A March 30 report from the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency claimed that a Palestinian teen had been killed by the IDF, a charge subsequently denied by the IDF.
According to the original Ma’an report:
Muawiya Hassanein, director of ambulance and emergency services in Gaza, said Muhammad Zen Ismail Al-Farmawi, 15, was shot dead near the southeasterly border by Israeli forces, while local sources who wished to remain anonymous said the death may have been an internal matter.
Hassanein said ambulances had been unable to retrieve the body because of ongoing clashes in the area, while an Israeli military spokesman said he had no knowledge of the incident.
The story was picked up by a number of mainstream media outlets, including the BBC, New York Times, CNN and UPI. These outlets did, however, include the doubts over the information. The NY Times, for example stated that “it was unclear who was responsible for the death” and that there were “questions about whether he [the Palestinian teen] could have been the victim of internal violence.”
The AFP along with the Arab press, while including IDF denials, omitted the important information above squarely placing the emphasis on the IDF. In addition, the AFP’s headline read: “Palestinian teen killed as Israelis fire on Gaza protests”, leaving little doubt as to who was likely responsible for the death.
Only a few days later, however, Ma’an reported:
It turns out Al-Farmawi was among 17 Palestinians detained by Egyptian forces shortly after they infiltrated the Egyptian side of Rafah via one of Gaza’s numerous underground smuggling tunnels. The detainees, among them 12 minors, were returned to security forces at the border on Friday. They had been questioned about tunnel locations, leading to at least three closures, Egyptian security sources said.
Relatives expressed “overwhelming happiness” that their son was unharmed during the violence, our correspondent reported from Rafah.
Muawiya Hassanein, Health Ministry director of ambulance and emergency services in Gaza, told Ma’an that after “huge efforts and contacts” to return the boy’s body, officials found him among those who were detained. He was assumed to have died in the clashes Tuesday after a Palestinian ambulance crew was refused permission to access to the area following reports of deadly fire, Hassanein explained at the time.
In what would turn out to be a second erroneous explanation that day, local residents also told Ma’an at the time that while the boy was indeed killed, the Israeli military was not involved. The purported death was an “internal matter,” locals said, insisting on anonymity.
The JPost, meanwhile, reports Al-Farmawi’s horrific experience of three days in an Egyptian prison where, according to him, he and his friends were beaten and tortured with clubs and electric wires.
The BBC, NY Times and AFP covered the apparent happy ending to this story although they failed to question Egypt’s treatment of the Palestinian teenagers. However, the entire incident raises many more questions concerning the reporting.
Reliable Palestinian Sources?
Why should Palestinian medical sources be free from scrutiny, particularly if those very same sources are under the auspices of the Hamas terrorist organization? In this case, faulty information came directly from the Hamas-controlled Health Ministry in Gaza, the very same source for casualty figures during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead. The Health Ministry also contributed to the one-sided Goldstone Report during the commission’s visit to the Gaza Strip.
We have often criticized the media for relying on Palestinian “eyewitnesses” and even official sources or spokespeople who have subsequently been found to be, at best, inaccurate and in some cases outright liars. Indeed, it was Palestinian medical sources that were responsible for spreading the vicious libel of the so-called Jenin “massacre” in 2002.
Is the above incident an isolated one? How many Palestinian “casualties” have been erroneously blamed on Israel?
Aside from the AFP, most mainstream media were careful to cover themselves concerning the lack of clarity in the original story. So why then were they so quick to accept Palestinian casualty figures from virtually the same unreliable sources?
Is this latest reporting a sign that some media have, without publicly acknowledging previous errors, accepted that a little skepticism of Palestinian sources is in order?
In the past, so many initial and unsubstantiated news reports have turned into libels that have caused immense damage to Israel’s image. Many of these, including the case of Muhammad al-Dura, are covered in our interactive Big Lies presentation.
It was some time before it was conclusively proved that al-Dura’s apparent death was not caused by Israeli bullets. In the meantime, he became the poster child for the wave of Palestinian violence and terror and the international anti-Israel demonization campaign.
What if Muhammad Al-Farmawi had not turned up alive only days after his reported death? This story illustrates just how easy it is to pin the blame on Israel and to create negative and damaging headlines.
We hope that the media have learned a valuable lesson from this incident.