Of Missiles and Videos


On Monday (Oct. 20) the IDF carried out a series of five air strikes against terrorist targets in Gaza. One of the later strikes occurred when the IDF caught a group of Palestinians attempting to infiltrate Israel through the Gaza fence. Apache helicopters pursued three men fleeing in their car, then struck down the car in the Nusseirat refugee camp.

The media lent immediate credence to Palestinian claims that two missiles were fired ? the first hit the car, and the second was purportedly fired into a “crowd of people,” causing a “massacre of civilians”:

Reuters: “One missile fired by a helicopter gunship hit a car and another slammed into a crowd of people by the road, prompting angry protests and calls for revenge, witnesses said. ‘It’s a massacre. They slaughtered civilians with no mercy,’ one protester at the scene said.”

Another Reuters report didn’t even attribute the claim to a witness, passing it off as established fact: “In one attack on a refugee camp, a helicopter gunship chasing suspected militants in a car fired a missile into a crowd of people, killing seven civilians.”

AFP: “Hospital sources said all those killed were non-combatants…An Apache combat helicopter scored a direct hit on a car with a missile…a second missile struck and killed residents who came to the rescue of the passengers, the witnesses said.”

The IDF, apparently stunned by these media reports, released to the press a video of the strike taken by an airborne drone. The video clearly shows there were no Palestinian civilians on the street when either of two rockets hit the car. The Jerusalem Post describes the video’s contents (emphasis ours):

IDF picture from airborne drone

The picture shows the main road in the camp with two vehicles traveling a distance apart along it. The helicopter monitors the movement of the terrorist’s car, which is the second vehicle seen on the film, and shows the first Hellfire missile directly hitting it.

The driver loses control, crashes into a tree and the car disappears, hidden by a building, but is seen seconds later traveling in reverse. There are no people on the streets and no other vehicles when the car comes to a halt.

An ambulance is then seen passing the damaged vehicle as it continues along the road. Only after the ambulance is a distance away does the air force pilot release the second rocket, which hits the vehicle and clearly shows three bodies lying in the street.

For at least two and a half minutes after the attack the footage shows the thermal images of one or two other people in the area, but not close to where the vehicle that was hit.

The IDF has therefore proven convincingly that neither of two missiles fired on the car directly struck a crowd. As an IDF officer said, “We would not allow any munition to be launched on a massive gathering of people. To fire into a crowd is not professional, it is not ethical and it’s not moral.”

The Associated Press and New York Times are to be commended for supplying follow-up articles detailing the IDF video’s evidence. Both also report a revamped version of the Palestinian claim ? that a third missile (not seen on the video) struck a crowd. The IDF denies that.

The facts ? two missiles not directly striking civilians, and a questionable third missile ? are a far cry from the media’s prominent coverage of initial Palestinian claims of a massacre of civilians. Responsible journalism demands that, when initial reports are proven false, a proper follow-up article is published. So where are the follow-up articles from Reuters and AFP?

Comments to Reuters: editor@reuters.com
Comments to AFP: contact@afp.com

Some papers, such as the Chicago Tribune, LA Times, and Boston Globe, made reference to the video, but buried it deep within their articles, where few readers would see it or recognize its significance.

Did your local paper carry the initial report ? but fail to carry the essential follow-up information regarding the IDF video in a prominent manner? If so, contact your editor right away.


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This episode also raises a fundamental issue of media ethics. After the enormous media botch in Jenin in April 2002, caused by the media unquestioningly accepting Palestinian claims of a “massacre,” it is remarkable that the media remain willing to swallow Palestinian statements (even “eyewitness accounts”) at face value, without due skepticism and inquiry.

For example, MSNBC TV (Oct. 21, 5:25 pm) quoted PA official Saeb Erekat commenting on the Nusseirat strike: “This is the most disproportionate use of force in history…a crime.” This is same Saeb Erekat who vociferously charged that 500 Palestinians were “massacred” by Israel in Jenin. Now that the outrageous, libelous claims about Jenin have been proven false, how can MSNBC and others continue to grant unchallenged credence to statements from PA officials such as Erekat?

Analyst Joshua Muravchik makes this very point in his book, Covering the Intifada: How the Media Reported the Palestinian Uprising:

Journalists seem to follow a canon that says when two sides are fighting, it is their obligation to report equally and with equal credence what is said by each. But the quality of the information provided by the two sides in this conflict is highly asymmetrical. By this I mean simply that the Palestinians repeatedly lie. It starts with Arafat and goes down to his many deputies. It seems even to reach…man-in-the-street interviews, such as the Jenin resident who claimed [falsely] to have watched Israel bury ten bodies under a building.

Given this, media objectivity cannot be achieved in this conflict by simply quoting Palestinian officials or local “eyewitnesses,” unchallenged. This week’s Nusseirat incident confirms that.

UPDATE: The New York Times reported on a possible explanation for the Palestinian civilian casulties – a group of Pales
tinians running toward the car from an adjacent alley. Still a far cry from a missile “slamming into a crowd.”

The IDF has now indicated that it did not fully disclose the weaponry used in this incident.