SUCCESS! HRC Prompts Toronto Star Clarification re: Unfair and Inaccurate Interview on 2014 Gaza War

July 25, 2016

Following an HonestReporting Canada complaint, the Toronto Star published the following lengthy clarification notice on July 23 in an attempt to remedy several errors and unfair statements made by Star columnist Jennifer Hunter in an interview on the 2014 Gaza War:

Though the clarification didn’t address all of the shortcomings that we pointed out in our July 12 complaint (see it in full as appended below), for the Star to publish this clarification is important, precedent setting, and a recognition by Star editors of the seriousness of the errors and unfair statements made in this column. (The clarification was published in the Insight section in the Saturday edition which is read by over 500,000 people). HonestReporting Canada thanks the Toronto Star for taking these remedial efforts and for its cooperation.

This major HRC success comes on the heels of our getting letters published in the Star this past Friday which took Columnist Rick Salutin to task for vilifying Elie Wiesel’s legacy and for maligning Israel’s reputation, and only a couple weeks ago, we prompted the Toronto Star and the Washington Post – two of North America’s biggest news organizations – to issue a correction and story rewrite for a report that falsely alleged that Israeli Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel had called for the forcible removal of thousands of Palestinians from Area C of the west bank.

Original HRC Media Action Alert on July 13, 2016: “Toronto Star Interview About Gaza War Replete with Errors and Unfairness”

On July 12, HonestReporting Canada filed a complaint with the Toronto Star regarding a report by Jennifer Hunter that was published on July 9 entitled “A Gaza diary of life amid the wars”. See full article appended below.

Ms. Hunter’s interview with Gaza journalist Atef Abu Saif contained several factual errors and was unfair in many ways, to which HRC requested that corrective action be undertaken by the Star.

Firstly, Ms. Hunter wrote the following: “A few weeks ago I interviewed an Israeli-Canadian who had been a soldier on the Lebanese border in the 1990s. This week I phoned Gaza to talk to journalist Atef Abu Saif, who writes with poignancy about life during the bombardment of Israeli drones in the summer of 2014. The attack followed the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers and was Israel’s response to their murder. Drone strikes over Gaza began soon after.”

Contrary to Ms. Hunter’s claims, Israel’s stated purpose for carrying out the 2014 Gaza War was not “in response” to the murder of the three Israeli teenagers. Here’s how Israel officially explained its rationale:

“On July 7, 2014, the Government of Israel ordered the Israel Defense Forces to launch an aerial operation against Hamas and other terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip. This operation, termed “Operation Protective Edge”, was launched in response to increasing rocket and mortar fire on Israel from the Gaza Strip during June and early July 2014, and despite Israel’s continued efforts at de-escalation.

On July 17, 2014, as a result of Hamas’s continued rejection of ceasefire initiatives, ongoing rocket and mortar fire and the execution of attacks in Israeli territory by sea and through cross-border assault tunnels, the Government of Israel authorized the entry of ground forces into a limited area of the Gaza Strip. These ground forces were tasked with identifying and neutralizing the cross-border assault tunnels, which originated from the outskirts of the urban areas of the Gaza Strip. The ground forces withdrew from the Gaza Strip on August 5, after locating and neutralising 32 cross-border assault tunnels, and despite ongoing rocket and mortar attacks against Israel. The 2014 Gaza Conflict concluded on August 26, with an unconditional ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.”

To claim that Israel launched a full-scale war as a means of retribution for the murder of the Israeli teens is false. Israel was under attack from persistent Hamas rocket attacks and cross-border assault tunnels. The Independent notes that: “The IDF claimed more than 3,700 rockets had been fired towards Israel by 20 August and it had destroyed 32 Hamas tunnels and killed 750 alleged militants and commanders.” The Washington Post says there were 4,500 rocket attacks from Gaza.

Israel didn’t just use drones to combat Hamas, but risked the lives of its troops when an incursion was made into Gaza (an effort also to minimize Palestinian casualties). As well, artillery, helicopters, tanks, planes, etc. were deployed. Not only did the Star’s interview fail to mention the Palestinian rocket and cross-border tunnel attacks, it failed to mention that Israel’s adversary was Hamas, a bona fide Palestinian terror group. Instead, Star readers were told about the following: “this summer of bombing and drone attacks” and “report about casualties and destruction and shooting” and “war, destruction, killing” and “War is everywhere, destruction is everywhere. Attacks come from the sea, the air and the ground.”

Mr. Abu Saif claimed the following: “Most of the people living in Gaza are refugees, like me.” Can the Star confirm the veracity of this claim? As we understand it, some may claim to be refugees while others (arguably most Gazans) are descendants of refugees. According to Yair Lapid, Chairman of the Yesh Atid Party and Member of Knesset, since 1950, the number of Palestinian refugees has multiplied from 750,000 to over 5 million without a single Palestinian ever being expelled.

Mr. Abu Saif also claimed the following: “Fishermen aren’t allowed to go beyond three kilometres into the sea to fish.” This statement is false, in fact, Palestinian fisherman are allowed to fish 14.5km off its coast. The New York Times confirms this: “Israel on Sunday expanded the Palestinian fishing zone off the southern portion of Gaza’s coast to nine nautical miles from six, allowing fishing in areas that had been off limits for a decade.”

Mr. Abu Saif also asserted that: “Unfortunately Palestinians were living peacefully in their homeland and then Israel was established in 1948, so our conflict was made by the international community.” Palestinians have never been granted statehood nor been sovereign rulers of any land. The area was formerly administrated under the British Mandate and after the Partition Plan which called for separate Jewish and Arab states, the Arab World rejected the plan (Israel accepted it) and combined Arab armies (Egypt, Syria, Transjordan, Lebanon and Iraq) sought to wipe Israel from the map in the War of Independence. Jews and Arabs both lived in Palestine before and after the war (the Arabs that stayed in the newly formed Israel and their descendants constitute Israel’s 20% Arab minority). Let’s not forget that the Jerusalem Post used to be called the Palestine Post. Furthermore, fighting and terror attacks on Jewish targets occurred well before Israel’s establishment. Just consider the 1929 Hebron Massacre of 67 Jews for example.

Ms. Hunter wrote: “There is little help for the Gazans, except a bit from the United Nations.” This statement is false and is subjective (not objective) in nature and to ignore that Palestinian Gazans receive ample amounts of humanitarian aid by Israel and other world players is tantamount to historical revisionism. Regrettably, incredible amounts of financial aid that should go to the Palestinian people, gets (mis)directed to the corrupt coffers of Palestinian leaders or it supports the salaries of Palestinian terrorists, or funds warfare efforts/armories by Palestinian terrorists such as millions spent on creating terror tunnels. According to Tzipi Hotovely, deputy foreign minister of Israel in the Wall Street Journal:

“According to a report last year by Global Humanitarian Assistance, in 2013 the Palestinians received $793 million in international aid, second only to Syria. This amounts to $176 for each Palestinian, by far the highest per capita assistance in the world. Syria, where more than 250,000 people have been killed and 6.5 million refugees displaced since 2011, received only $106 per capita.

A closer look at the remaining eight countries in the top 10—Sudan, South Sudan, Jordan, Lebanon, Somalia, Ethiopia, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo—is even more alarming. CIA Factbook data show that these countries have a combined population of 284 million and an average per capita GDP of $2,376. Yet they received an average of $15.30 per capita in development assistance in 2013. The Palestinians, by comparison, with a population of 4.5 million, have a per capita GDP of $4,900.

In other words, though the Palestinians are more than twice as wealthy on average than these eight countries, they receive more than 11 times as much foreign aid per person. The Democratic Republic of Congo is a case in point: Its 79 million people have a per capita GDP of $700, yet they receive only $5.70 in aid per person.

Between 1993 (when the Oslo Process began) and 2013, the Palestinians received $21.7 billion in development assistance, according to the World Bank. The Palestinian leadership has had ample opportunity to use these funds for economic and social development. Tragically, as seen in Hamas-run Gaza, it prefers to use the funds on its terrorist infrastructure and weaponry, such as cross-border attack tunnels and the thousands of missiles that have rained down in recent years on Israel.”

HRC pointed out several factual errors and many shortcomings associated with this interview that was published in the Star’s most read paper of the week, the Saturday edition with its over 500,000 readers.

The Toronto Star has confirmed receipt of our complaint and indicated that the article will be reviewed. HRC is hopeful that the Toronto Star will promptly take steps to remedy the errors and general unfairness of this report.

Stay tuned to this page for future updates.


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