UK Media Watch

Indy story on Gaza student “denied” visa to study in UK riddled with distortions

A Sept. 27th article in the Independent by Bethan McKernan claims that a 28-year-old Palestinian student named Mohammed Awad was due to begin a masters programme at Goldsmiths, University of London, but may have to forfeit his place because of an “Israeli delay in approving his travel papers”.

Awad, from Jabalia, north of Gaza City, is quoted by the Indy expressing his frustration at the “red tape and lengthy delays” at COGAT (Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories) in processing his application. 

However, we contacted COGAT to inquire about travel visa, and they responded by emphatically denying the Indy’s version of what occurred. A spokesperson told us that his application was approved for travel on Nov. 14th, the exact date requested by the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee.  Though the article was updated (at some point after it was first published) to note a response by COGAT confirming that Awad’s application had been “submitted” for travel on Nov. 14th, McKernan failed to make clear that it was in fact “approved”.

The headline accompanying McKernan’s article is even more misleading.  It not only fails to reflect the reply from COGAT, but actually claims Awad’s application was “denied”, despite the fact that the article doesn’t make this claim.

 

Additionally, the Indy piece asserts that Awad had previously “missed the chance to study in France in 2014 because of a delayed COGAT decision, as well as a professional development course in the West Bank last year.” But, this too was denied by COGAT in an email to UK Media Watch.  According to a spokesperson, this was his first such request.

Near the end of the article, McKernan includes a quote from an ‘expert’ named Garry Spedding:

In a letter to MPs urging them to intervene in Mr Awad’s case, Gary Spedding, a cross-party consultant on Israel and the Palestinian Territories, said he could not “stress enough” “the value of bringing Palestinians from the Occupied Palestinian Territory, particularly that of the Gaza Strip, over to the United Kingdom for studies.”

McKernan obfuscates the fact that Garry Spedding is hardly an objective “consultant”. He’s a well-known pro-Palestinian activist who founded a group called Palestine Solidarity Society at Queen’s University in Belfast.  Spedding was deported from Israel in 2014 due to his reported involvement in organising a protest at Queen’s in which an Israeli official was attacked.

Further down in the article, the Indy contextualises COGAT’s  putative delay of Awad’s travel request by alleging that “permission to leave Gaza is notoriously difficult to obtain for the enclave’s two million residents”, an Israeli process characterized by McKernan as “Kafkaesque”. 

However, the statistics (provided to us by COGAT) tell a completely different story.

Somehow, since 2014, more than 300,000 Palestinians have managed to navigate this “Kafkaesque” process.
 
Finally, in a perfect example of the advocacy journalism that routinely compromises the media’s objectivity in covering the conflict, here’s how McKernan ended her “news article”:
 
We’ve lodged an official complaint with Indy editors over the misleading and false claims in the article. 
 
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