"It is not credible to take a belligerent army’s word as the basis for publishable facts. Where Israel is the sole source for a piece of information, you need to admit this to readers."
September 25, 2023
Angus Scott, Editor-in-Chief, Welland Tribune
Aref Tufaha, Reporter, Associated Press
Josef Federman, Editor, Associated Press
Dear Angus Scott, Aref Tufaha, and Josef Federman,
I am writing on behalf of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME, cjpme.org) to express concern about your September 25 article, “Israeli airstrikes hit Gaza for the 3rd day in a row as West Bank violence intensifies.”
Respectfully, your readers deserve to know when you are reporting uncorroborated Israeli claims. Balance and accuracy quite simply require it.
With regard, for example, to the Israeli raid on Birzeit University, you repeatedly quote Israeli claims: Israel “said the students were all supporters of the Hamas militant group” and “claimed the suspects were plotting an attack.” This means that when describing the arrest by occupation forces of “nine students, including the head of the student council,” you on Israel’s word reduce these arrested students to the status of “suspects.”
But this was not a legitimate police investigation; it was a military raid on an institution of higher education by the armed forces of an occupying power.
You therefore need to make space for counter-claims from the student council and, at a bare minimum, Birzeit University itself. Birzeit can provide you with suitable spokespeople. It has today repeated in a public statement that Israel’s military assault on their grounds was not a legitimate search for “suspects,” in your language. Rather, Birzeit considers this raid to have been “an extension of the military occupation’s systematic policy to break down the educational system in Palestine, particularly attempting to exert control over Palestinian youth, their aspirations and right to education.” These claims deserve coverage.
Similarly, your use of Israeli military language to describe airstrikes on Gaza moves from attributed Israeli claims (Israel attacked “what it described as a militant command center,” you write) to the acceptance of these claims as facts (“Israeli airstrikes hit a militant site for the second time in two days,” you write). Yet you yourselves link to an article admitting that this second phrase is an Israeli claim: “Israeli airstrikes hit a militant site in Gaza on Saturday for the second time in as many days, the Israeli army said” (emphasis added). In this article, that crucial line of attribution (“the Israeli army said”) disappears.
It is not credible to take a belligerent army’s word as the basis for publishable facts. Where Israel is the sole source for a piece of information, you need to admit this to readers.
We appreciate that you are covering a complicated situation. But imprecisions of this sort need to be corrected. I will mention only two others.
In both cases, we see that word choice matters. First, the word “captured” (your alternative to “occupied”) has no established meaning in international law. The sentence in your article that uses this word should be corrected to read: “Israel OCCUPIED the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast war.”
Second, your assertion that Hamas “rules Gaza” is terribly imprecise. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) states the consensus opinion of legal experts when it insists that the ICRC “Considers Gaza to remain occupied territory.”
Words to the following effect can tell the story that the word “rules” does not:
Israel occupied the Gaza Strip in 1967. In 2005, Israeli ground troops and settlers were “disengaged” from Gaza, but many international legal experts maintain that Gaza remains occupied by Israel, which still controls Gaza’s frontiers and airspace.
I appreciate that this is a complicated situation, but journalistic accuracy matters. We hope you can correct this piece and avoid repeating the above mistakes in future coverage.
Feel free to reach me at 438-380-5410 should you wish to discuss this matter further. And thank you for your time.
PhD, University of Exeter
Director of Strategic Operations
Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East/
Canadiens pour la Justice et la Paix au Moyen-Orient