Those who follow this blog (and other sites which monitor coverage of Israel) are all too familiar with the cycle of misinformation often propagated by media gatekeepers with a pronounced political agenda, by which smears spread rapidly across the traditional and social media before they can be effectively refuted.
Though a horribly misleading report at The Independent (Israel government tortures Palestinian children by keeping them in cages, human rights group says‘, Adam Withnall, Jan. 1) hasn’t quite gone viral, it’s impossible to know how many of their readers casually accepted their false allegations in the weeks it took us to garner corrections to their primary claim in the story, which can be summed up in their leading original sentence:
“An Israeli human rights organisation has accused the government of torturing Palestinian children after it emerged some were kept for months in outdoor cages during winter.”
The Indy evidently based its claim on a report in the Jerusalem Post on Dec. 31 which was based almost entirely on a report from the NGO PCATI (Public Committee Against Torture in Israel). However, as we noted previously, the PCATI report in question is itself based on a report at the website of the Israel Public Defender’s Office (PDO), where you learn the much less sensational truth: the Israel Prison Service had, on occasion, held some Israelis who were arrested – for various crimes – in outdoor holding pens (for a couple of hours) until they were transported to court in the morning. This practice has since been ended.
As we noted in previous posts, NOWHERE in the PDO’s statement (which they sent to the Israel Justice Ministry) do they use the word “Palestinians”, nor the word “torture”.
After our initial complaint to the Indy, the false charge that Palestinian children were caged for months was quickly amended and, more recently (following subsequent communication with their editors), they also agreed to make additional changes to more accurately reflect the actual language of the Public Defender’s Office’s statement.
This past Friday, the Indy finally removed all references to the word “Palestinians”, and included an addendum at the bottom of Withnall’s article noting that the change was prompted by their acknowledgement that the PDO never mentioned anything about Palestinians.
(Additionally, we’ve been in communication with editors at the Jerusalem Post over their report on the Public Defender’s Office complaint, and expect a reply soon.)
While the Indy correction represents a significant improvement over the original, what remains is still extremely misleading, as it suggests that a “human rights group” (PCATI) accused Israel of ‘torturing’ children, when the PCATI page in question does NOT characterize the ceased practice of keeping some prisoners in open-air cells for several hours (while in transit to court) as “torture”.
There is of course a huge difference between an unfair or abusive detention practice and the outright ‘torture’ of prisoners, and it strains credulity to characterize what occurred at the IPS transition facility in Ramla as torture.
Though it is of course the job of such NGOs to investigate any credible allegations of such abuse, it is the job of responsible journalists to accurately characterize the specific charges being leveled, and avoid false characterizations and hyperbole which mislead readers into believing something which either is completely untrue, or which egregiously distorts a few kernels of truth to advance an entirely misleading narrative.
Finally, Withnall’s hatchet job is especially galling in light of an official editorial published by the Indy in Oct. in which they emphatically denied charges leveled by some that they were guilty of demonizing Israel.
However, their decision to publish a sensational report with a scare headline falsely accusing the Israeli government of sadistically torturing Palestinian kids by holding them in outdoor cages for months during winter – among other libels they’ve published in recent months – significantly undermines their claim that they don’t engage in such reckless and libelous smears.