HOW JOURNALISM WORKS

Last week the UN Human Rights Council voted 41-1-5 to condemn human rights and international law violations allegedly committed in the course of Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s summer 2014 assault on Gaza. The resolution welcomed the recently published report of the UN inquiry into the conflict, which found evidence of possible war crimes by both Israel and Hamas.

Israel’s attack on Gaza killed more than 2,200 people, including 551 children, and destroyed or severely damaged some 18,000 homes. Palestinian militants killed six civilians in Israel, and destroyed one house.

These vast disparities notwithstanding, the UN and international human rights organisations[1] have in the massacre’s wake strained to affect ‘balance’ in their coverage, critiquing both sides at equal length and with equal vehemence to diffuse accusations of anti-Israel bias.[2] The Human Rights Council resolution was no exception, its criticisms having been homoeopathically diluted to secure passage. Notably, it ‘did not point the finger at those responsible’ for alleged abuses and called on both ‘Israel and the Palestinians’ to ‘prosecute alleged war crimes and to cooperate with’ the International Criminal Court.

Naturally this did not satisfy Israel, which always demands not merely acquiescence in but positive commendation for its crimes. Israel’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva slammed the resolution as ‘an anti-Israeli manifesto’ that ‘distorts the intention of the authors of the [UN] report by completely ignoring alleged violations… committed by Hamas’.[3] Regrettably, these efforts to discredit the resolution and the Human Rights Council more generally were assisted by a remarkably misleading piece of reporting by Ha’aretz diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid.

Ravid, writing for Israel’s most serious and internationally respected newspaper, characterised the resolution as follows:

The United Nations Human Rights Council decided on Friday to adopt a resolution condemning Israel over the UN report into the Operation Protective Edge in Gaza.

[…]

The resolution calls for the implementation of the [UN] report and its recommendations. It also calls for an end to the impunity of Israeli officials responsible for alleged war crimes.

The resolution, which was drafted by the Palestinians and Arab states, condemns Israel’s targeting of innocent civilians and completely ignores the rockets launched by Hamas; it also ignores the inquiry’s criticism of the Palestinian side.

Compare this with the resolution’s actual text:

Affirming the obligation of all parties to respect international humanitarian law and international human rights law,

Emphasizing the importance of the safety and well-being of all civilians, reaffirming the obligation to ensure the protection of civilians in armed conflict, and deploring the civilian deaths that resulted from the conflict in and around the Gaza Strip in July and August 2014, including the killing of 1,462 Palestinian civilians, including 551 children and 299 women, and six Israeli civilians,

[…]

Condemning all violations of human rights and of international humanitarian law, and appalled at the widespread and unprecedented levels of destruction, death and human suffering caused,

[…]

Alarmed that long-standing systemic impunity for international law violations has allowed for the recurrence of grave violations without consequence, and stressing the need to ensure accountability for all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in order to end impunity, ensure justice, deter further violations, protect civilians and promote peace,

[…]

4. Emphasizes the need to ensure that all those responsible for violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law are held to account through appropriate fair and independent domestic or international criminal justice mechanisms, and to ensure the right of all victims to an effective remedy, including full reparations, and stresses the need to pursue practical steps towards these goals;

5. Calls upon the parties concerned to cooperate fully with the preliminary examination of the International Criminal Court and with any subsequent investigation that may be opened;

Even Ynet’s reprinted government press release was more accurate than Ravid’s article. In fact, Ravid’s distortions are so extensive as to suggest he didn’t read the resolution he was reporting on.

Still, even honest journalists make mistakes. And when apparent mistakes are made known to them, honest journalists will defend or correct them.

ravid1ravid2ravid3

… Nine hours pass … Azerbaijani defence ministry announces it has shot down two Armenian drones … Hezbollah and Syrian regime forces launch assault on Zabadani … No response from Barak Ravid …

ravid4

… 33 hours pass … Greeks vote 61-39 to reject austerity … Russian spacecraft delivers supplies of fresh carrots to the International Space Station … Lions return to Rwanda … No response from Barak Ravid …

ravid5

… 14 hours pass … Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis resigns … UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon practices ‘walk the dog’ on his yo-yo … New Zealand flag debate rages … No response from Barak Ravid …

ravid6

23 hours have passed. Ban Ki-moon has nearly mastered the ‘walk the dog’. Ravid has yet to respond, and his article remains uncorrected.


[1] Look out for Norman G. Finkelstein’s forthcoming critiques of reports by the UN inquiry and by Amnesty International, respectively. The latter will be published at Byline.

[2] A recent UN OCHA factsheet, for example, states that the ‘massive scope of destruction of houses’ in Gaza ‘can be attributed to practices adopted in the conduct of hostilities, including Israeli airstrikes targeting residential buildings, Israel’s use of artillery barrages in residential neighbourhoods, and the Palestinian armed factions’ practice of launching attacks nearby, or from within, heavily populated areas’. Yet the scale of the devastation and testimonies by Israeli combatants make clear that Israel’s methodical destruction of neighbourhoods adjacent to the border was not collateral damage but policy, while launching attacks from the vicinity of or within populated areas is not (necessarily) a violation of international law.

[3] The ambassador, Eviatar Manor, reportedlyopened his speech with a quote by Hans Christian Andersen. The author, said Manor, [wrote] “famously that the King is naked. So let me assume the role of the little boy in the story and tell you – this Council has lost its bearing“‘. This must be the weakest diplomatic patter since Israel’s permanent representative to the UN, Ron Prosor, sought to skewer the Iranian government with one-liners like ‘the new Iranian president has a strategy codenamed SLY (S-L-Y). Smile. Lie. Yield minor concessions‘ and ‘Iran insists that their enrichment infrastructure and technology is their “right.” It’s not their right, in fact it’s wrong‘. Abba Eban, RIP.

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