Don’t Look! Reuters and Deadly Misfired Palestinian Rockets

Here’s a simple litmus test for journalists to gauge the professionalism of their news outlets’ coverage of Israel and the Palestinians: If reporting by Amira Hass, a veteran Haaretz journalist with a long history of anti-Israel animus, is far more transparent and more forthcoming than their coverage, then they’ve got cause for concern.

On its coverage of misfired Palestinian Islamic Jihad rockets killing Gaza bystanders, Reuters has a serious problem (“In Gaza, denial and doubt over misfired rocket claims“).

In her story today breaking down the 49 reported Gaza fatalities from last week’s fighting, Hass doesn’t try to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes, stating: “Botched launches of Palestinian rockets killed 19 noncombatants, including 12 children” (“Uninvolved: These are the 36 Palestinian Civilians Killed During Israel’s Gaza Op“). Reuters, in contrast, can’t even acknowledge that a certain (significant) percentage of Islamic Jihad rockets meant for Israeli communities failed, landing back in the Palestinian territory. (Figures vary for the number of Gazans killed by misfired Palestinian rockets. See for example Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, which cites 11 and Associated Press, which reports “at least 14.” All agree, though, that Islamic Jihad rockets killed Gazans.)

In a moment of straightforward journalism, diehard anti-Israel writer Hass writes:

Despite Palestinian media attributing all death to Israeli attacks, Gazans know well that a very high number of victims stemmed from failed rocket launches by Islamic Jihad. It remains unknown whether militants from other organizations were involved in botched launches. Human rights groups investigating each incident have learned by now to distinguish between Israeli rocket and artillery strikes, with the craters and dispersed shrapnel they leave, and rocket strikes with their debris.

The high number of fatalities from so-called internal fire has embittered Palestinians, some Gazans told Haaretz. Absent public discussion on the matter, it’s not known whether militant groups investigate their fatal errors and their origins, be it something technical or lack of training, or if any measures are taken against rocket operators who errantly killed Gazans.

BBC’s Yolande Knell is another longtime journalist with no love lost for Israel who nevertheless acknowledges that Gazans are well aware of incoming errant Islamic Jihad rockets. She writes: “Palestinian witnesses do report seeing faulty PIJ launches in this conflict.” Reuters, unlike Gazans, doesn’t see any faulty PIJ launches. Or, if it does, it won’t say so. “In Gaza, denial and doubt over misfire rocket claims,” is Reuters’ headline. In reality, though, it’s Reuters which is drowning in denial.

In his Aug. 12 article, Jerusalem bureau chief James Mackenzie manufactures an unresolvable he said/she said dispute, carefully discarding or massaging all of the facts that point to failed Islamic Jihad rocket attacks killing Palestinians. The article begins by laying out Israel’s allegedly unverifiable claims:

As the cleanup in Gaza continues from last weekend’s brief conflict with Israel, another battles over side caused the casualties, after Israel said misfiring rockets from the Palestinian side killed 15 people in the enclave.

According to Israeli military authorities, a fifth of more than 1,000 rockets fired towards Israel failed, many plunging to earth in Gaza where they caused a third of the 44 deaths recorded there during the 56-hour battle, when Israeli jets pounded the narrow coastal strip.

The Israeli military supplied videos and radar images which it said showed an Islamic Jihad rocket veering off course soon after being launched on Saturday, heading to the group where they said it killed five people including four children. (Emphases added)

Watching the Israeli military supplied video, readers can decide for themselves whether it actually shows rockets falling downwards towards Gaza, or whether that’s merely an IDF claim. 

Beyond the Israeli-supplied video which the Reuters journalist qualifies as questionable, Mackenzie ignores additional footage — not supplied by the military — which captures Islamic Jihad rockets veering off course. There is, for instance, this Aug. 7 footage from the Lebanese Al Mayadeen, a pro-Hezbollah satellite television station, in which a flustered journalist directs the cameraman “Please, turn the camera away, turn the camera upward” as misfired rockets head down towards the Gaza Strip.

Mackenzie too turns his proverbial camera away from the incriminating evidence substantiating Islamic Jihad rockets cutting short innocent life in the Gaza Strip. For example, in particularly striking disingenuous paragraph he conceals:

In the Jabalya refugee camps in northern Gaza, damaged cars and buildings left little doubt of the force of the blasts that hit the area for the first time on Saturday, when many people were outside, enjoying the cool of the evening while a power blackout shut off lights and air conditioners.

(About the seven casualties killed in that Saturday night Jabalya instance, Hass wrote: “They were killed when a Palestinian rocket hit a home in the Jabalya refugee camp.”)

Recall Hass’ clarifying distinction between “Israeli rocket and artillery strikes, with the craters and dispersed shrapnel they leave, and rocket strikes with their debris?” In contrast, Mackenzie’s vague description of “damaged cars and buildings” — (what kind of damage?) — does nothing to shed light on what might have hit the neighborhood. On the other hand, his own insertion that this unspecified damage “left little doubt of the forces of the blasts” (wrongly) suggests an Israeli airstrike.

The Associated Press, for its part, was very specific about the damage which ensued in this particular Jabalya incident (“Misfired rockets may have killed over a dozen in Gaza battle“) Zeroing in the damage and its significance, AP’s Tia Goldenberg and Joseph Krauss reported:

On Saturday night, seven Palestinians were killed in a blast in the crowded Jebaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza. The Israeli military said it carried out no operations in the area at the time. It released video footage purportedly showing a barrage of militant rockets, with one falling short.

Islamic Jihad had announced a rocket attack on the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, just north of Jebaliya, at around the same time as the explosion.

Video footage of the aftermath circulated online, showing what appeared to be a rocket casing sticking out of the ground on a narrow, busy street. When the AP visited the site on Monday, the casing was gone and the hole had been filled in with dirt. Palestinians are usually keen to display evidence of Israeli airstrikes to international media.

Al-Mezan attributed the blast to a “projectile,” and the PCHR said it was still investigating.

Why does Reuters ignore video footage that showed an apparent rocket casing sticking out of the ground? Why doesn’t it point out that there was no crater, damage which would indicate an Israeli airstrike? Why does it ignore the fact that the Palestinian Center for Human Rights and Al-Mezan, two Palestinian organizations very hostile to Israel, did not point to Israel as the culprit for these deaths? 

AP’s story, which did cover all of these points, concluded: “Close to one-third of the Palestinians who died in the latest outbreak of violence between Israel and Gaza militants may have been killed by errant rockets fired by the Palestinian side, according to an Israeli military assessment that appears consistent with independent reporting by The Associated Press.”

“Hamas briefly issued an order instructing freelance journalists not to report claims that casualties may have been caused by Palestinian rockets. It soon rescinded that order,” Mackenzie again prevaricates. (Emphasis added.)

Note that Reuters’ Mackenzie again frames casualties caused by Palestinian rockets as mere claims. In fact, as first reported by the Associated Press, Hamas instructed Palestinians working with foreign journalists “not to report on Gazans killed by misfired Palestinian rockets or the military capabilities of Palestinian armed groups, and were told to blame Israel for the recent escalation.” AP’s report did not qualify those casualties, or Hamas’ orders about coverage of them, as mere claims.

In consistently depicting Islamic Jihad’s failed rockets as nothing more than disputed Israeli allegations, Mackenzie honors the spirit of Hamas’ chilling instructions clamping down on open coverage. “Don’t report!” says Hamas. “Turn the camera upwards,” the Al Mayadeen implores! And Reuters obliges.

See also:

NBC Covers for Islamic Jihad After Killing of Palestinian Children

In Recent Fighting with Islamic Jihad, Half of Gaza Deaths Were Likely Caused by Errant Palestinian Rockets

Reuters Softens Its Reporting on Hamas

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