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Ian Fisher

Error (New York Times, Ian Fisher and Alan Feuer, 4/5/03): . . . perhaps half of its [Jordan’s] five million people are Palestinian refugees.

Fact: While half of the Jordanian population is Palestinian, it is critical to note that most Palestinians in Jordan are not refugees. In actuality, approximately 1.7 million Palestinians, or only one-third of Jordan’s population of 5.3 million are registered with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) as of Dec. 31, 2002. Moreover, not all of those registered with UNRWA are actually refugees. UNRWA itself has acknowledged that its statistics on refugees are inflated:

UNRWA registration figures are based on information voluntarily supplied by refugees primarily for the purpose of obtaining access to Agency services and hence cannot be considered statistically valid demographic data; the number of registered refugees in the Agency's area of operations is almost certainly less than the population recorded. (Report of the Commissioner General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East - July 1997 - 30 June 1998)

Because what is now Jordan was part of the British Mandate of Palestine until 1921, many Jordanians of Palestinian descent cannot be described as refugees. They never fled, or were forced to flee, their original homes because of war. A New York Times foreign editor agreed that the April 5 report was incorrect, and promised to print a correction, but none ever ran.

Error (New York Times, Ian Fisher, 12/20/02): Also today, in the Gaza Strip, an 11-year-old Palestinian girl was killed, apparently by a stray Israeli bullet, at her home near the Egyptian border crossing at Rafah. Witnesses said she was hit in the chest while looking out a third-story window.

Fact: It was not “apparent” that the stray bullet was Israeli. The Los Angeles Times reported this death much more cautiously, stating: “It was not immediately clear whether the fatal shot was fired by Palestinian gunmen or Israeli soldiers. Her family said the bullet came from the direction of an Israeli army observation post about a quarter-mile away. The army said it had exchanged fire about that time with Palestinian gunmen hiding in an abandoned building, according to spokeswoman Capt. Sharon Feingold, who said she had no information about the girl’s death” (“Palestinian Girl Is 3rd Gaza Youngster Killed in 3 Days: The source of gunfire that struck 11-year-old is unclear,” Laura King, Dec. 20).

In reporting the death, AP and AFP both noted that reports that the stray bullet was Israeli originated from Palestinian sources. AP’s Pamela Sampson wrote: “Meanwhile, in the Gaza Strip town of Rafah, an 11-year-old Palestinian girl, Nada Madi, was shot to death while watching a funeral from the window of her home, her cousin Mohammed Madi said. He said she was shot by Israeli soldiers” (Dec. 19). Similarly, AFP indentified Palestinians as the source for the claim that Israel was responsible for the girl’s death: “Nadi Madi, 11, from the town of Rafah on the Israeli-controlled border with Rafah, which has become one of the deadliest flashpoints in the protracted conflict, was hit in the chest by automatic gunfire which strafed her house, Palestinian security sources said” (Adel Zaanoun, Dec. 19). 

Because the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Palestinians are so often contentious, it is important to identify allegations as such, and to note their source. Furthermore, unless Mr. Fisher has sources or details beyond the Los Angeles Times, AP and AFP, he clearly does not have enough information to assert the bullet was “apparently” Israeli. The notion that a relative who witnessed the shooting could identify the source of the stray ballistic traveling at such a rapid speed is questionable.