Speaking Truth to the Media on Israel: The Masharawi Case

In his essay in 1921 on the primary role of a newspaper, C.P. Scott, the famous longtime editor of the Manchester Guardian, wrote, "[C]omment is free, but facts are sacred."  He held that not in what a paper gives, "nor in what it does not give, nor in the mode of presentation[,] must the unclouded face of truth suffer wrong."

Scott would be anguished to find today that the face of truth about the State of Israel in his paper, now The Guardian, as well as some many of the media in the mainstream press and television, has been "clouded" for some years.  The most recent example of the inherent bias in reporting on Middle Eastern affairs is the case of the death of the child of Jihad al-Masharawi, a journalist employed in the BBC Arabic service.

The child Omar al-Masharawi, aged 11 months, was killed on November 14, 2012 during Operation Pillar of Defense, the fighting in Gaza between Israel and Hamas.  Immediately he, and the 18-year-old sister-in-law of his father, were reported to have been killed by an Israeli air strike in the house they were occupying in Al-Zaitoun in Gaza.  Masharawi appeared before the television cameras carrying the slain child wrapped in a shroud.  The BBC reporter, in tears, asked, "Why did my son do to die like this?"

Media throughout the world rushed to judgment in answering his question: Israel was again guilty of killing innocent children.  The Palestinian Center for Human Rights declared that an Israeli warplane fired a missile at the house in east Gaza, causing two people to be killed by the resulting shrapnel.  The touching and emotionally moving photo of the dead child in his father's arms was disseminated in many television networks, following the example of the BBC.

The BBC, at least regarding its reporting on the Middle East, has long ignored its own editorial guidelines.  These rules entail a promise to be fair and open-minded when examining evidence and weighing material facts.  They state, "We will strive to be honest and open about what we don't know and avoid unfounded speculation."

The BBC and other media outlets should have remembered they were in familiar territory with unfounded speculation.  In 2006, an AP photo purported to show a five-year-old Palestinian girl, supposedly killed by an Israeli airstrike, being taken to a hospital.  To its credit, the AP later indicated that she had died from head injuries caused by a fall from a swing, sometime before the Israeli strike.

To this point, in spite of the publication of the true nature of the death of the child, the BBC and few of the other media have refused to follow the policy of the AP in the previous case and acknowledge their false report and the promotion of an inaccurate and biased story.  They had no regrets about the emotional impact of the photo.  Surprisingly, the true account of the death of the child has now come from an improbable source: the United Nations Human Rights Council, a body usually regarded as hostile to or highly critical of Israel.

The Masharawi case is mentioned in the report issued by the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, whose head is Navi Pillay.  In that preliminary report, A/HRC/22/35/add 1, announced on March 6, 2013, the conclusion contradicted all the press and TV reports of the incident.  The report stated that the infant and the 18-year-old woman "were killed by what appeared to be a Palestinian rocket that fell short of (its intended) Israeli target."  Its staff concluded that a Palestinian rocket had fallen on the Misharawi house.  Injuries were consistent with rocket shrapnel.  The BBC's own reporter had inexplicably failed to understand that his child was killed by his own associates.

This conclusion is even more convincing because the report is critical of Israel, as well as to some extent of the Palestinians, during Operation Pillar of Defense.  The report states that the Israel Defenses Forces, the DFA (De Facto Authorities), a rather curious way of referring to Hamas, and Palestinian armed groups "failed in many instances  to respect international law."  If the Israeli army did not "consistently uphold the basic principles of conduct of hostilities," the Palestinian armed groups "continuously violated international humanitarian law, by launching indiscriminate attacks on Israel and by attacking civilians."

It is pointless to expect the media bias against Israel to end or even to be lessened as the result of the Human Rights report.  One does, however, expect the BBC and the mainstream media, including, among so many others, AP, Reuters, the Washington Post, The Independent, and the Times of London, to apologize for their inaccuracies and to correct them.  Above all, it would be a tribute to the great C.P. Scott for the Guardian to do so.