The UK’s Sunday Times featured a dramatic sounding story “Morpurgo sees child shot in Gaza border wasteland” (subscription only).
According to the article:
The children’s writer, Michael Morpurgo, has described how he witnessed the shooting of a 15-year-old boy during a visit to Gaza. …
The incident happened while Morpurgo, the former children’s laureate, was waiting to cross back into Israel with a group of sick children and elderly Palestinians in need of hospital treatment. He was told the border had been closed after two other young Palestinians had been shot.
“Either side of me I saw hundreds of kids, with carts and donkeys picking up rubble to be recycled as building blocks with which they could rebuild their shattered city,” he said.
Suddenly shots rang out. “A cry went up from all over the wilderness of the rubble; I heard lots of screaming and saw the children running towards one spot. A minute later they came pouring past me and on the last cart there was a kid bleeding from his leg, his trousers soaked through with blood, screaming.”
The boy, named Shamekh, from Jabalia in northern Gaza, had been collecting rubble with his two brothers and his father in the hope of earning some money.
The article contains criticism from Save the Children of alleged Israeli shooting of children near the Gaza border and claims that “The shootings are often carried out by remote-controlled weapon stations based in unmanned watch towers containing machineguns.”
Nowhere in the article was the IDF given the chance to respond or explain the situation surrounding the border area with Gaza. Had the journalist bothered to investigate further, perhaps she would have addressed some very relevant issues. Where The Sunday Times failed, we consulted with a senior IDF military source to find out the missing context.
Holes in the Story
According to the article, the incident happened while Morpurgo was waiting to cross back into Israel. This would imply that he was at Erez, the main crossing for pedestrians, including Palestinians with permits to enter Israel for medical treatment. Did Morpurgo actually witness the shooting incident or did he see only the aftermath?
Is Sara Hashash, The Sunday Times journalist playing loose with the Morpurgo’s account when she states that “Suddenly shots rang out”? The fact that the youth was injured in the leg and not killed by multiple bullet wounds tallies with how the IDF operates on the border. Warning shots are fired some 10-20m away giving Palestinians in the buffer zone ample time to leave the area without any further incident. In addition, the only soldiers qualified to open fire, after first receiving permission from their commanders, are highly trained snipers who aim for the legs with the specific purpose of preventing fatalities.
This reality is also very different from the impression given by the article’s statement concerning remote-controlled weapons stations and machineguns.
Therefore, it is unlikely that the entire incident would have occurred as suddenly as Hashash suggests. But why then would the IDF open fire on someone supposedly collecting materials from the rubble in the first place? Again, had the journalist bothered to ask, she would have found out that bags that may be used to carry the scavenged materials can also be used to transport IEDs. And someone crouching amidst the rubble may just as likely be planting an IED as picking up concrete slabs.
Sunday Times Plays Loose With the Truth
The Sunday Times article was based upon a short film of Michael Morpurgo’s visit to Israel and Gaza sponsored by Save the Children and broadcast on BBC Newsnight. The alleged shooting incident described in the article is actually covered in the Morpurgo’s footage (see from 7:10 in) and shows that Morpurgo certainly did not see the shooting itself but rather the aftermath. He says:
I’ve never seen anyone shot before. The doctor from Medicins Sans Frontieres tells me the Israelis use remote-controlled guns operated from miles away. It’s difficult for me to confirm this has happened here but the doctor says it happens a lot.
So Morpurgo openly states that cannot confirm what The Sunday Times claims to have happened and that this is only backed up by a non-governmental organization (NGO) worker, something that can never be relied upon in light of false statements from Palestinian doctors and NGOs in the past.
Put simply, The Sunday Times journalist has not only failed to include any context but has seemingly embellished an incident to derive maximum damage to Israel.
Border Security and the Buffer Zone
Why is there a need for a buffer zone and a security fence in the first place? The media has, over the years, failed to adequately portray the reality of the Gazan terror threat. On a daily basis, the IDF is confronted with attempted terror attacks involving not only Qassam missiles but also mortars, rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
With only a security fence separating Gazan terrorists from Israeli territory, it does not take a military analyst to see the need for a minimum amount of strategic depth to protect Israeli communities. This is particularly the case as the fence is constantly under attack from terrorist elements seeking to enter Israel.
This is why there is a buffer zone of some 300m from the border fence that Gazans are prohibited from entering for their own safety as well as that of Israelis. This buffer zone is regularly checked by the IDF using armored vehicles and bulldozers, particularly for IEDs which can destroy IDF patrol vehicles and kill soldiers from up to 50m away from the fence.
Each day, there are several instances of IEDs in the buffer zone. These IEDs are regularly planted by terrorists disguised as civilians during daytime hours.
Abuse of Children
Michael Morpurgo is a children’s author. It is unsurprising that he is concerned for the welfare of young people. However, in what amounts to a form of child abuse, Hamas and other terror organizations have no compunctions against using children to get close enough to the border fence to plant explosives.
While a 15 year old may appear to be a child in the eyes of Morpurgo, minors have often been used as combatants by Palestinian terror groups during the past decade. Palestinians also bear responsibility for exposing children to the obvious risks of entering a prohibited military zone as the father of this boy did.
The Sunday Times has deliberately embellished an incident to produce an article full of lazy journalism, conjecture and missing context that leaves the false impression that Israelis open fire on innocent Gazan children for no justifiable reason.
Send your considered comments to The Sunday Times – firstname.lastname@example.org
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Update – Feb. 20, 2011
The following letter from an HonestReporting subscriber was published in the Feb. 20 edition of the Sunday Times: