Written by Aron White
There’s been much media attention given to the death of Ibrahim Abu Thuraya on the Gaza border during violent Palestinian protests last week. But, very serious questions have been raised about the story. Media outlets that reported the story should have been more careful in their initial reporting, and should now issue retractions and apologies in light of the new evidence that has come to light.
There were two central parts of the story that have now been seriously called into question. It had been reported that:
a) Abu Thuraya was a Palestinian fisherman who had lost his legs in an Israeli air strike during Operation Cast Lead in 2008.
b) Abu Thuraya was shot in the head and killed by the IDF on December 15th in a “shocking and wanton act.”
The facts have now emerged that seriously challenge both of these assertions. Abu Thuraya was in fact a terrorist, and he injured his legs in that context. Initially, Abu Thuraya was a militant in Fatah’s Force 17 commando unit, and he was shot three times in the leg in 2005 by Hamas fighters, during the inter Palestinian fighting between Fatah and Hamas. (This was reported by none other than the Independent, in 2005).
Moreover, there are also now serious questions as to what actually happened on Friday 15th December. The initial IDF report last week said that they found no evidence that live fire had been directed at Abu Thuraya, or of any moral or professional failures on the part of the IDF. This IDF claim was repeated on Saturday by General Yoav Mordechai, who stated that there is “no basis” that Abu Thuraya was shot by an IDF sniper.
Given the IDF statement, and the fact that the Hamas health ministry refused to cooperate with the IDF investigation, at the end of the day, media reports that Abu Thuraya was killed by an IDF sniper are based entirely on unsubstantiated Hamas claims.
Indeed, the source of the initial accusation that the IDF shot and killed Abu Thuraya is presented in the Guardian as a statement from “Gazan medical officials”. This obfuscates the fact that those officials work for the Hamas government – namely, the IDF was accused by members of a designated terrorist organisation sworn to the destruction of Israel, not some objective bystanders. Such a claim should never have been taken at face value, or at the very least, should be presented as a claim, not a fact.
When ISIS controlled Raqqa, if the ISIS health ministry would accuse the coalition of civilian casualties, would this accusation be quoted as fact, coming from “Iraqi medical officials”?
The media is not learning the lesson from past mistakes.
Coverage of this story followed a similar pattern to media coverage of Operation Protective Edge in 2014. During that war, Hamas officials in Gaza accused Israel of atrocities, claiming that Israel was indiscriminately bombing Gaza, resulting in a high ratio of civilian casualties. UN agencies unquestioningly quoted these statistics, and Israel was accused in the media of heinous crimes. Only once the dust settled, when proper analysis could actually be done, did It become clear that the accusations were exaggerated, and the true picture made it clear that Israel had achieved historically low levels of civilian casualties. The Head of Statistics at BBC News, after analyzing the figures, warned that “caution was needed” in analyzing statistics from the war. But that warning came after the war had finished; the lies had already been propagated and spread, before they could be debunked. Caution is needed not after the fact, but in the initial reporting.
It surely should be a pretty simple rule – if the story originates with Hamas, treat it with extreme caution.
More broadly, a story should not be run simply because it fits with a narrative of Israel as aggressor. Journalists need to check their sources, and be critical and questioning (yes, even of Palestinians, and yes, even of emotive stories). In that way, and only that way, can media outlets bring fair and accurate reports to news consumers.
Aron White has a BSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of London (Lead College: LSE), and is a graduate of the Jewish Statesmanship Center in Jerusalem. His writings have been published at the Jerusalem Post, JNS, The Daily Caller and the Algemeiner.