In war, the saying goes, "the first victim is the truth." But an in-depth investigative report by the Canadian Globe and Mail's Middle East correspondent, Patrick Martin proved to be the exception to the rule.
Martin’s front-page report investigated the Israeli shelling of Hamas terrorists near a UN school that led to the tragic deaths of 43 civilians. His conclusion: the facts don't support the accepted story that the school itself was shelled.
According to Martin:
Physical evidence and interviews with several eyewitnesses, including a teacher who was in the schoolyard at the time of the shelling, make it clear: While a few people were injured from shrapnel landing inside the white-and-blue-walled UNRWA compound, no one in the compound was killed. The 43 people who died in the incident were all outside, on the street, where all three mortar shells landed.
Stories of one or more shells landing inside the schoolyard were inaccurate. While the killing of 43 civilians on the street may itself be grounds for investigation, it falls short of the act of shooting into a schoolyard crowded with refuge-seekers.
Martin's report confirms the underreported Israeli accounts that the IDF accurately returned fire to the location from which it was being shelled by Hamas terrorists.
Some of Martin's key findings include:
* There were no dead in the UN school, only some injured according to physical evidence and interviews with several eyewitnesses
* Three Israeli mortar shells landed outside the school's compound, not inside
* Incorrect public pronouncements by the UN helped allow "the misconception to linger"
The fact that people were milling around the area where Hamas was firing rockets is not Israel's fault, but rather points out that Hamas fired from an area frequented by civilians, engaging in what former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls a double war crime: "Attacking [Israeli] civilians and hiding behind [Palestinian] civilians."
At the time, however, John Ging, UNRWA's operations director in Gaza, condemned the attack as "horrific" and suggested Israel knew it was targeting a UN facility. "We have provided the GPS co-ordinates of every single one of our locations," he told the BBC. "They are clearly marked with UN insignia, flags flying, lights shining on the flags at night. It's very clear that these are United Nations installations."
Later, in the Globe and Mail investigation, Ging: acknowledged in an interview this week that all three Israeli mortar shells landed outside the school and that "no one was killed in the school."
"I told the Israelis that none of the shells landed in the school," he said.
We are often asked if media reports such as the Globe & Mail's or even our own can have an impact. The answer is an unequivocal yes. Already, one European Member of Parliament, Paul van Buitenen has submitted a parliamentary question based on the Globe & Mail's investigation. The MEP points out that UNRWA's John Ging admits in the article that Israel didn't attack the school but blames the confusion on the Israelis.
Van Buitenen goes on to say that considering the fact that the EU is UNRWA's single largest donor and that it wrongly condemned Israel for attacking the UN school:
* Is the EU prepared to apologize to Israel for wrongly condemning it without checking the facts on the ground?
* Is the EU prepared to investigate how it was possible that Mr. Ging apparently spread misleading information concerning the supposed attack on this UNRWA school and whether this was politically motivated?
We commend the Globe and Mail for its investigative report and Mr. van Buitenen for his follow-up in the European Parliament. Please commend reporter Martin and the Globe and Mail for helping let the truth emerge about the shelling near the UN school. Please send letters to the Globe and Mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Also write to your local media outlet if it was responsible for publishing the original allegations.
This communique was adapted from HonestReporting Canada.