CAMERA Prompts National Geographic to Correct on Gaza Zoo Closure

On September 26, 2016, National Geographic ran a feature entitled “Animals Rescued From the ‘World’s Worst Zoo’.”Initially, the author, Richard Tenorio, politicized a story that was ostensibly about animal welfare and used it to gratuitously condemn Israel.

After editors heard from CAMERA letter-writers, however, significant revisions to the article were made. The editors said that the story “came through our digital staff, not our magazine operation” and that they “are putting into place more checks to try to ensure that such pieces do not slip through our digital editing process.”

In the original article, after describing how zoo owner Abu Diab Oweida preserved and stuffed 50 dead animals in the zoo, author Richard Tenorio had quoted Oweida saying that he did it in order “to prove to the whole world that even animals have been affected and [killed] by the Israeli occupation after the three [recent] wars in the Gaza Strip.” The bracketed word “killed” appeared to have been inserted into the quote by the reporter. That language has now been deleted, along with Oweida’s reference to the “Israeli occupation.”

As CAMERA letter-writers pointed out to National Geographic editors, Israel completely withdrew from Gaza in 2005, removing both civilians and soldiers from the territory. A second quote from Oweida attributing his problems to the “Israeli occupation” was removed as well, and new language was added to clarify the current relationship between Israel and Gaza.

Editors also added significant background about the 2014 war between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers, including Hamas’s kidnapping of three Israeli teens that ignited the 2014 hostilities, and the fact that Hamas fired into civilian areas within Israel. They clarified that although the animals died during the 2014 conflict, the zoo itself was not bombed and the precise cause of the animals’ death was unclear.

A seven-week conflict in 2014 hastened the decision to close the zoo. The conflict stemmed from the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers on the West Bank. Israel linked the crimes to Hamas, and made hundreds of arrests in the case, including many of Hamas’ West Bank leaders. Hamas later began firing rockets at civilian areas inside Israel, which, in turn, bombed sites in Gaza targeting the rocket launchers. The United Nations reported that nearly 2,200 people were killed in the conflict, more than 2,100 of them Palestinians.

It’s unclear precisely what led to the animals’ deaths at the zoo. The zoo itself was not bombed during the 2014 conflict, and animal-welfare groups say it had a troubled history of caring for animals. Abu Diab Oweida, the Palestinian businessman who owned the zoo, said many animals died during that conflict, and that the mummifications were an effort by the zoo’s staff “to prove to the whole world that even animals (were) affected.” Oweida previously blamed a 2009 conflict for the death of several animals in the zoo, some of which also were mummified.

Finally, editors made clear that the IDF strikes that were carried out in August of this year, while the animal rescue was being carried out, were against military targets in Gaza, and were not indiscriminate, as was previously implied.

CAMERA commends National Geographic for the corrections.

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