The UN’s Gaza lie?

One of the most disturbing stories to emerge during Israel’s recent incursion in Gaza was Israeli shelling of a UN school. This is how Reuters described it:

Israeli shelling killed more than 40 Palestinians on Tuesday at a U.N. school where civilians had taken shelter, medical officials said.

The BBC reported that

. . .at least 40 people were killed and 55 injured when Israeli artillery shells landed outside a United Nations-run school in Gaza, UN officials have said.

But though the BBC story placed the shell outside the school, UN officials have now set the record straight. As Haaretz reports, Maxwell Gaylord, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Jerusalem, clarified that the IDF mortar shells fell in the street near the compound, and not on the compound itself.

UNRWA said that the source of the mistaken story had originated “with a separate branch of the United Nations.” Unfortunately, this branch seems to have pretty good access to the UN Secretary-General’s office, because on 6 January 2009 Ban Ki-Moon himself spoke out against Israel’s “totally unacceptable” attacks against what the UN’s own News Centre called “three clearly-marked United Nations schools, where civilians were seeking refuge from the ongoing conflict in Gaza”.

Who knows what actually happened. The fog of war was deliberately made thicker by both the IDF and Hamas. It is clear many people, including civilians, died in Gaza. But the UN school story is beginning to look like the Jenin “massacre” story from 2002. Then 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.” Reports of the supposed Israeli atrocities in Jenin were spread by Palestinian sources on CNN and elsewhere.

But this turned out to be a lie. There was a battle in Jenin. But the “hundreds” of martyrs were an invention. The death toll was 56 Palestinians, the majority of them combatants, and 23 Israeli soldiers. By then, however, the story had served its purpose, much the same as the UN school story did.

In war, information is a weapon. But not one usually used by the UN.