I find it extraordinary that Mr. Foot in the Mouth Chris Gunness is still a Spokesperson for UNRWA. In today's Australian, Mr. FITM tries to worm his way around some of the deceptions that he and his UNRWA cohort John Ging attempted to weave against the IDF during the recent Gaza War. Here's the letter which attempts to correct an earlier Australian article by Abraham Rabinovich followed by the journalist's curt response which places Gunness back in the box where he belongs. Both Gunness and Ging should be suspended by the UN pending an impartial investigation into the operations of UNRWA but that won't happen. After all, it is the United Nations!
THE INCIDENT AT JABALIA
I WRITE to correct the article by Abraham Rabinovich of February 6 ("UN back down on ‘school massacre“‘) which makes false claims about the UN and UN officials. The article refers to an incident on January 6 near the United Nations Relief and Works Agency school in Jabalia, Gaza, which resulted in the deaths of more than 40 people. The article infers that the UN’s reporting was misleading and that UN officials failed to “dispel widespread suspicions” about “Israeli culpability” for a “school massacre”, “even though they knew otherwise”.
Rabinovich’s assertion could not be further from the truth. All reporting by UNRWA was accurate and consistent and, in addition, UNRWA has repeatedly called for an independent investigation to establish the facts and accountability for the tragic loss of life.
From the outset, UNRWA reported that the attack happened outside the school, while the Israeli authorities initially claimed they were returning fire against militants operating inside the school. But when these Israeli reports were discredited later that same day, they corrected their reporting to state that they were firing at militants operating in the vicinity of the school.
The UNRWA statements were accurately reported in many major international media outlets and are a matter of public record.
In his article, Rabinovich has made one serious error on which his argument against the UN rests. He quotes the Director of UNRWA’s Gaza office, John Ging, as saying that “Those in the school were all families seeing refuge.” The problem for Rabinovich is that Ging was not referring to the incident at Jabalia, but to an attack the night before on the UNRWA school at Asma in Gaza City, where three people were indeed killed inside the school compound. The press conference from which Rabinovich quotes took place in the morning before the Jabalia attack, not afterwards as he leads the readers to believe.
We have looked back at the TV footage and this also makes it clear beyond any doubt that Ging was referring to the Asma school attack, as the Jabalia incident had not occurred at that time. Media outlets such as the Associated Press did attribute the quotes correctly and their report is a matter of public record.
Rabinovich, in his article, draws fully on a report that appeared in Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper making similar allegations. However, the Globe and Mail made the same mistake, assuming that Ging was talking about Jabalia when he was talking about the attack at the UNRWA school at Asma.
As for the report of a sister UN agency—the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Human Affairs—cited by Rabinovich, he fails to mention that the agency in question correctly reported the facts on the day of the incident and that it was only in a subsequent weekly summary where they made an error (which was corrected without hesitation as soon as the inconsistency came to light).
Abraham Rabinovich responds: The dismay expressed by John Ging during his press conference at the large-scale killing of civilians in Gaza was one of the most moving moments of the war. It would become linked in the public mind to reports that 43 civilians had been killed by Israeli shells in an UNWRA school.
In my article, I pointed out that Ging did not say that Israeli shells hit the school. Christopher Gunness notes that Ging spoke the night before the incident and not the day of the incident as I wrote. That, however, does not diminish the connection that formed in the mind of the public between the reported deaths of 43 civilians sheltering in one of the schools under Ging’s supervision and his expression of horror at the Israeli attack. His remark that “those in the school were all families seeking refuge” referred to another school where three persons were killed, says Gunness, but that is not what the public understood. The point of my article was not that Ging accused Israel of shelling the Jabalia school—he plainly had not—but neither he nor his spokesman made any effort to correct that impression which, amidst the spin and confusion of Gaza, had been lent credibility by Ging’s appearance.
As for my referencing an article in the Globe and Mail, the reporter, Patrick Martin, was the first foreign correspondent to report from the school after the fighting. He found that it had not been shelled and that there were no fatalities. Only after his report did another UN agency retract its accusation that Israel had shelled the school.