... UNRWA has now admitted that their claim that Israel shelled a school in Gaza in January and killed 32 Palestinian civilians is completely false. The shell in question, it turns out, was in response to Palestinian mortar fire at civilians in Israel and killed nine Palestinian adults, none of whom were in the school. Seven of those killed were armed operatives and two were civilians.
The sensational and false claims of UNRWA led to headlines around the world such as "UN accuses Israel of herding 110 Palestinians into a house then shelling it, leaving 30 dead" (London Daily Mail Online UK, Jan 9 2009 11:59AM GMT).
Gross reports that Chris Gunness, the UNWRA spokesman who went on several different international TV networks in January to accuse Israel of "war crimes" on account of the supposed school incident, is in fact a former BBC journalist and a close colleague of the BBC's notoriously anti-Israel Chief Jerusalem Correspondent Jeremy Bowen.
In a diary article which Jeremy Bowen posted on BBC online, he states:Tom Gross continues:
“I just broke off writing for a couple of minutes to take a call from Chris Gunness, who is the spokesman for Unrwa, the UN agency that looks after Palestinian refugees.
“He was ringing to say that Unrwa wanted an investigation into whether Israel has committed war crimes in the Gaza Strip. Civilians are protected by the laws of war.
“I have known Chris for years, as he used to be a BBC foreign correspondent. He wanted to make sure that we knew he was using the phrase for the first time. He said that the attack this morning on a UN school in Gaza looked as if it was a war crime.”
In three occasions in the past when I have criticized the BBC, the BBC online editors have then subtly changed their website so as to delete the part I criticized without letting readers know it had ever been there in the first place.
For the record, at the end of this dispatch, I attach Jeremy Bowen’s full diary entry (in which he makes the remarks above), together with two biographies of Chris Gunness. Gunness worked for the BBC for 23 years in senior editorial positions in both television and radio.
So it turns out that the UNWRA spokesman condemning Israel for “war crimes” that in fact never happened, is a former BBC World Service correspondent and producer who is a close friend of the current BBC Chief Middle East Correspondent who helped spread these allegations. Can it be that the false claims about Israel coming from two august institutions, the BBC and UNWRA, are in the hands of two friends who might just have a world view not sympathetic to Israel?
The BBC World Service and UNRWA are both funded by the British government. UNRWA receives huge amounts of money from many other countries too. Earlier this month, the Obama administration announced it would add hundreds of millions of dollars to the considerable funds it has already supplied UNRWA, an organization accused of allowing the promotion of suicide bombing and martyrdom to be taught at the schools it pays for and administers.
Gross asks "is this the BBC's idea of a correction?
In January, Jews in Britain suffered a level of anti-Semitic attacks on a level not seen since the 1930s. This can be attributed to at least in part by the inflammatory and false coverage of Israel by the BBC and other British media.
The BBC has finally added a small footnote correction to the end of one of its stories that falsely claimed Israel shelled a school in Gaza.
The BBC wrote that “40 Palestinian civilians sheltering at the Fakhura school in Jabaliya” had been killed by Israel, and also broadcast that false statement on countless occasions on its multitude of domestic and international radio and television networks. BBC radio broadcasts in dozens of languages around the world.
Below is the BBC’s small correction, which they placed at the foot of one of their online stories, a correction that fails to state that nine Palestinians died, not 40; that none were at the school; that seven of the nine killed were militants; and that Israel had not fired first but was responding to rocket fire by those militants at towns and villages in Israel.
And a BBC UPDATE update in which the Beeb (unlike the Melbourne Age) admits its mistake at the (almost) truthful end of its item - 'Stray mortar' hit UN Gaza school
BBC Update: In February 2009, the United Nations said that a clerical error had led it to report that Israeli mortars had struck a UN-run school in Jabaliya, Gaza, on 6 January killing about 40 people. Maxwell Gaylord, the UN humanitarian co-ordinator in Jerusalem, said that the Israeli Defense Force mortars fell in the street near the compound, and not on the compound itself. He said that the UN “would like to clarify that the shelling and all of the fatalities took place outside and not inside the school”.
Tom Gross disputes that it really was a clerical error -
CLERICAL ERROR? - I don't think so
Honest Reporting has released an analysis of the BBC's systemic bias against Israel in itsd reporting of the Gaza War.
Jeremy Bowen, the BBC's Middle East editor, kept a running diary of the conflict. In one entry, poignantly titled "Tears of a Mother," Bowen publicizes another shocking claim:
Zeinat said the Israeli troops had herded several families from the al-Samouni clan into one of the houses.
She said soldiers came in and asked for the house owner. Her husband, Atiya, put up his hand.
A soldier shot him through the head at point blank range.
Then the soldiers sprayed the room with gunfire, she says. Her four-year-son was killed.
Yet where were the follow-up investigations to these claims? What evidence besides one person's word does Bowen have to support this horrific charge?
An Internet search of the woman whom Bowen interviewed (Zeinat Abdullah al-Samouni) shows that the only other places (besides the BBC) these charges are repeated is on anti-Israel blogs. It is strange that an alleged cold blooded murder carried out in front of multiple witnesses would receive no other mainstream coverage other than an account in Bowen's diary.
The Palestinians have a well-documented record of using the media to disseminate propaganda. (See HonestReporting's "The Big Lies" presentation). With this in mind, the BBC should have been even more careful to fact check such claims before publishing them.
Bowen has boasted about the accounts coming from the Palestinian side. In his Middle East Diary entry for January 15, he reported that:
The fact that there are good Palestinian journalists in Gaza means that accurate and trustworthy accounts of what is happening are getting out.
On what is he basing his opinion that the accounts are accurate and trustworthy? With so many Palestinian claims being investigated and later dismissed, it seems he is vouching for something over which he has no knowledge. As the BBC's top Middle East reporter, he has a professional responsibility to be objective and not simply accept narratives without corroborating evidence.