[Originally posted 06/21/2007 at MidEastWeb]http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000600.htm
A false allegation that 6,000 Palestinians died in the 1967 Six Day War appears at the website of PBS, the Public Broadcasting Service.
The false report originated as an inadvertent error in a Canadian newspaper June 2. It gained more visibility on the internet a few days later when Michael Getler, ombudsman of the 354-station PBS, cited it as if it were fact.
Getler devoted his June 8 column
to "Six Days," a documentary film directed by Israeli-born Ilan Ziv. The ombudsman's column, titled "Versions of War," dealt mainly with Getler's discovery that "there were actually several versions of this same basic film being seen in different countries, and that the American, or PBS version, was different in important ways."
What first drew his attention to this, the PBS ombudsman wrote, were viewers' complaints that the film did not mention Israel's aerial and naval attack on the USS Liberty, a U.S. surveillance vessel operating near the Sinai coast. The attack killed 33 sailors and one Arab-language specialist of the National Security Agency.
The PBS ombudsman went on to cite a Toronto Globe and Mail preview
which stated June 2 that the film "has been praised by some reviewers for not shying away from the deaths of 6,000 Palestinians during the war, something that's clearly described in every version except the one for PBS. The filmmakers describe the reasoning behind this difference as a mix of concern about American attitudes toward the continuing conflict and what PBS subscribers might make of such an inclusion."
It turns out, though, that the newspaper article was in error and the number 6,000 applied not to deaths but to the population of three Palestinian villages which Israel destroyed during the war. These villagers were deported, not killed. No standard history of the war mentions 6,000 Palestinian deaths, nor have anti-Israel propagandists made such a claim.
The error came to light after a MidEastWeb editor forwarded the PBS ombudsman's article on June 12 to a MidEastWeb e-mail list. There, another editor spotted the reference to "deaths of 6,000 Palestinians" and asked, "Is this the birth of another Jenin myth?"
The question triggered an effort to determine whether such a claim actually appeared in any version of the film.
An e-mail inquiry to the film's Canadian producer, Ina Fichman, failed to produce a response.
An e-mail request to the newspaper where the PBS ombudsman found the assertion of 6,000 Palestinian deaths also drew a blank. The Globe and Mail features editor did not respond to a request for the film critic's e-mail address.
Eventually, MidEastWeb found an e-mail address for the critic, Matthew Hays, and put the question to him.
Hays promptly wrote back to confirm that the reference to 6,000 deaths was an unintended error that crept in when he interviewed the filmmakers. He added that they had been referring to the displacement of 6,000 Palestinians, not to deaths.
The 6,000 displaced Palestinians were residents of three villages---Imwas, Yalu and Beit Nuba---which the Israel army destroyed on June 8, 1967.
The version of the film shown in Israel devotes considerable attention to the destruction of the villages. It interviews a witness who as a member of nearby kibbutz Harel noticed that the villages had been evacuated. He had a camera with him, so he made photographs of the empty houses. Israel knocked the houses down, and later the area became part of the Ayalon Park (known as Canada Park).
The destruction of the villages is not a new disclosure. Amos Kenan, a prominent Israeli writer, took part in the operation as an army reservist, and he wrote about it in the Hebrew press shortly after the war. His account appeared in English in "Israel: A Wasted Victory," a 1970 collection of his newspaper articles. Trish Wood, an investigative journalist, dealt with the subject in "Park without peace," a 1991 television documentary she made for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
A point that does not appear in the current documentary, at least not in the version shown on Israel Channel 10, is that one of the villages, Imwas, was one of several places in the Holy Land thought to be the site of Emmaus of Christian scripture.
The current mistaken mention of deaths that didn't occur is much different from the intentional reporting of a massacre that never happened in Jenin in April 2002. In Jenin, Israel barred reporters from area, and Palestinian and other anti-Israel sources took advantage of this public-relations blunder to spread false stories of blanket bombing, destruction of the entire refugee camp, and as many as 3,000 dead. Some media organizations treated the lies and disinformation with professional skepticism, while others let themselves be carried away in a frenzy of unsubstantiated accusations against Israel. Subsequent investigation eventually found the massacre charges to be false. This finding did not receive sensational media coverage.
--Joseph M. Hochstein
, Tel Aviv
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