Christian Aid has apologised “unreservedly” after it claimed Israeli settlers had sexually abused Palestinian children in Hebron.
The false allegations came after Miranda Pinch, a social worker from Winchester, had travelled to the West Bank town in January to “monitor human rights abuses” as part of an accompaniment programme part-funded by the charity.
The 59-year-old, who converted from Judaism to Christianity, returned from the trip and told Christian Aid that a Palestinian headmistress had made allegations of verbal abuse.
But promoting Ms Pinch’s trip, Christian Aid said the headmistress had alleged that “some of the children had been sexually abused on their way home” by Israeli settlers.
Asked how the charity had come to make the claim, Ms Pinch said the organisation had “lost their notes” after she reported back to them following her trip.
She said she had clearly explained that there was no evidence of physical sexual abuse.
Ms Pinch, who said she is proud of her Jewish heritage, explained: “Twice a day our role was to be there for the children. One of us stood by the checkpoint and the other by the school. The headmistress told me that on one occasion, when we were not there, a group of girls were verbally sexually harassed by soldiers and settlers.
“I was not saying there were actual sexual attacks. I have got to be straight on this. I am not aware of any sexual abuse.”
Professor Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor, attacked Christian Aid, saying the claims were part of a “wave” used to demonise Israel.
He said: “This is not an isolated incident but part of a series of events. Christian Aid has allowed itself to be used as a channel for some very crude anti-Israel propaganda.
“When it happens more than once then there is something more fundamental that Christian Aid needs to sort out. Almost any claim is now believed or promoted by NGOs without anybody checking the details.
“It’s in the culture at Christian Aid and they need an intense house-cleaning to end it. It’s an escalating and worrying situation.”
In a statement to the JC, Christian Aid admitted it should have described the alleged incidents as having involved “verbal sexual harassment”.
“We unreservedly apologise for misreporting an interview with Miranda Pinch, an English social worker who travelled to the West Bank with ecumenical accompaniers whom we support.
“Verbal sexual harassment is clearly different from sexual abuse and we apologise for the inaccurate representation of what Ms Pinch said.”