathize with Israel when one continually reads of their goal to destroy civilian infrastructure:
    Olmert Discusses Expansion of War with Defense Officials Amid Report of Escalating Attacks on Infrastructure:
    “The general told Haaretz ‘we are now in a process of renewed escalation. We will continue hitting everything that moves in Hizbullah – but we will also hit strategic civilian infrastructure.’
    I don’t see how this can possibly be in Israel’s long-term interests. They are acting as if every Lebanese citizen is a member of Hezbollah. A grave miscalculation that will surely haunt them for a very long time to come.

  • PTate in MN

    I’d say the score after this round of propaganda is Hizbollah, 1 and IDF, 0.
    In propaganda, each side wants to convince the viewer of the evil threat against them and inspire hope for victory. So how do these images measure up?
    The picture of the hospital fails as propaganda. It’s a dull institutional building, it presents no obvious threat. It presents no image of hope for victory. We have to be informed that it was evacuated earlier and may have hidden Hezbollah leaders. All telling, no showing makes for very dull propaganda. Only believers will feel vindication. The image may backfire since the undecided are simultaneously unconvinced by the threat and horrified by the target. Score: Israelis, 0.
    The second picture, of a bomb scarred ambulance, on the other hand, immediately communicates the threat: The Israelis bombed ambulances??? We feel hot emotions, shock, regardless of the claim that these ambulances were used for transporting weapons. Score: Hizbollah, 1.

  • Keir

    There was an excellent Lebanon Q&A at ZNet yesterday, in which Stephen Shalom writes

    International humanitarian law is quite clear that while it is a violation of the laws of war to intermingle military activity with civilians, the other side is still under an obligation to minimize harm to civilians. This is common sense: if a criminal was firing on police from an apartment building, would the police be justified in calling in air strikes to level the building?

    To be honest, I don’t care if whoever shot that ambulance thought there were nukes inside. You just don’t shoot at things like hospitals and ambulances on suspicion. (That goes for Americans in Iraq as well.)
    It is wrong to use ambulances to transport weaponry. It is more wrong to shoot at them on suspicion.

  • Lightkeeper

    Indeed, the idea here is not to bang drums in unison.
    It is not that “anti-Israeli’s” (a homogenizing label if there ever were one) cannot or do not feel empathy for Israel’s civilian population, or that their suffering does not tempt us to stop and think about what we believe and hold to be true. (I am already ascribing to your term by using words like ‘we’…). Unfortunately, this empathy and ambivalence quickly vanishes when we see the unbelievable hypocrisy on display in media representations of this conflict.
    Since the beginning of this war, I have had to relativize death. In conversations, in discussions and heated debates, I am continually forced to point out that more Lebanese are being killed in this war than Israeli’s. Perhaps the point does not even seem that important, but to me, it is one of the most fundamentally horrible things to do. To reduce whole lives to mere statistics – what can be worse than that? Not only are these people dying horrible deaths – but there is also no one to witness their suffering or record or remember their lives (except, of course, their loved ones).
    But how can I not relativize these deaths? Everytime I read a paper, there are lengthy interviews and articles about families who have lost their loved ones. But these articles and interviews are almost exclusively about Israeli families. When I read them, I do feel empathy and I do cry for the unnecessary suffering Israel’s gov’t is putting its civilians through. But not only Israeli’s have lives: those dying in Lebanon also had families and jobs and mundane existences which we never seem to hear about. Why? Can anyone answer that question without being rhetorical? I certainly can’t.
    When Israel first started bombing Gaza – when this war was not considered a war – the NYT refused to make it the big “headline” story. This experience was the most eye-opening one I have had since 9/11. The most volatile situation in the world perhaps – and for many, IN the centre of the world itself – and we all decide to turn our heads and not look? Imagine the reverse scenario – or even how the media jumped on the ‘kidnapped’ soldiers (which is an oxymoron anyway because under the Geneva Conventions it is not a crime to kidnap soldiers. It is, however, a crime to kidnap civilians – exactly like the 10,000 Palestinians, many women and children, who are being kept in Israeli jails without any semblance of due process or democratic legality). For almost 10 days Israel pounded Gaza with airstrikes and artillery – yet it wasn’t until Hezbollah ‘provoked’ a crisis that the event became a wordwide event.
    There is one other aspect to this whole issue as regards Israeli civilians: oppression creating more oppression, the oppressed oppressing more Others. How does this work? The Jewish population went through the most oppressive state-sanctioned program in the history of mankind. How can they turn around and do exactly the same thing to another group of people? Israel just finished completing a wall in the Gaza strip which is as long or longer than the Berlin wall.
    Does the irony of this situation completely fly above their heads?
    Finally, readytoblowagasket: I was going to exlaborate on the post but since The Bag has taken it down, it seems kind of pointless now.

  • jt from BC

    MichaelDG, with these comments as, “a child of two Holocaust survivors–I would hope that Anti-Israel partisans are capable of feeling some ambivalence–So, I think the Bag is indeed “compelling partisans to look across to the other window”.
    I’m assuming your a relatively newcomer to the BAG or maybe just a new poster, however I believe many posters here feel equally the fear, pain and deaths of those living in Israel. The potential conflagration due to conflict in the Middle East require serious evaluation, and the Bag contributors generally espouse these concerns. Speaking for myself I find the greatest challenge in expressing the complexities confronting Israel, Jews, Arabs or Gentiles like me.
    What we have here is a very complex narrative of history.
    This article; Are the Words “Israel” and “Jew: Synonymous-Danny Schechter dated August 9, 2006 captures precisely and eloquently the dilemma, challenging rational discourse which may be quickly labeled (incorrectly in my opinion) partisan.

  • ummabdulla

    Just for the record… As far as I know, there hasn’t even been any allegation that Hezbollah has used ambulances to transport weapons.
    And the thing about that photo is that it shows just how precisely that ambulance was targeted: right in the center of the red cross.
    Michael, as much as I would miss your posts, I think we all would understand if you gave yourself a break and missed some days while you’re getting ready to move, and settling in on the other side.

  • Keir

    Ummabdulla, just to clarify: I didn’t mean to imply that Hezbollah was transporting weapons in ambulances, just that if they were it still wouldn’t justify targeting ambulances.

  • readytoblowagasket

    The skewed angle and night-vision-goggle effect of the IDF photo looks like a scene from an episode of “Israel’s Most Wanted.” The Red Cross photo looks strangely like something illicit is taking place, also a TV-reenactment feel.
    I remember seeing the Red Cross ambulance photo, which made the news around the same time that the U.N. observation post was leveled and 4 U.N. observers were killed. I don’t remember whether a headline using the word “target” accompanied the ambulance image, but I do remember thinking it. Of course, the Red Cross symbol with a hole smack in the middle of it is a perfect bull’s-eye, and it’s hard to imagine hitting a mark so precisely without aiming. Also, the controversy over whether or not Israel had “targeted” the U.N. post was in the news at the time.
    The Red Cross symbol itself is graphic, recognizable, and loaded with sympathetic meaning. It’s *supposed to* be all of these things so that it doesn’t get fired at in the chaos of battle. It’s been used internationally since 1864, and only for specific purposes.
    This wasn’t the first ambulance the IDF has hit, and if Israel is in fact “targeting” rescue workers (which rescue/relief workers themselves seem to think), then documentation for proof is imperative. The Red Cross medic taking a picture of the ambulance is risking his life to help people caught in the conflict. Now he must take time out to photograph a useless vehicle.
    The Lebanese Red Cross is a volunteer humanitarian organization whose mission is to help those in need. The volunteer aspect, to my mind, is worth thinking about as much as the humanitarian aspect.
    A few days after the Red Cross photo was taken, Dahr Jamail wrote this story titled “Lebanese Red Cross Repeatedly Targeted”:
    “Mohammad Zatar, who has been working for the Lebanese Red Cross in Tyre since 1993, said he had never before seen attacks on rescue workers.
    ‘As a Red Cross volunteer I need to be very clear that we are not political — we rescue anyone who needs help,’ the 32-year-old Zatar told IPS. As a colleague unloaded bodies from bloody stretchers, Zatar said ‘whether they are civilian, a resistance fighter or an Israeli soldier, our policy is to help any human who needs help. But the Israelis seem to be attacking us now.’ ”
    I can’t help thinking about the disparity between the soldier-photographer with backup and the exposed rescue worker-photographer with no one covering his back. I also think about the fact that the IDF’s job is to kill people, not to help them.

  • Ksue

    I love how you run your site. Total integrity is present here.
    When I first read your post as originally posted, it made absolutely no sense to me at all. I figured it was just me, and that I didn’t have sufficient synapse-connections to properly comprehend the premise.
    Have to admit — I breathed a sigh of relief when I checked in this morning and saw your amendment.
    Thanks ;-)

  • dna

    I feel compelled to reply to this story, just so people who stumble upon this won’t take the ambulance story at face value.
    Some people and myself have tried to analyze the photos in order to figure out what sort of weapon could’ve caused the alleged damage. Please take a look at these two threads: 1, 2; do read beyond the first messages the links take you to, particularly in the second thread.
    Oh, and by the way, that big hole is not due to a missile — that’s where the ventilation system is mounted.

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