Telling the ‘truth’ in Hamas-Israeli conflict

Here’s another story that I wanted to cover last week before I got injured and was in too much pain to be of much use to anyone. But the delay gives us more to talk about.

Do you remember this riveting photo that ran in various media outlets — on the front page, above the fold, across four columns of the Washington Post, for instance — that showed journalist Jihad Masharawi grieving over his dead son? Those reports claimed that the child had been killed by an Israeli rocket. It turns out, months later, that we find out it was most likely from a Hamas rocket.

The original picture is the one to the left, albeit it with a somewhat new caption. It reads:

FILE – In this Nov. 14, 2012 file photo, Jihad Masharawi weeps while he holds the body of his 11-month old son Ahmad, at Shifa hospital following an Israeli air strike on their family house, in Gaza City. A U.N. report indicates an errant Palestinian rocket, not an Israeli airstrike, likely killed the baby of Masharawi during fighting in the Hamas-ruled territory last November. The death of Omar al-Masharawi, became a symbol of what Palestinians see as Israeli aggression during eight days of fighting that killed more than 160 Palestinians and six Israelis.

Obviously that should be corrected. But the way the initial story was handled is fascinating, particularly in light of how corrections were handled.

Back in November, we saw a story about the story behind the photo that featured the comments of BBC Middle East Bureau Chief Paul Danahar and others. For example:

“We’re all one team in Gaza,” Danahar told me, saying that Misharawi is a BBC video and photo editor. After spending a “few hours” with his grieving colleague, he wrote on Twitter, ”Questioned asked here is: if Israel can kill a man riding on a moving motorbike (as they did last month) how did Jihad’s son get killed.”

This gets into the territory of how we cover the ethics of war fighting and the role religion plays into it. To boil extremely complicated stories down to the matter here in the initial story, the Jewish nation of Israel claims to avoid civilian casualties. Palestinian Muslims fighting them justify the targeting of civilians. There are war ethics debates regarding disproportionate force, human rights allowances, and much more. I say “the initial story” because there’s nothing conclusive about who fired the rocket and no one is claiming that the Palestinian rocket firing was trying to harm Palestinian civilians even if it was trying to harm Israeli citizens.

When the photo first ran, Israel defenders said it was a prime example of some media’s rush to judgement. Palestinian supporters said the photo, which spread all over social media, simply depicted Israeli aggression.

Washington Post ombudsman Patrick Pexton defended running the photo by appealing to the “truth” it depicted:


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