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UN Report on Jenin

UN Report on Jenin

The media tries to mop up its horrific coverage of Jenin. Some newspapers succeed.


After UN Middle East envoy Terje Roed-Larsen announced in April that Israel's search for terrorists in Jenin was "horrifying beyond belief" and "morally repugnant," this week the United Nations issued its long-awaited follow-up report. The 42-page document has established that there was no massacre, and puts the Palestinian death toll at 52, more than half of them armed combatants. See the UN report at:

We monitored to see how news agencies are now retrospecting on their inaccurate claims of a "massacre," as well as serial executions, corpses being dumped into mass-graves, and the random strafing of playgrounds and hospitals.

In April, we published Tom Gross' report entitled, "Jeningrad: What the British Media Said" which cited these examples:

* The UK Guardian (April 17): Israel's actions in Jenin were "every bit as repellent" as Osama Bin Laden's attack on New York on September 11.

* London's Evening Standard (April 15): "We are talking here of massacre, and a cover-up, of genocide."

* Janine di Giovanni of the London Times (April 16): "Rarely in more than a decade of war reporting from Bosnia, Chechnya, Sierra Leone, Kosovo, have I seen such deliberate destruction, such disrespect for human life."

* Phil Reeves of the London Independent (April 16): "A monstrous war crime that Israel has tried to cover up for a fortnight has finally been exposed... The sweet and ghastly reek of rotting human bodies is everywhere, evidence that it is a human tomb. The people say there are hundreds of corpses, entombed beneath the dust."

This Week

Here's how the media dealt with the UN report this week:

* The Independent's Justin Huggler still wants to believe that there was a massacre, under the headline: "UN Issues 'Seriously Flawed' Report on Jenin Killings." Huggler clings to old illusions: "An investigation by The Independent inside Jenin shortly after the fighting unearthed numerous corroborating accounts of atrocities... The UN report is carefully worded not to give offence to Israel or its allies."

* To his credit, Phil Reeves of The Independent comes clean in a report entitled: "Even journalists have to admit they're wrong sometimes." Reeves admits that his report "was highly personalized" and writes: "It was clear that the debate over the awful events in Jenin four months ago is still dominated by whether there was a massacre, even though it has long been obvious that one did not occur." 

* The ever-defiant Guardian wrote an editorial refusing to concede its mistake: "As we said last April, the destruction wrought in Jenin looked and smelled like a crime. On the basis of the UN's findings, it still does."

* The Guardian's Brian Whitaker trumpets the headline: "UN report details West Bank wreckage – Banned by Israel, Kofi Annan's fact-finders were left with only second-hand accounts of the spring invasion." Whitaker focuses on the idea that "Israel objected to members of the fact-finding team and then imposed a series of conditions which led the secretary-general, Kofi Annan, to call off the mission." 

* The London Times bit the bullet and wrote: "A United Nations report broke new ground yesterday by accusing Palestinian militants of violating international law when they fought attacking Israeli troops in the Jenin refugee camp."

Beyond the UK

* A Human Rights Watch press release calls the U.N. report "seriously flawed." 

* Peter Cave of Australia's ABC still insists there was a massacre in Jenin. Here's some snippets from a transcript:

" I personally saw 30 Palestinian corpses at the hospital on April the 20th, and with dozens of other foreign reporters, watched them being buried at a mass grave just up the road from the hospital... Just as in Tiananmen Square, the power of the gun and the tank ensured there was no proper body count or accounting. Just as happened in Tiananmen Square, the uninformed and those with their own agenda, are now claiming there was no massacre. There was a massacre, a considerable number of human beings were indiscriminately and unnecessarily slaughtered..."

* Mitch Potter writes in the Toronto Star under the headline, "Jenin 'ground zero' still site of spin battles." The allusion to "Ground Zero" of Sept. 11 terrorist attack is irresponsible, given the obvious differences – 3,000 deaths versus 52, and the fact that the majority of Jenin deaths were combatants. Potter then specifically notes that Jenin is "eerily reminiscent of the wreckage of New York's World Trade Center after Sept. 11."

(For its part, NBC's Jim Maceda files a report this week entitled "Gaza's own ground zero.")

On the Plus Side

* Another Canadian paper, the National Post, wrote an editorial ("Burying the 'massacre'" which bemoans the lack of responsibility from so many journalists and NGOs. The Post writes:

"As the UN report demonstrates, it was all a horrible fairy tale. The facts are as follows: At great risk to its own soldiers, Israel attacked a hive of terrorists instead of bombing the city from the air... Fewer innocent civilians were killed in Jenin than in the March 27 Passover suicide bombing that instigated Israel's West Bank invasion. Odd, isn't it, that there was no enthusiasm in the United Nations for an investigation of that incident?"

* We give the final word to Richard Cohen, who opines with "Truth Massacred" (Washington Post, August 6):

"A heartbreaking tragedy is being played out in the Middle East. Two peoples, convinced of the righteousness of their cause, are struggling for the same piece of land. But one engages in the inhumane murder of civilians while the other strives, sometimes vainly, to retain its humanity. This, too, is a fact – one that often gets obscured by the din of propaganda. Jenin is an example of that. What got massacred there was not Palestinians but truth itself."

Monitor your local media to see how they dealt with the United Nations report. Letters to the editor should always include full name, address, and phone number.

August 10, 2002

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Visitor Comments: 2

(2) Yaakov Wise, August 12, 2002 12:00 AM

Poor Israeli PR allowed the story to develop

Jenin proved once again how poor Israeli government and army PR is at dealing with Western journalists. One "pool" i.e. representative and trustworthy journalist should have accompanied the army (at his own risk)to immediately report the facts. Most of the 'massacre'stories could then have been avoided. As it was the PLO PR machine was allowed to make all the running and to make up the story. In the abscence of media facilities from the Israelis, Western journalists went with what they were given. A 'massacre' is a great story and there was no contradictory evidence, only the army seeming to act as if it had something to hide. Until Israel improves its PR operation these media disasters will continue.

(1) Anonymous, August 12, 2002 12:00 AM

Excellent Article

The arrogance of many reporters is staggering. Granted, it isn't pleasant to have to admit prejudice, naivete and/or sloppy journalism, but hasn't it occurred to the offending writers that they stand to lose all their credibility by not doing so?

Yaakov Wise is very naive if he thinks that the whole problem is caused by poor Israeli PR.

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