Analysis: The world is willfully blind to these crimes

By Emanuele Ottolenghi, February 12, 2009

For a brief time last week, UNRWA, the UN agency responsible for Palestinian refugees, had a “man bites dog” moment. UNRWA’s protest against Hamas’ looting of its warehouses — to supply Hamas’ own supporters or profiteer on the black market — was unprecedented, especially coming on the heels of another admission: that the terrible incident at the Al-Fakhura school near Jabaliya, on 6 January, had been misrepresented.

On that day, a direct hit by Israeli fire killed 43 people and wounded dozens of others. At first, Israel claimed that it was returning fire from gunmen inside the school. UNRWA replied that there were no gunmen in the compound. A war of words ensued. UNRWA noted that Israel had the exact coordinates of the 23 schools it operates in Gaza; Israel should know better. Israel said that it hit just near the compound, not inside. UNRWA rejected Israel’s claim and demanded a full, independent investigation.

That investigation was eventually conducted by journalists; UNRWA was wrong and Israel right.

There is no doubt that 43 people died. Many of them were civilians, unarmed and innocent. Their death is a tragedy. But this is not in dispute. The dispute concerned details of and therefore responsibility for the incident. Israel claimed to have shot back at gunmen and therefore accused Hamas of hiding behind civilians. If this was correct, the fault for those deaths falls on Hamas. UNRWA accused Israel of targeting civilians. If its version was accurate, then Israel bears responsibility.

While they sparred, the world judged Israel guilty, based on UNRWA’s clear statements and the horrific images broadcast from Gaza — courtesy of Hamas-run TV credulously re-played on Western channels.

Israel’s version was dismissed. On January 7, the Independent headlined its story “Massacre of innocents as UN school is shelled”. UNRWA official statements confirmed that the school had taken a direct hit.

Without any independent confirmation of events, this became the received wisdom. Many NGOs took it as evidence in their effort to try Israel for war crimes.

And so it was: Israel had committed a “massacre of innocents”, the Herodian crime of Gospel fame meant to kill the infant King Messiah before he would challenge Herod’s throne.

While most media parroted the story without concern for its truthfulness or consequences, a thorough investigation — triggered by, it must be said, media reports — confirmed that Israel’s hits fell outside the compound.

This does not explain why Israel hit outside the compound. It does not bring innocents back to life. But it raises another flag on the veracity of reports and the reliability of “independent” sources in Gaza.

That truth is now restored is also of little help for other reasons – it was not accompanied by the same fanfare and it offers no succour to Jews who get routinely accused of complicity in such terrible crimes; crimes that never happened in the first place.

Dr Emanuele Ottolenghi is director of the Transatlantic Institute and the author of ‘Under a Mushroom Cloud: Europe, Iran and the bomb’ (Profile Books)

Last updated: 2:26pm, November 8 2010