Reuters journalist behind ‘terror puff piece’ faced earlier rebuke from her editor

Henriette Chacar was labelled 'outrageous' after she questioned the difference between Israeli civilians and combatants — but kept her job


A Reuters journalist who sparked outrage with a sympathetic story about a Palestinian terrorist had previously been labelled “outrageous” by her editor after she questioned the difference between Israeli civilians and combatants — but was allowed to keep her job, the JC can reveal.

Correspondent Henriette Chacar, who has expressed strong pro-Palestinian views, faced a backlash last week after writing about how Mahmoud Aleiwat, 13, who shot and wounded two Israelis in East Jerusalem, “dreamt of being a chef”.

Amid social media outrage, media watchdog Honest Reporting asked: “Why does Reuters publish a puff piece that humanises the 13-year-old Palestinian who shot two Israeli civilians and calls into question whether he even carried out the attack? Where’s the focus on incitement in Palestinian media and education?”

Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis executive director Seth Frantzman added: “It’s weird how they can’t ever write about the dreams and hopes of victims.”

Reuters is normally bound by a strict code of impartiality.

Internal emails seen by the JC reveal that last year, the Jaffa-born journalist asked Reuters Jerusalem bureau Editor-In-Charge Jeffrey Heller: “Can we conclusively say that Palestinians have mostly targeted civilians?”

She added: “Many Israelis are either in active or reserve duty, and with the prime minister encouraging citizens to carry their guns, the line between civilians and combatants is quite blurred, so I do think it’s a tricky thing to highlight. It also seems redundant, since we already outline the number of Israeli civilians and security forces killed.”

In an email seen by the JC, Mr Heller, now retired, replied: “Hi, This line of thinking is outrageous and I will be raising it with our superiors.”

In the same email exchange, Ms Chacar also wrote: “If we are going to explain Israel’s raids to readers by presenting them as a response to something, I think it’s crucial that we also contextualise Palestinian attacks.

“Perhaps something along the lines of: Israel says it conducts raids in Palestinian towns and villages to thwart ‘terror’ attacks. Palestinians say their armed struggle is a legitimate form of resistance to decades of Israeli occupation.”

Despite the blunt rebuke from her editor, Ms Chacar continued in her job as a Reuters correspondent.

Reporting last week on the 28 January attack, she wrote that in the days before he opened fire on pedestrians in Jerusalem, Mahmoud Aleiwat was pressing his teachers for the school report he needed so he would be able to become a chef.

“People who knew Aleiwat are puzzled about what could have prompted him to carry out such an act,” the article said.

Although he grew up in Silwan, a cauldron of Palestinian-Israeli tensions near Jerusalem’s Old City, Aleiwat had not shown an interest in politics, teachers, relatives and children from his area apparently told the journalist.

“They described a popular teenager with a strong personality, a passion for football and an ambition to be a chef,” Chacar wrote.

A Reuters spokesperson said: “Reuters is committed to covering the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Territories in an independent and impartial way, in keeping with the Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.”

Ms Chacar has been approached for comment.

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