Martyrdom by Heart Attack

Ziad Abu Ein, a prominent Palestinian official with a legacy of lethal terrorism, died during a clash with Israeli soldiers.  And thus immediately became a national martyr.  Without waiting for an autopsy, Palestinian leaders from Mahmoud Abbas on down charged that Abu Ein was killed by harsh blows from Israeli forces.  He was murdered,, they alleged.

The autopsy, conducted by two doctors from Israel’s National Institute of Forensic Medicine, who were joined by Palestinian forensic specialists and Jordanian doctors, told a different story.  Abu Ein died of a heart attack.  His heart was riddled with plaque, and this was not the first time that he had had a heart attack. 

Given these findings, one might have expected that the Washington Post would run a piece stressing the actual contents of the autopsy and the clear indication that a bum heart, not Israeli brutality, caused Abu Ein’s death.

One would have expected this, but one also would have been wrong. 

Instead of a thorough article on the autopsy, Post correspondents William Booth and Ruth Eglash filed a report that gives equal and even preferential weight to continuing Palestinian insistence that Israel killed Abu Ein.  According to their article, the jury is still out.  The autopsy is inconclusive (“Dispute arises over cause of Palestinian official’s death – Countering accusations Abu Ein was hit, Israel cites heart problems” page A11, Dec. 12).  The headline has no mention that an autopsy even exists.

Booth and Eglash start their article by raising “one question – What killed a prominent Palestinian cabinet minister?”  The autopsy gets immediately sidelined.  During the funeral, “Israeli and Palestinian authorities tussled over the precise cause of his death,” they write.

But what about the actual findings of the autopsy?  The first description of the presumed findings comes from Palestinian Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh, who says in the fifth paragraph that the autopsy found that Abu Ein died from “being struck, inhaling tear gas and a delay in providing medical attention.”

Wrong.  The autopsy reports no such thing.  The Post uncritically accepts a lie.

It’s not until the next paragraph – the sixth one – that Post reporters finally provide a glimpse of the autopsy and what it actually revealed.

“Israel’s Health Ministry announced that the autopsy showed that Abu Ein’s death was ‘caused by a blockage of the coronary artery due to hemorrhaging underneath a layer of atherosclerotic plaque,’” Booth and Eglash report.  “The poor condition of the deceased’s heart caused him to be more sensitive to stress.”

Yes, finally, but even then the Post ignores the most damning paragraph of the autopsy: “The deceased suffered from ischemic heart disease; blood vessels in his heart were found to be over 80 percent blocked by plaque. Old scars indicating that he suffered from previous myocardial infarctions were also found.”  In other words, Abu Ein’s damaged heart was barely functioning.

Yet, at the Post, a Palestinian propaganda lie ranks higher than scientific autopsy findings.

Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers.

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