The Blood Libel That Went Viral: Israel Blamed for Palestinian Islamic Jihad Rocket That Killed Children

The Blood Libel That Went Viral: Israel Blamed for Palestinian Islamic Jihad Rocket That Killed Children

Rachel O’Donoghue

Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system fires to intercept a rocket launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel near Ashdod, Israel August 6, 2022. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

“A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on.”

This quote — frequently attributed to American writer Mark Twain, but traced back to satirist Jonathan Swift — perfectly encapsulates the reaction to reports that an explosion at the Jabaliya camp in Gaza during Operation Breaking Dawn, left several children dead.

Many of the first reports from Gaza claimed that the bloodshed was the result of an Israeli strike.

The IDF, however, acted immediately and released a statement that confirmed it had not targeted its airpower anywhere in the vicinity at the time of the blast.

Later, both video and radar evidence was published online that showed the carnage was in fact caused by a misfired rocket shot by Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terrorists.

As early as Saturday night — mere minutes after the explosion — a widely circulated video of the rocket showed that it was launched from inside the coastal enclave before sharply turning and losing altitude.

Yet, the initial media reports buried the IDF’s statement, and ignored the video that was available online.

The BBC opened its coverage of Operation Breaking Dawn with the following two paragraphs:

Israel has killed a second top militant from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group, as the death toll continues to rise from air strikes in Gaza.

Six children and several PIJ fighters — including leaders Khaled Mansour and Tayseer Jabari – are among the 32 Palestinians reported to have died.

It is only further down in the article that the reader is told that there is evidence that Israel was not responsible for the deaths in Jabaliya, although the nature of this evidence — incontrovertible video proof — is omitted:

Gaza’s health ministry blamed “Israeli aggression” for the deaths of Palestinians, and for the more than 200 people wounded.

Israel accused PIJ militants of accidentally causing at least some of those deaths – claiming on Saturday that the group fired a stray rocket killing multiple children in Jabalia, in the Gaza Strip. The BBC has not been able to independently verify this claim.

The Daily Mail also covered events coming out of Gaza, with a story that focused on the death toll following what the publication described as a “three-day bombardment” of the Gaza Strip.

In The Daily Mail’s subheading bullet points, the number of children killed is emphasized:

  • Six children are among the dead since the conflict began Friday, while 275 people have been wounded […]
  • But the attacks have now killed 31 Palestinians, more than half of which are believed to be innocent civilians.

Again, no mention is made of the misfired rocket that killed scores of these civilians, or the fact that both Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Gaza’s terrorist leaders in Hamas are known to hide weapons arsenals and launch sites within highly-populated civilian areas.

The international news network France 24 was equally reckless in its reportage. A piece, titled, “Israel kills second Islamic Jihad leader, Gaza death toll mounts,” opens thus:

An Israeli airstrike killed a second senior commander in the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad, the fighters said Sunday as the death toll from violence in Gaza rose to 31, including six children, according to Palestinian health officials. As Israel pressed on with its assault, Palestinian militants retaliated with barrages of rockets fired at Israel.

The suggestion made by France 24 is that Israel is responsible for the deaths of all of these civilians, with not a single mention in the entire piece of the that errant PIJ rockets claimed innocent lives.

Meanwhile, coverage of Operation Breaking Dawn on social media was no less irresponsible.

Numerous Twitter accounts — collectively boasting millions of followers — were swift to condemn “Israeli bombs” for killing children in Gaza (see herehereherehere, and here, for example).

Many accounts even shared the claim that Israel had committed a“massacre“ — an accusation that is reminiscent of ancient antisemitic blood libels.

In contrast to such conspiracy mongering, the IDF’s speedy response to dispel erroneous reports that it had been behind the Jabaliya strike was reported on by several mainstream Israeli publications, which noted that many high-profile news organizations had updated their reportage to reflect this fact (see here and here).

The Israeli military has and must continue to be proactive in setting the record straight, and we commend news outlets around the world that acted quickly to include emerging evidence exonerating the Jewish state as it became available.

However, the onus is on these publications to not jump to conclusions in the first place: it is a well-established fact that rockets fired from the Gaza Strip frequently fall short. We saw this take place repeatedly during the May 2021 Israel-Hamas conflict.

In the future, news outlets must make it clear from the outset that they do not have all the facts at any given point during a fast-moving story, and not unequivocally state which side is responsible for a particular strike.

To simply assume or suggest that Israel is at fault is nothing less than an egregious act of journalistic malfeasance. With Jonathan Swift’s wise observation in mind, the media must remember the dangers of publishing first and only asking questions later.

The author is a contributor to HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias — where a version of this article first appeared.

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