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February 01, 2009

UNRWA School (Not) Hit

UNRWA school not shelled small.jpg

Patrick Martin of the Globe and Mail examines earlier media and UNRWA claims that an UNRWA school was hit on Jan. 17. He writes:

Most people remember the headlines: Massacre Of Innocents As UN School Is Shelled; Israeli Strike Kills Dozens At UN School.

Yes, we remember in particular, a headline from the International Herald Tribune.

They heralded the tragic news of Jan. 6, when mortar shells fired by advancing Israeli forces killed 43 civilians in the Jabalya refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. The victims, it was reported, had taken refuge inside the Ibn Rushd Preparatory School for Boys, a facility run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. . .

There was just one problem: The story, as etched in people's minds, was not quite accurate.

Physical evidence and interviews with several eyewitnesses, including a teacher who was in the schoolyard at the time of the shelling, make it clear: While a few people were injured from shrapnel landing inside the white-and-blue-walled UNRWA compound, no one in the compound was killed. The 43 people who died in the incident were all outside, on the street, where all three mortar shells landed.

The non-shelling of the UNRWA school reminds us very much of the fate of the Al Quds Hospital, reportedly destroyed, but up and running again a few short days later.

Further on, Martin takes aim at UNRWA's John Ging:

"Look at my statements," he said. "I never said anyone was killed in the school. Our officials never made any such allegation."

Speaking from Shifa Hospital in Gaza City as the bodies were being brought in that night, an emotional Mr. Ging did say: "Those in the school were all families seeking refuge. ... There's nowhere safe in Gaza."

And in its daily bulletin, the World Health Organization reported: "On 6 January, 42 people were killed following an attack on a UNRWA school ..."

The UN's Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs got the location right, for a short while. Its daily bulletin cited "early reports" that "three artillery shells landed outside the UNRWA Jabalia Prep. C Girls School ..." However, its more comprehensive weekly report, published three days later, stated that "Israeli shelling directly hit two UNRWA schools ..." including the one at issue.

Such official wording helps explain the widespread news reports of the deaths in the school, but not why the UN agencies allowed the misconception to linger.

Posted by TS at February 1, 2009 06:51 AM


Now the UN has admitted a "clerical error" in reporting this.

I wonder if this will this get the same foaming-at-the-mouth screaming-in-your-face coverage as the original event?

Posted by: Matt at February 5, 2009 09:25 AM

This is why it's important for the international press to be allowed in to cover news as it breaks. The Israeli Government Press Office did not allow any accredited reporters through Erez crossing into the Gaza Strip until 19th or 20th January, when the checking process started in earnest. There was confusion on the day when a couple different schools were hit by IDF tank victims' bodies were pulled from the street and then collected from the schoolyard, reports from the bombed-out sites were muddled.
And yes, most of the 43 casualties had been sheltering inside the school and had started out during the 3-hr humanitarian 'lull' to seek food.

Posted by: IB at February 8, 2009 04:35 PM

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