AP Sidesteps Skepticism and Science in Relaying Palestinian “Explosive Bullets” Charge

Update: After correspondence with CAMERA, AP has commendably updated its story, removing the reference to explosive bullets and noting that the wounds described are consistent with rifle fire. CAMERA also prompted Haaretz and the Times of Israel to correct their copy of the AP story.

The Associated Press seems to believe that if a shooting victim has an exit wound that’s larger than his entry wound, this is convincing evidence that he was struck by “explosive bullets.”

That’s what readers of an AP story today learn from Dr. Ayman Sahbani, who is quoted saying that, among Palestinians wounded during clashes along the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel, “a noticeable number of the gunshot injuries comprise an exit point larger than the entry point, suggesting explosive bullets.” Sahbani is spokesman and emergency room director at Shifa Hospital, which the Washington Post reported was a “de facto headquarters for Hamas leaders” during the terror organization’s 2014 war with Israel.

The relative sizes of entry and exit wounds are the only evidence provided in the AP story, and reporter Fares Akram relays Sahbani’s charge without skepticism or challenge.

According to ballistics experts and doctors, though, it is typical for exit wounds to be larger than entry wounds. “At high velocities, mainly over 2,000 fps the bullet deformity and tumbling in the body usually causes a larger and more irregular exit wound than the entrance,” doctors Nimrod Rozen and Israel Dudkiewicz explain in their chapter on “Wound Ballistics and Tissue Damage” in the book Armed Conflict Injuries to the Extremities: A Treatment Manual. (Wounds from low velocity bullets may behave differently.)

According to the British Journal of Surgery, “The exit wound is usually the larger.” A piece in the Canadian Medical Association Journal likewise explains that “exit wounds … are often larger than entrance wounds.” An article on gunshot wounds to the skull in Forensic Science International studied 17 entrance and exit gunshot wounds and found that, in all but one case, the exit wound was larger than the entry wound. And so on and so on and so on.

Palestinian officials have previously leveled outlandish allegations about Israel. A Hamas police spokesman, for example, has charged that the country delivered aphrodisiac gum to the Gaza Strip in order to “corrupt the young.” Another official insisted Israel injected Palestinian children with the HIV virus.

Today’s allegation about “explosive bullets” might not be as comical as aphrodisiac gum. But it is inflammatory enough that reporters should have turned to independent sources to evaluate the credibility of the charge. Readers hear from no other sources.

Interestingly, the AP reporter did show some skepticism when reporting on statements from the other side of the clashes. Akram reported that “The Israeli military has disputed the Gaza count of wounded, saying that at most dozens were struck by Israeli fire, but it has not offered supporting evidence.”

If Sahbani’s only substantiation of his explosive bullets charge was that exit wounds were larger than entry wounds, then he, too, failed to offer supporting evidence. Because his “evidence” wasn’t actually … evidence.


For a version of this post in Arabic, see CAMERA Arabic.

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