Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

False reports about the death of 15-year-old Gaza boy - and other internet falsehoods about the Gaza situation

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The Kony2012 campaign was not the only viral campaign in recent days that spread some dubious information. A number of allegations of Israeli targeting of civilians that surface over the past few days have been outed as downright lies.

The most glaring example is the death of 15-year-old Nayif Shaaban Qarmout, who was killed in northern Gaza on Monday. The first reports emerged from Palestinian Authority-controlled media outlet Ma'an News, citing unnamed "witnesses" who attested that the boy was hit by an Israeli airstrike.

The claim caught the eye of the Israeli military, who were understandably confused, given that they had not launched any airstrikes on northern Gaza during the time that he was killed. An AFP reporter confirmed that there did not appear to be any evidence of an airstrike in the area, but the dead boy did seem to have been killed by an explosive device, albeit apparently one that he himself was carrying:

According to an AFP correspondent at the scene, there were no signs of any impact on the ground which could have been caused by a missile, with the most likely cause of his death being some kind of explosive device he was carrying.

The victim lost his legs in the blast and his body was covered with shrapnel wounds, he said.

(via Elder of Ziyon).

Some news outlets, however, did not seem to mind that the claims were doubtful at best. MSNBC, for instance, chose to cite an AFP report quoting "Hamas and hospital officials" who claimed that Qarmout was killed by an Israeli strike, while ommitting the report from AFP's own correspondent that refuted this.

Hamas and hospital officials said a 15-year-old schoolboy was killed in a separate air strike on Monday. The teenager, Nayef Qarmut, was killed while walking to school past an open area, emergency services spokesperson Adham Abu Selmiya told Agence France Presse. At least 28 other Palestinian civilians were wounded in the various incidents.

The report on the MSNBC site demonstrates that Hamas is blaming accidental deaths on Israel in order to help fuel hatred and violence; while this revelation is not exactly new, many journalists do not appear savvy to this fact.

This can be seen by the airplay given to the claim in the Australian media. For instance, Yahoo 7 and the West Australian initially ran a Reuters report alleging that Qarmout was killed by Israel.

Hospital officials said a 15-year-old schoolboy was killed in a separate air strike on Monday, with the death toll since Friday rising to 18 gunmen and three civilians.

They later ran the updated piece, which mentioned that the Israeli military denied the strike, but did not mention the other relevant details and did not clarify the earlier article.

A 15-year-old Palestinian youth died in an earlier explosion that Palestinians blamed on an Israeli missile. The Israeli military denied it had carried out a strike.

Gaza-based NGO the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (although it may be unfair to characterise the group as "non-government"), used as a source in an article this morning by Fairfax Middle East correspondent Ruth Pollardrepeated the claim -- although they did not agree with the AFP and Reuters on Qarmout's age.

At approximately 09:25, an Israeli warplane fired a missile at a gathering of Palestinian civilians, mostly children, near al-Khuzondar fuel station in the west of the northern Gaza Strip town of Jabalya.  As a result, Nayef Sha'ban Nayef Qarmout, 14, was killed, and another 5 children were wounded by shrapnel.

The ABC appeared to have run the article citing the enigmatic "hospital sources" that the AFP linked to Hamas, then later updated their website with an article that does not mention Qarmout at all. The web page for the news story was first added on March 12, 2012 at 23:53:08, then updated on March 13, 2012 at 07:58:45. A google search reveals that when the article was originally posted, it was the Reuters story posted on the Yahoo 7 site:

ABC Google search

The ABC does not seem to have corrected or retracted the claim at any point.

Other stories of note

While this piece of misinformation was the most prevalent, there were some other instances of false information that are worth mentioning. Most of these stories have been exposed by Israeli-American activist Avi Mayer.

Mayer discovered Palestinian activist Maissam Nablusi posting a photo that a quick search on the Tin Eye website revealed was actually from 2006:

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However, this did not stop other groups -- such as anti-Israel group 'Gaza Youth Break Out' -- from claiming the photograph as current.

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The worst misuse of an image, however, was by Palestinian activist Khulood Badawi and later by Palestinian-Bulgiarian film producer Diana Alzeer. The photo shows a man carrying what appears to be a seriously injured young girl and was given the following description by Badawi:

"Palestine is bleeding. Another child killed by #Israel. Another father carrying his child to a grave in #Gaza"

Similarly, Alzeer said:

PHOTO: Little girl in #Gaza injured in the Israel AirStrikes over #Gaza #GazaUnderAttack

**Warning: Graphic image below**

Alzeer's claim reached the top tweet on Twitter under the hashtag #Gaza; however, the photograph was exposed by Mayer as having actually been a girl injured on a swing. Furthermore, the same photograph was falsely claimed in 2006 to have shown a victim of an Israeli air strike.

The three-year-old girl who had been reported killed by an Israeli air strike in Gaza on Wednesday actually died of an accident, Palestinian medical workers said on Thursday. Workers at Gaza's Shifa hospital said on August 10, 2006 that the initial mistake over the cause of death appeared to have arisen because the girl's corpse was brought in at the same time as the bodies of the gunmen. 

Alzeer later retracted her claims, however the false photograph has not ceased to be spread as evidence of supposed Israeli brutality over the weekend. These events all serve to show precisely the extent to which some on the Palestinian side will go to try and further their agenda -- not only employing shameless falsehoods, but repeating falsehoods that were exposed years before. Clearly, significant vigilance is required -- especially by editors and media professionals -- in order to avoid being mislead.

- Daniel Meyerowitz-Katz

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(Screenshots via IDF Spokesperson's Office)

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