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On the search for systematic data

June 15, 2011

I read some more of Irus Braverman’s book yesterday, then decided to desist for the time being. It’s an ideological manifesto, designed to tell how nasty Israel is to the Palestinians of East Jerusalem, focusing on the topic of demolitions of homes. Now I”m not saying she’s right or wrong, and I’m not doubting that her book is worth reading. But the value lies in understanding her perspective and how she bases it; it seems to be almost worthless as a source of understanding of the factual situation.

The reason for this is that Braverman consistently fails to use primary data. If you wish to write about structures which have been constructed without passing through the zoning process, that’s fine. First you ought to find out how many such structures there are, and when they were built; it might also be a good idea to describe the legal situation: which laws were passed when and what do they say. Indeed, Braverman does supply some data, but never from official sources, such as, say, the municipality, a rather obvious place to start, or the statistical yearbooks which have been published annually since the early 1980s.

Instead, she uses secondary sources of a particular provenance: brochures and press-kit information from partisan NGOs such as Betselem, Ir Amim and ACRI. From time to time she even admits that the data supplied by these organizations is not the only narrative out there, but rather than trying to figure out how the different data comes to be, she mocks the authors of the other sources, along the lines of  “See how outlandish these people are? Imagine that they can say such things?” (Especially pages 21-13).

This is echo-chamber mentality. If you say the things we agree with, you’re reputable and reliable. If you don’t, you must be malicious, as proven by the fact that you say things that are so different from what we say.

I’ll come back to read her book, and who knows, perhaps I’ll even agree with her, but first I have to find and learn the data. Only then will it be possible to see if she’s got something important to say, or if she’s merely promoting a partisan line while tweaking the facts. Books such as her’s can’t be the place to start learning about the topic, just as reports by her partisan NGOs can’t be the place to start.

Though they often are, for many people.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Avi in Jerusalem permalink
    June 15, 2011 12:48 pm

    I think that the “group think” fashion based mentality is the greatest danger to any academic endevour. However, it works very well in politics.

    As someone who was trained and educated as a scientist I am appalled by the nature of academic study in the fields of social science (sic), economics, history and politics. People seem to shoot their arrows, draw the target around where they land and then get their friends and comrades to support them. This is religion based on belief not an objective search after truth.

    I asked one of our friends who wanted us to publicise and to take part in the Sheikh Jarach demonstrations why the application of building codes and court decisions was acceptable if it meant kicking the Gushies out of Silwan (justified in my view), but anathema if applied to the Arab families in Sheikh Jarach. She had no answer.

    As someone who enjoys taking photos, I know that the framing and cropping of the picture will affect what the viewer sees and perceives.

    The airbrushing of the Moslem Arabs out of the history Jerusalem by concentrating on the biblical archaeological finds, as carried out by ElAd at Ir David is also political propaganda. ElAd uses certain historical findings to promote its extreme messianic agenda. In the process it debases the scientific value of the findings.

    The fact that our enemies have to use outright lies to nullify any sort of connection between the Jews and Jerusalem does not seem to cut any ice nowadays. We should not be party to that game.

  2. Silke permalink
    June 15, 2011 1:05 pm

    As to primary sources:

    I discovered the IDF press infos in the wake of the Flotilla. They are not numerous but those they issue are rock-solid

    Which in turn makes me wonder how all those journalists know oh so much about stuff the IDF hasn’t yet said anything about? and what is possibly even worse never ever care to mention that the IDF will investigate and publish in due course which alas the IDF tends not to tell me but since it is the military they may have their own good reasons for it. For journalists I find it unforgiveable.

    Which leads to the fact that I still get fed uncontested the lie that the Mavi Marmara thugs were without any exception committed to peace activists armed at best with short wooden sticks (not that I’d not mind to be beaten up by one of those)

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