The sensational story was too good to pass up. Israel allegedly shelled a United Nation school being used as a refugee shelter, massacring at least sixteen people who were trying to evacuate. Even worse, the media reported that Israel had the exact coordinates of the school, knew that civilians were sheltering there, and there was no combat nearby.
In other words, the media indicted the IDF for a war crime. Even though there were no credible sources, the media assumed that information they were given was true.
Typical of the coverage was this Reuters story:
GAZA (Reuters) – At least 15 people were killed and many wounded on Thursday when Israeli forces shelled a U.N.-run school sheltering Palestinians in northern Gaza, said a spokesman for the Gaza health ministry, “Precise co-ordinates of the UNRWA shelter in Beit Hanoun had been formally given to the Israeli army … Over the course of the day UNRWA tried to coordinate with the Israeli Army a window for civilians to leave and it was never granted,” (UNRWA Spokesman Christopher) Gunness said on his Twitter page.
Memo to Reuters: The Gazan Health Ministry is run by Hamas, not really known for accurate information.
CBS News also took the Palestinian accusations as evidence.
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israeli tank shells hit a compound housing a U.N. school in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, killing at least 15 people and wounding dozens who were seeking shelter from fierce clashes on the streets outside, Palestinian officials said, as Israel pressed forward with its 17-day war against the territory’s Hamas rulers.
Survivors told CBS News correspondent Barry Petersen that they were warned that the school was targeted and they were preparing to leave when they say Israeli forces opened fire.
The Guardian filed the story under:
Israeli strike on Gaza school kills 15 and leaves 200 wounded: UN condemns shelling of UNRWA school, saying it asked IDF for time to evacuate civilians, which was not given.
Is it credible that Israel purposefully prevented civilians from evacuating and then slaughtered them in their shelter? With all the well-documented steps that Israel has taken to avoid civilian casualties, perhaps the media should have been a bit more skeptical when hearing information given by Palestinian sources as well as the notoriously anti-Israel Gunness.
Here is the Israeli side, as reported in the Jerusalem Post:
The IDF said it completed an investigation into the shelling on Thursday of an UNRWA school in Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza, and found that Hamas terrorists fired at the army from within the school complex. The terrorists fired anti-tank missiles at soldiers, the army added.
The IDF fired several mortar rounds in response. One IDF mortar fell in a yard near the school, which was empty, according to the military. In light of the results of the investigation, claims that people were harmed inside school grounds, as presented after the incident by some, have been ruled out.
Investigating and reporting facts from a war zone can be extremely difficult, everyone understands that. News organizations want to be one of the first to report a story. But often, reporting so quickly means not taking even minimal time for fact checking.
However, the media have a responsibility to find out all they can before making accusations that will then be heard around the world. They don’t have to accept the Israeli version of events. But they should at least be skeptical before reporting information that comes from sources like Hamas.
Image: CC BY-NC-SA flickr/Mr. Peebles