It is not a new tactic. When Palestinian terrorists in Gaza decide to up their usual daily quota of rocket fire at civilian communities in the south of Israel, a story suddenly breaks about a child in Gaza killed by Israel. So it was in March 2012 when Harriet Sherwood and many others blindly attributed the death of a boy named Nayif Qarmout to Israeli actions.
And so it is too in the latest round of escalated missile fire from Gaza which is still going on. On Tuesday, June 19th, a story emerged about a toddler named Hadeel Haddad from the Zeitoun neighbourhood in Gaza, supposedly killed in an Israeli airstrike.
The IDF quickly confirmed that it had not been operating in the area at the time and Ma’an news agency stated (at least on its English language site) that the little girl’s death was related to Palestinian terrorists firing a rocket from the region of her family’s home. Some 10 to 15% of all rockets fired fall short and land in Gaza itself.
However, the false version of the story was published widely (and is still available on the web) in Palestinian press and other media outlets – among them Scoop (Kia Ora’s Julie Webb-Pullman reporting), The Shia Post, the official PA Wafa news agency, the Palestine Press news agency, the Palestine Times, Palestine Today and the Iranian Ahul Bayt news agency.
So where did the story originate? Most of the media outlets claim that their source was Adham Abu Selmeyya (aka Adham Abu Musa Salamia) – spokesman for the Emergency and Ambulance Services in Gaza. Selmeyya, however, has a history of exploiting his official position to spread untrue stories. In fact, as Elder of Ziyon points out, he was also the person who spread the false story about Nayif Qarmout.
Another aspect to the story is that of the photograph of the dead child – obviously taken at a mortuary. The website ‘Occupied Palestine’, which ran the story using that photograph, credited it to Twitter user @PFLP67 and indeed the photograph appears on his timeline, addressed to the ‘Occupy Palestine’ Twitter account. The same picture was also used by several of the media outlets promoting the false story.
Note: @PFLP67’s Twitter account now seems to be experiencing technical difficulties or to have been blocked, so that is the reason the disturbing image is being published here.
Whilst it is not known whether or not @PFLP67 (whose twitter profile states, predictably, that “the way to Palestine passes via the barrel of a gun”) took the picture himself, what we obviously do have here is a member of a terrorist organization who either has access to the morgue in Gaza himself, or has an associate there, promoting a picture which does not tell the story as he claims it to be. What @PFLP67’s connections are (if any) to Adham Abu Selmeyya and the Gaza emergency and ambulance services remains, of course, a mystery.
Besides the story being published by media outlets and news agencies, it also spread via Twitter and Facebook.
Some of those Tweeting the story appear to have got their original information from the timeline of the BBC’s correspondent in Gaza, Jon Donnison.
However, despite the fact that Donnison – who would also appear to have got the story from Adham Abu Selmeyya – has obviously yet to learn that ‘medical sources in Gaza’ can also be ‘propaganda sources in Gaza’ (and sometimes worse), he did correct himself within the hour.
Unfortunately, by that time the damage was already done, with the false information – now sporting the trusted BBC’s stamp of approval – retweeted and passed on and his correction largely ignored.
And what of the Guardian’s Harriet Sherwood? Well, her somewhat belated report on the current barrage of rocket attacks on southern Israel, published well over 24 hours after the attacks commenced, appears to indicate that this time around she managed to avoid falling into the trap set by Adham Abu Selmeyya the ‘medical source’ propagandist.
“A two-year-old Palestinian girl was killed in an explosion in Gaza on Tuesday evening, and her brother was injured. The Israeli military denied it had launched an air strike in the area. According to the Palestinian news agency, Ma’an, witnesses said the child died when militants launched a rocket nearby.”
Once bitten twice shy? Let’s hope that the BBC learns the same lesson soon, because spreading unsubstantiated stories and rumours is a very dangerous practice in the Middle East and journalists – like medical staff – should be bound by the commitment to do no harm.