NGO statements repeat false claims on UNRWA School incident
NGOs widely reported the reports of 43 civilian deaths in Jabalya, Gaza on January 6, 2009 — most claiming that they were killed in an UNRWA school. However, according to a detailed investigation (Patrick Martin, “Account of Israeli attack doesn’t hold up to scrutiny,” Globe and Mail, January 29, 2009), quoting John Ging, UNRWA’s operations director in Gaza, “all three Israeli mortar shells landed outside the school and … ‘no one was killed in the school.'”
Although a minority of NGOs reported the facts accurately, many NGOs misrepresented the situation to demonize Israeli actions and justify intensified condemnations. The contradictions between NGO accounts also indicate a readiness to publish unverifiable and unreliable information that demonizes Israel.
- Adalah, Al Mezan, and Al-Haq (press release – January 13, 2009) asserted that one of the missiles “landed in the school yard, killing 40 people.” Defence for Children International – Palestine Section (DCI-PS) alleged that the school “was targeted with three shells” and only one of the shells landed outside the school (on an adjacent house, according to DCI-PS). Both of these accounts were contradictied in Patrick Martin’s account.
- The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) “harshly condemned…the shelling of the UNRWA school yesterday that serves as a shelter for many civilians who had fled the fighting” (Press release – Hebrew – January 7, 2009).
- B’Tselem inaccurately reported that the Israeli army “attack[ed]” and “fired a mortar shell at an UNRWA school.”
- Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-I) repeated an unreliable testimony that the “UNRWA school was shelled.”
- PCHR claimed that the “IOF are targeting schools.”
- The Palestinian NGO Network (PNGO) accused Israel of “bomb[ing] schools, even those which were topped by the flag of the United Nations.”
- World Vision condemned “‘deplorable’ attacks on schools in Gaza.”
- Ittijah issued a press release entitled “About the Israeli massacre in an UNRWA school – act of destruction” (Hebrew).
- Miftah published a piece, accusing Israel of “once again…open[ing] the gates of hell to the Palestinians. Forty civilian refugees dead in a United Nations school,” “an atrocity on the level of the Balkan wars of the 1990s,” surpassing “normal Middle East bloodletting.” It also labeled Israeli claims of self-defense as “scandalous fabrications,” such as “the Hamas-was-in-the-UN-school lie” and “the anti-Semitism lie.” (In 2005-6, Miftah received a grant from the European Commission’s Partnership for Peace Program “to encourage a public and media discourse free of incitement, prejudice and dehumanization of the other.”)
- In a statement to the UN Human Rights Council (January 12, 2009), the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) used the “shelling [of] the UN school in Jabaliya” as the example of “indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks.”