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The Big Jenin Lie

The only good thing about the Jenin "massacre" was watching the propaganda being debunked in record time.

12:00 AM, May 8, 2002 • By RICHARD STARR
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PRECISELY A MONTH AGO, on April 8, the Palestinian news agency Wafa was reporting that Israel had committed the "massacre of the 21st century" in the Palestinian refugee camp in Jenin. "Medical sources" informed Wafa of "hundreds of martyrs." This was a lie, concocted not only for local consumption--to keep the Palestinian people whipped up in a patriotic, Israel-hating frenzy--but mostly for export to the West.

That same day, you could hear breathless reports of the supposed Israeli atrocities in Jenin being spread by Palestinian sources on NPR, CNN, and elsewhere. Typical was the hysteria of Nasser al-Kidwa, the Palestinian representative to the United Nations, on CNN: "There's almost a massacre now taking place in Jenin. Helicopter gun ships are throwing missiles at one square kilometer packed with almost 15,000 people in a refugee camp. . . . Just look at the TV and watch, watch what the--what the Israel forces are doing. . . . This is a war crime, clear war crime, witnessed by the whole world, preventing ambulances, preventing people from being buried. I mean this is an all-out assault against the whole population."

No, this was an all-out assault on the truth. There was a pitched battle in Jenin. But the "hundreds" of martyrs were a cynical invention. The death toll was 56 Palestinians, the majority of them combatants, and 23 Israeli soldiers.

Unlike the celebrated foreign-dispatch lies of the 20th century--the New York Times's Walter Duranty Pulitzer-winning cover-up of Stalin's murderous Ukraine famine, say, or Herbert Matthews's 1957 reports of Senor Fidel Castro's hopes for a "democratic Cuba"--the Jenin fraud has been almost entirely inflated and then deflated in the short space of a month. I think it's safe to say that no one will win a Pulitzer for reporting on the (non-existent) "massacre of the 21st century." This was amateur-hour propaganda, and any reporter who fell for it should be mortified.

Mostly that means British reporters. Full credit to the Guardian for allowing Sharon Sadeh to administer a well-deserved flogging to Fleet Street in its pages on Monday. "The Independent, the Guardian and the Times, in particular," writes Sadeh, "were quick to denounce Israel and made sensational accusations based on thin evidence, fitting a widely held stereotype of a defiant, brutal and don't-give-a-damn Israel." You can read the whole satisfying piece here.

Not that American reporters were without sin. Screenwriter Daniel Gordan's description of the ax-grinding media in action is also worth a click. My favorite part is his description of this encounter between CNN's Sheila MacVicar and an Israeli soldier in Jenin:

"One [Israeli] reservist sensed MacVicar's hostility. He was a soft-spoken man who approached her and introduced himself as the reserve unit's medical officer, Dr. David Zangen. He told her that when the fighting was over, they found photograph albums of children from roughly 6 years of age up through early and mid-teens. It was an album of photos of children who would be the next crop of suicide killers, with notations indicating when each of the children would be ripe. The reporter had no time for the doctor, however.

"'Perhaps you should ask yourself why,'" she said, dismissing him.

"'I do, madam,' he said, 'I ask myself why. I can't imagine it. I can't imagine sending one's child out to be a mass murderer who commits suicide to kill women and children.'

"'Well, I can explain it,' said the reporter. 'For me it all comes down to one word, "occupation."'

"'But madam,' the doctor said, 'Jenin hasn't been occupied for nine years.'"

Oops.

Richard Starr is a managing editor at The Weekly Standard.