Unsubstantiated claims by the Israeli military reported as facts

"I urge you to immediately update your article to make clear when statements are factual versus those alleged by Israeli military sources. As it stands, your article violates basic journalistic principles and requires prompt correction."

October 10, 2023


Donovan Vincent, Public Editor, Toronto Star

Allan Woods, Journalist, Toronto Star

Dear Mr. Vincent and Mr. Woods, 

I am writing to you on behalf of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME,  https://www.cjpme.org ) Saskatoon Chapter with serious concerns about your article "Bodies of 1500 Hamas fighters..." posted on October 10.

Certain unproven allegations made by the Israeli military are stated as fact in your article. For example, in the first sentence, you write “The bodies of 1,500 Hamas fighters have been recovered in southern Israel.” As of yet, there is no evidence of this claim and no reputable human rights or international organizations are reporting these figures in casualty counts. 

The Israeli military has strict control over the coverage of these events. Israeli journalists are not allowed to approach areas of concern since the conflict with Gaza began, according to The Times of Israel, while international reporters are brought on curated trips. It is a basic journalistic responsibility that some level of skepticism is exercised regarding claims by military forces, and at the very least readers should be made aware of who is making these claims.

I urge you to immediately update your article to make clear when statements are factual versus those alleged by Israeli military sources. As it stands, your article violates basic journalistic principles and requires prompt correction.

In your subtitle, you write that a military compound, weapons warehouse and an operational command post were hit. Again, this statement is unattributed and being presented as fact. In the body of the article you repeat the same statement, adding "command post that the military said was used by Hamas..." This should have been included in the subtitle too. This may seem overly critical, but it is important not to present unattributed claims as fact. There is an unfortunate tendency among journalists to take Israeli officials' statements at face value. While in this case, the statement may well be true, it is still poor journalistic practice.

Several times, you mention 'Hamas'. As readers tend to only hear about Hamas when there is a war or escalation, please use "Hamas, the Islamic Palestinian liberation and resistance movement", to remind readers the group is dedicated to the liberation of Palestine and resistance to Israel's military occupation.

Israel, you write, has no intent to limit the extent of retaliatory attacks on Hamas, quoting Netanyahu who would turn Hamas hideouts in Gaza 'to dust'. Ever since Israel's 2009 ground invasion of Gaza Israeli spokespeople have regularly stated their intention to target not only Palestinian combatants but also " the civilians who are enabling them to fire and hide", in the words of Major-General Amiram Levin.

I appreciate that you added some context missing from earlier versions of the article, noting that Gaza is a 'tiny, sealed off "strip. This would have been the place to add some basic context for readers. Israel has maintained a blockade and effective occupation of the territory since 2007 while conducting a series of large-scale attacks on Gaza killing and maiming thousands. Over 2 million people are trapped in an area 40 km long and 6 to 12 km wide. You write "the situation grows "grimmer," but do not emphasize that Gazans have nowhere to go and are now deprived of food, water and other necessities of life. Thousands are sheltering in schools that are also being bombed. 2/3 Gazans are refugees from 1948 still being denied the right of return. 80% rely on aid to survive as the blockade strangles Gaza economically. This context of occupation is relevant as Hamas has given the occupation as a reason for the attacks on Israel. Readers must not be allowed to accept conditions in Gaza as normal or remotely justifiable.

Even earlier versions of the article did not include information available in the Associated Press article yours seemed to be based on. Unfortunately, you chose to leave out information that might actually have helped readers understand the scale of the destruction. The UN reports the razing of 790 housing units, 5330 severely damaged, damage to water, sanitation and hygiene facilities and journalists killed (UNOCHAoPt).

The Israeli health ministry, you report, plans to put medical and nursing students on duty in Israeli hospitals. You make no mention at all of the 4250 Palestinians injured. Even before the bombing began, Gazan hospital supplies were already at critical lows.Not including this information while focusing on Israeli victims alone helps to reinforce the perception that Palestinians are less deserving of access to basic human rights.

I ask that in future reporting you keep these points in mind and promptly correct the errors I have identified.


Renée Nunan-Rappard