Anatomy of a story from Gaza.

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. 

12 replies »

  1. Goodness. Harriet checking sources.

    Next she will be praising Israel for restraint in the face of continuing Palestinian provocations. (That was meant to be a joke).

    • Before we all get carried away with our congratulations to Harriet on this failure to demonise Israel, it is worth reading the rest of the article to see that she is still using the same old tricks. She says:

      “a militant attack [note – not a terrorist attack] on the Egyptian-Israeli border [note – “on the border”, whereas it was actually an incursion into Israeli territory] on Monday … sparked the current spiral of attacks and counter-attacks”.

      She goes on to say (much later in the article):

      “Monday’s attack on the Israel-Egypt border, in which an Arab construction worker [note – an Arab, not an Israeli] was killed [note the passive tense – who killed him? Who can say?], was claimed by a group called the Mujahedeen Shura Council of Jerusalem which says it has links to al-Qaida. It distributed a video in which two men, an Egyptian and a Saudi national, said they were embarking on a “double suicide mission”.

      Two militants were shot dead by Israeli forces during the attack [note no such uncertainties here. These “militants” were not just “killed”, they were “shot dead by Israel”]…”

  2. “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. ”

    From my post of yesterday July19th at 5.22 pm in response to “Why does the Guardian get Middle East analysis wrong?” I posted

    “If and when Israel retaliates to stop the rocket crews another dead Palestinian child will be pulled out of the mortuary, having died from a totally unrelated cause, and shown in all its bloody martyred glory to the gullible Western media.

    Ah ha – I should be a prophet!

  3. Well done Hadar. Harriet Sherwood can learn a lot from you about journalism, about thorough & impeccable research and telling the truth based on reliable sources.

    Of course when it comes to Israel bashing you couldn’t compete with her.

    • Actually, I can think of a lot of others like ‘our Harriet’ and, not so strangely, many of them seem to congregate at The Guardian.

      Why is that? (I know – a silly question).

  4. Its bad enough that this poor child has been massacred by evil men whose hearts are full of hate, but its even worse that other evil men try and profit from it.

  5. There is a long history of so-called “workplace” accidents among the oh-so-brave “freedom fighters” in Gaza.

    These are often due to carelessness on the part of operatives but more often to the storage of ordnance among civilians.

    Press Releases from the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights

    Ref: 54/2008
    Date: 15 June 2008
    Time: 09:30 GMT
    Stop This Tragedy!

    PCHR Concerned Over Casualties Caused by Continuing Internal Explosions: 8 Palestinians, Including a Child, Killed and More than 40 Injured After Explosion in Beit Lahia

    PCHR is deeply concerned about the recurrence of internal explosions as a result of weapons being manufactured, and stored, in areas populated by civilians. These actions are threatening the lives and property of Palestinian civilians. PCHR calls upon Palestinian resistance groups to take immediate measures to ensure the non-recurrence of such explosions. The most recent explosion, in Beit Lahia on June 12, killed eight Palestinians, including an infant, and injured at least forty others.

    According to investigations conducted by PCHR and eye-witness testimonies, at approximately 13:30 on Thursday, 12 June, a huge explosion occurred in a 400-square-meter house belonging to ‘Abdul ‘Azim Khaled Hammouda in the centre of Beit Lahia town, in the northern Gaza Strip. The house was completely destroyed and dozens of neighboring houses were also damaged, five of them seriously. Ambulances and civil defense crews rushed to the area, and removed victims’ bodies from beneath the ruins of the destroyed house, and neighbouring houses. The victims included 4-month-old Nour Majdi Hammouda, who was killed whilst inside her family home, and 16-year-old Mahmoud ‘Ataya Hammouda, who was killed whilst walking near the site of the explosion.

    The ‘Izziddin al-Qassam Brigades (the armed wing of Hamas) stated in a press release issued on 13 June, that 6 of its members were killed “while they were in the final stage of preparation for a special Jihad mission.” Those members have been identified as:

    1) Ashraf Na’im Mushtaha, 32;
    2) Hassan Mohammed Abu Shaqfa, 28;
    3) Majid ‘Aadel Hammouda, 28;
    4) Mohammed Sabri Abu Naja, 25;
    5) Mohammed Hamdan Miqdad, 22;
    6) Ahmed Muneer Subaih, 20.

    In light of the above, PCHR:

    1) Warns of the dangers caused by continued manufacturing or storage of explosive devices by Palestinian resistance groups in civilian-populated areas, which threaten the lives of Palestinian civilians and violate international humanitarian law.

    2) Calls upon Palestinian resistance groups to take effective steps to ensure the non-recurrence of such incidents.

    1 The death toll increased to 10 after two more civilians died of their wounds.

    2 According to the Pal-Press website (June 12), the investigation showed that the explosion was in fact a result of a “work accident”. According to the report, the explosion occurred in the house of Ahmed Hamouda, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades commander in the Beit Lahiya region, who worked in Hamas’s (weapons) manufacturing unit.

    3 For details, see our Information Bulletin: “During the last round of escalation in the Gaza Strip the terrorist organizations again made extensive use of Palestinian civilians as human shields” (March 5, 2008).

    4 The statement uses the term “internal explosions” to refer to blasts resulting from “work accidents”.

    5 Usually, the media in the Gaza Strip are controlled by Hamas and do not publish reliable information on “work accidents”, let alone admit that Hamas and other terrorist organizations are responsible for them.

    (Emphasis added)

    Although this dates from 2008, there is little reason to believe that circumstances have changed. If anything they have probably worsened given the attitude of Fathi Hamad and his brethren in infamy.