On Jan. 26, the influential Israeli daily Ha’aretz, which is a trusted source for Western correspondents, ran a five-column color Reuters photograph above the fold on the front page. It was the first item–and most prominent item–that any reader would notice in that day’s issue. The photo and caption follow:
A Palestinian man inspecting buildings after they were demolished by Palestinian police in Gaza yesterday, the first time the PA has acted against illegal construction
Unfortunately, however, the caption’s claim that this was the first time the PA has acted against illegal construction was simply wrong. In actuality, the PA has repeatedly acted against illegal construction. The following is a sampling of press reports about past Palestinian Authority demolitions of illegal structures:
1) “The irony was probably not lost on Abdel Shaikh al-Aid when bulldozers driven by fellow Palestinians demolished the dwellings in Gaza where he lived with his family.” (“Refugee in Gaza Feels PLO Wrath,” Times of London, Jan. 31, 1994)
2) “Aged and unsteady, propelled by rage, Fatima Abu Suayed seized her visitor’s arm and thrust him in to the scattered remains of her home.
“Poor even by Gaza’s shrunken standards, she had lived with 13 relatives in a two-room shack of cinder block and battered sheet metal. One afternoon this month, police swept in and told the woman and her neighbors that they had to leave Palestinian state property. Then a bulldozer plowed down more than 20 homes–some of them, like Abu Suayed’s, with all the contents inside. Among her losses was the only adornment on the flattened walls–a portrait of Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat.
“‘Our president!’ she shouted, voice rich with contempt. ‘He comes here to kick us out! I ask God to punish those who destroyed this home! I ask God to punish them! I ask it every hour!'” (Washington Post, Feb. 27, 1995)
3) “Today the Palestinian Authority destroyed an illegal building used as housing for Bedouins in Tarkumei. The number of illegal buildings destroyed in recent months has risen. Bedouins say this is a provocation to violence.” (Israel’s Channel 2, July 30, 1998)
It should be noted that the information in the original Reuters caption of the photo in question was correct. It stated:
A Palestinian man inspect [sic] buildings after they was [sic] demolished by Palestinian police in Gaza, January 25, 2005. New President Mahmoud Abbas put teeth into his vow to crack down on lawlessness in Palestinian areas on Tuesday as bulldozers began demolishing buildings illegally built by militants and security men on public land.
The day after the caption appeared, CAMERA privately contacted Peter Hirschberg, editor of Ha’aretz English edition, and Meron Rapaport, head of the news division, to request a correction. By Feb. 6, when no correction appeared, CAMERA again reached Mr. Hirschberg by phone who said that he will not correction the photo caption error, though he had no dispute with CAMERA’s facts concerning previous Palestinian Authority demolitions of illegal structures. Why, then, was Hirshberg unwillingly to correct? Because he was annoyed that CAMERA publicly — in his words — “vilified” Ha’aretz in a Nov. 27, 2004 op-ed in the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. That Op-Ed took Ha’aretz to task for not correcting multiple errors by columnist Gideon Levy, among them the false claim that Golda Meir once said “after what the Nazis did to us, we can do whatever we want.” (At the time, even Levy admitted to CAMERA he could not substantiate the quote.)
Why did CAMERA take the public step of writing an Op-Ed? Because countless private, behind-the-scenes efforts to get Ha’aretz to correct errors elicited no response through August, September, and October. It seems that Ha’aretz editors take the attitude that regardless of the merit of public criticism, the paper can do whatever it wants. Perhaps, but media critics will continue to spread the word that Ha’aretz refuses to correct errors and cannot be considered a reliable source.