BDS Activist Peddles Fabrications in California Newspaper

Sandra O’Neill, a California activist in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Campaign (BDS) who manufactures grotesque falsehoods about Israel, has managed to peddle her fabrications, including the shooting deaths of small Palestinian children, to a Chico, Calif., newspaper. In the last month, Chico News and Review, which describes itself as “your independent alternative news & entertainment resource,” published a letter-to-the editor by O’Neill (Nov. 10, 2011, “A security issue?”), and a Nov. 24, 2011 news article (“Middle East activism”) by Christine G.K. LaPado, in which O’Neill was the subject and main interviewee.

According to LaPado’s article, O’Neill “returned Nov. 1 from a three-week trip to the Palestinian West Bank, Israel and the Golan Heights.” Writing about her trip in the Nov. 10 letter, O’Neill charged: “While I was there two Palestinian children, ages 6 and 4, were shot and killed by trigger-happy watchtower guards because they were playing too close to the 30-foot-high separation wall.”

Fortunately for Palestinians, but unfortunately for Ms. O’Neill, Palestinian groups, as well as the United Nations, keep detailed records of all Palestinian fatalities resulting from conflict with Israelis. A close examination of these sources, including the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), and the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), reveals that no Palestinian children whatsoever of any age were killed by Israelis in the three week period that Ms. O’Neill was in the region (Oct. 11-Nov. 1). (In fact, none were killed for the entire month of October.) The relevant weekly reports by OCHA and by PCHR are here: OCHA Oct. 5 -11, OCHA Oct. 12-18, OCHA Oct. 19-25, OCHA Oct. 26-Nov. 1, PCHR Oct. 6-12, PCHR Oct. 13-19, PCHR Oct. 20-26, and PCHR Oct. 27- Nov. 2.

The false claim that two small Palestinian children were shot dead by “trigger-happy watchtower guards because they were playing too close to the 30-foot high separation wall” is an outright falsehood which requires an immediate correction.

Likewise, in LaPado’s Nov. 24 article, “Jews-only buses and highways” are mentioned as “some of the routine hardships that O’Neill and Alma either witnessed or heard stories of.” But there are no “Jews-only buses and highways,” neither in Israel, nor in the West Bank. While there are roads prohibited to Palestinians in the West Bank, there are no “Jewish-only roads.” Israel’s Arab citizens and, indeed, Israeli citizens of any religion or ethnicity, have just as much right to travel on those restricted roads as do Israeli Jews. Israeli Arabs frequently use the bypass roads for business and to visit relatives. Moreover, at least one Israeli Arab was fatally shot by Palestinian terrorists on one of these roads. As the Los Angeles Times reported on Aug. 8, 2001:

Wael Ghanem, an Israeli Arab, was shot and killed as he drove toward the Jewish settlement of Tzofim in the West Bank, not far from where an Israeli woman was killed on Sunday. . . . However, he was driving a car with yellow license plates on a West Bank road where a similar shooting attack had taken place, raising the possibility that Palestinian gunmen thought they were targeting an Israeli settler.

Georgios Tsibouktzakis, a Greek Orthodox monk, shot on June 12, 2001, was another non-Jew killed by Palestinian terrorists while on these roads.

Even B’Tselem, an organization frequently critical of Israel, acknowledges that restricted roads are reserved for those with Israeli plates, (Jews and Arabs), as opposed to Jews only. Thus, an Aug. 9, 2004 hard-hitting report stated: “B’Tselem has divided the Forbidden Roads Regime into three categories of roads: ‘sterile roads’ where Palestinian traffic is completely prohibited, roads where Palestinians require special permits, and roads with restricted access. The regime applies only to Palestinians. Israeli vehicles are allowed to travel freely along these roadways.” This false charge implying a racist policy on the part of Israel – allowing special privilege to Jews over other religious and ethnic groups – is particularly pernicious.

Multiple major mainstream news outlets have corrected the false canard about Jews-only roads. For instance, the Washington Post corrected on Jan. 28, 2010:

Dec. 30 A-section item from the Associated Press, about an Israeli Supreme Court ruling giving Palestinians access to a section of West Bank highway previously closed to them, incorrectly said that Israel reserves some roads for Jews. The country closes some roads to virtually all Palestinians, but they are open to all Israeli citizens and to other nationals, regardless of religious background.

Similarly, on Jan. 7, 2010, the AP corrected:

In some versions of a Dec. 29 story about a Supreme Court ruling on highway usage, The Associated Press erroneously reported that Israel has a network of roads reserved for Jews. These roads are open to all Israeli citizens, including Arabs, as well as foreigners and tourists, while banning virtually all Palestinians.

As for the allegedly “Jews-only” buses, this too is a falsehood which requires correction. Not only are Israeli Arabs and other Israeli non-Jews permitted to ride Israeli buses in the West Bank, but Palestinians may also ride Israeli West Bank buses (although only those with permits may enter Israeli settlements or Jerusalem). As Reuters reported Nov. 15, 2011: “Israel has no law barring Palestinians from its public transport in the West Bank.”

Similarly, the AP reported the same day: “Although no specific rule prevents Palestinians from riding the ‘Israeli’ buses — they are generally not allowed into the Jewish settlements these buses serve. The Palestinians also need permits to enter Jerusalem.”

Another fabricated hardship cited in LaPado’s article is “days-long waits at checkpoints for Palestinians entering Israel to go to work.” While pro-Palestinian Web sites write of waits averaging one hour (see here, for example) the outrageous claim that legal workers are forced to wait “days” at checkpoints is completely unfounded. In February 2010, Associated Press journalist Ben Hubbard, for instance, spent a week observing Palestinian laborers crossing the Qalandiya checkpoint to get to work. The time that it took for the workers he tracked to cross that week were 22 minutes, 22 minutes, 54 minutes, 33 minutes, and 25 minutes. Minutes, not days, and not even hours.

Finally, O’Neill and fellow BDS traveler Emily Alma describe an alleged incident involving a Hebron girl whose arm was reportedly broken by settlers and whose “family had to carry the girl’s grandfather’s body over the blockading wall when he died, in order to take him through the nearby checkpoint into Israel, where he was to be buried.” This story is particularly implausible given that it is unheard of for a West Bank Palestinian who lacks Israeli citizenship (as nearly all do) to be buried in Israel. Furthermore, if the family was supposedly taking the body “through the nearby checkpoint,” why then the need to “carry” the body “over the blockading wall”? Presumably, if they were crossing through a checkpoint, they could simply walk through, and there would be no need to scale a wall. In any event, we do not find any other account to document the story. Given O’Neill’s proven track record in manufacturing made-up charges against Israel, coupled with the implausibility of this particularly alleged incident, this too requires substantiation. If none can be found, News and Review owes its readers a clarification.

CAMERA urges the Chico News and Review to take the appropriate steps to retract these egregious falsehoods, thereby ensuring that its slogan, “Think Free,” does not mean “Fact Free” and that “alternative news” in not a euphemism for “fabricated news.”

Dec. 15 Update: While the News and Review today publishes a CAMERA column debunking O’Neill’s falsehoods, it also runs a letter-to-the-editor by Emily Alma, who falsely kills off a living Palestinian girl in an effort to cover for her lying compatriot.

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