CAMERA Elicits Partial Correction From Chicago Tribune

Update: In response to this alert the Tribune has printed a partial correction.

 

November 28, 2000
(modified version faxed on December 7, 2000)

By fax:
Mr. Timothy McNulty
Foreign Editor
(312) 222-3540

Dear Mr. McNulty:

Several CAMERA members from the Chicago area recently have contacted us with questions about the accuracy and balance of Uli Schmetzer’s Nov. 17 article entitled “War of Attrition Claims Beloved Medic.” After reviewing the article, we were very concerned about Schmetzer’s serious misrepresentation of a statement from an Israeli soldier originally quoted in the Jerusalem Post. In addition, the article misreported the chronology of the fighting in the Gilo-Beit Jala region, as well as the threat that Jewish residents of Gilo face.

In an apparent effort to build the case that Israel is callously acting with excessive force against Palestinians, Schmetzer takes the Jerusalem Post quote out of its critical qualifying context, thereby misrepresenting the soldier as a sadist. He writes:

Last month the Jerusalem Post reported Israel had trained four battalions for urban warfare in mock-up Palestinian villages. A story by Ariel [sic] O’Sullivan quoted a sergeant named Raz, a 20-year-old sharpshooter in the Nashon battalion, as saying:

“I shot two people in the knees. It’s supposed to break their bones and neutralize them but not kill them. How did I feel? Well, actually I felt pretty satisfied with myself.”

Schmetzer’s rendition of the quote truncated the original as it appeared in Arieh O’Sullivan’s Oct. 27 Jerusalem Post article entitled “Nahshon ready for urban warfare.” It also ignored the ellipses. O’Sullivan had reported:

“I shot two people . . . in their knees. It’s supposed to break their bones and neutralize them but not kill them,” says Sgt. Raz, a sharpshooter from the Nahshon battalion.

“How did I feel? . . . Well actually, I felt pretty satisfied with myself,” the 20-year-old soldier confides. “I felt I could do what I was trained to do, and it gave me a lot of self- confidence to think that if we get into a real war situation I’d be able to defend my comrades and myself” (emphasis added).

Why did Schmetzer omit Raz’s explanation that his satisfaction was due to his ability to protect both himself and his comrades? Why leave the reader with the false impression that Raz was satisfied simply because he was able to injure Palestinians, with no indication about his real goal – self-defense and defense of his comrades when under threat in a dangerous war situation? (Also, note that Schmetzer neglects to reproduce the ellipses that appear in O’Sullivan’s version. Although this may seem like a minor offense, it is the right of the readers to know that they are not getting the full account of what was actually said. According to personal communication with O’Sullivan, the second ellipsis replaces Raz’s significant statement “I felt bad.”)

In a separate passage, Schmetzer misrepresents the threat that Israelis in Gilo face. He reports:

No one in this ancient town, once famous for its olive oil, denies Palestinian militiamen do fire their rifles from Gilo.

After all, the residents argue, Palestinians are being killed, and the guns of the militia are old and barely able to carry to Gilo. The bullets are more token than lethal.

Gilo residents dispute such arguments. They say that Beit Jala bullets have shattered Gilo windows, and the army has erected a concrete barrier to protect residents from worse. No one has died at Gilo so far.

While it is true that no one has died at Gilo from gunfire, it is extremely disingenuous of Schmetzer to go out of his way to make this point, while at the same time minimizing or altogether ignoring the human and property damages that were in fact suffered there (by gunfire or otherwise). Why did the reporter omit mention of the Oct. 17 shooting by Palestinians in Beit Jala of Shimon Ohana, an 18-year-old border policeman whose heart was pierced by a bullet while he sat in a jeep in Gilo? Did this bullet “barely carry to Gilo”? Ohana was admitted into an intensive care unit with no pulse or blood pressure and suffered brain damage as a result (Jerusalem Post, Oct. 19). It is especially difficult to understand why Schmetzer ignored this incident given that Fox News caught it on film as a camera man from the network dramatically ran to administer CPR to Ohana. Clearly, the effect of the bullets on Shimon Ohana – whose physical and mental functions are forever damaged – were not “token,” and it is unconscionable that the Chicago Tribune would not make this point clear. Furthermore, the fact that Palestinians claim that the “guns are old and barely able to carry to Gilo” was not enough to spare the unfortunate Ohana. Again, why didn’t Schmetzer refute such an apparently ridiculous claim?

During the same shooting incident in which Ohana was hit, another so-called token bullet also managed “to carry to Gilo,” injuring Gilo resident Shabtai Oren in the arm (Jerusalem Post, Oct. 19).

Moreover, contrary to the article’s claim that “no one had died at Gilo so far,” Gilo resident Amos Makhlouf, 30, was found murdered in an olive grove between Beit Jala and Gilo on Oct. 30. He had been bound and repeatedly stabbed. In an article about the violence in Gilo and Beit Jala which purports to report on the casualties on both sides, why was this murder not reported?

Also, Schmetzer’s use of qualifying language regarding the claim of Gilo residents about shattered windows – “They say” – is puzzling. Often it is possible for journalists to ascertain facts one way or another, rather than resorting to the more nebulous “he said/she said” exchange, as was done here. Schmetzer, for example, reported without question or qualification that in Beit Jala “tank shells knock gaping holes into century-old homes.” Certainly Schmetzer could have gone to Gilo and reported with the same degree of confidence that homes on Ha’anafa, Hahabush, and Ha’ahot Yehudit Streets, among others, were hit and damaged by Palestinian fire. Why, on the one hand, is damage to Beit Jala reported as fact, while, on the other, damage to Gilo is reported as dubious hearsay?

In addition, Schmetzer’s chronology of the events is particularly troubling. He states:

The Beit Jala-Gilo battle began after a handful of militants, sneaking into town after dusk, shot into Gilo. The next day Israel responded with tank shells. The following day the Palestinians responded with more gunfire. Israel retaliated with gunship raids and more tank shells.

Contra
ry to this inaccurate version of events in which Israel appears to respond to a day of gunfire with drastic military measures, the ongoing shooting at Gilo residents persisted for weeks without significant Israeli response until finally an IDF tank stationed nearby as a deterrent shot a warning shell for the first time Oct. 21 (Jerusalem Post, Oct. 22). Similarly, Israel did not respond with gunship raids after one day of Palestinian shooting as Schmetzer implied. Rather, after weeks of attacks on Gilo, culminating in an unprecedented Palestinian attack which hit 16 buildings, Israel struck Oct. 22 with helicopter gunships for the first time (Jerusalem Post, Oct. 23). To characterize the Nov. 16 Israeli retaliations as if they are in response to one day of Palestinian gunfire is entirely inaccurate and deceptive.

Finally, Schmetzer prints without challenge or balance the Palestinian description of Gilo as a “settlement suburb. . . near Gilo.” He also writes that Gilo is “a residential settlement built on a piece of land that the people here say was taken from Beit Jala in the 1967 war.” Why does Schmetzer present only the Palestinian position in this dispute? The Israelis, for their part, do not consider Gilo a settlement; it is part of the municipality of Jerusalem. Moreover, Israelis, including former Jerusalem municipal planner Israel Kimhi, now at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, note that most of the land that is now Gilo was purchased by Jews before World War II. As mentioned earlier, surely it is possible to research these claims and to find out which is true. If it is not possible to resolve the conflicting claims, why allow only one side of the argument to be heard?

We urge the Chicago Tribune to issue a correction reproducing the O’Sullivan quote in full. We also urge the paper to redress the inaccuracies regarding injuries and damage in Gilo as well as the ongoing shooting at Gilo which resulted in an incremental response from Israel over many weeks. Furthermore, we hope that you will clarify Gilo’s status as a neighborhood in Jerusalem.

Thank you for your prompt attention to these matters. We look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Tamar Sternthal
Senior Research Analyst