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Update – 4 February 2009

Dear All,

Many of you would probably now be aware of an article that appeared in the Canadian Globe and Mail by Patrick Martin entitled ‘Account of Israeli attack does not hold up to scrutiny’. Martin has investigated the incident between Hamas and the IDF that lead to the death of 43 Palestinians near a United Nations school. When this occurred on 7 January, the Melbourne Age broke the news by featuring it on the front page of its online edition with a headline ‘Israeli school slaughter’ which was changed to ‘Israeli strikes kill 48 in school refuges’ with a brief report that the IDF carried out a direct hit on the school. Now it has come to light that while the tragic outcome remained the same (we do know that at least two Hamas fighters were among those killed), not one person inside the school at the time of the attack was killed.

Honest Reporting also reports on this incident – ‘Did Israel Shell a UN School? The Truth Exposed?’.  The UN has been forced to backpedal and admit the truth. Maxwell Gaylord, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Jerusalem declared that the UN “would like to clarify that the shelling and all of the fatalities took place outside and not inside the school” (see more). I have been informed that The Age editor Paul Ramadge has seen the Patrick Martin article but it has not published any information to correct what is a regrettable error. It appears that The Australian is somewhat more dedicated to ensuring that the truth comes out and exposes the Age in today’s Cut & Paste entitled ‘UN disseminates lies and a willing media swallows them’. In this case, one of the willing media is Fairfax Middle East correspondent Jason Koutsoukis whose 8 January 2009 article is quoted.

Despite the relative lack of news from Israel in our local papers, things are still happening over there. Yesterday morning at 7am Israeli time a Grad rocket hit Ashkelon for the first time since the shaky ceasefire took effect. One wonders why this was not reported. While the Israelis were not immediately sure which organisation fired the rocket, it is believed that given it was a Grad rocket, which is more sophisticated than the Kassams, it was probably fired by Hamas (see more). In response, Israel targeted five smuggling tunnels, a rocket launching site and a Hamas outpost (see more). While one of the main goals of Operation Cast Lead was to eliminate the smuggling tunnels completely, they are being rebuilt on a daily basis.

In the meantime, talk continues about the possibility of a year-long ceasefire and now Hamas is reporting that Israel offered to allow in 75 percent of goods to enter the Gaza Strip in exchange for the release of abducted soldier Gilad Shalit (see more). Hamas leader Salah Bardawil has stated “we have no objection to ceasefire in exchange for lifting the siege and opening crossing points. We don’t oppose addressing Shalit case in tandem with ceasefire negotiations, but we asked for explanations about the nature of this material Israel won’t let in” (see more). According to Israeli sources the other 25% of material has been banned because it may be used for making weapons.

Humanitarian aid into Gaza also continues, despite the lack of media attention it garners. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, since the end of Operation Cast Lead 57,511 tons of aid has been delivered into the Gaza Strip and 4,377,300 litres of fuel. Yesterday, despite the Grad rocket falling in Ashkelon, it was expected that another 195 trucks would be allowed entry. For a full list of aid into Gaza, click here.

During the war Israel’s political parties agreed to stop campaigning in order to focus entirely on the Operation. Now that the war is effectively over, the parties have come out fighting. My next update will focus on the final moments of the election trail leading up to 10 February.

Finally, following The Age’s publication of the Michael Backman article and the subsequent ‘apology’, various community leaders have met with Editor Paul Ramadge. In correspondence with Jewish Community Council of Victoria president John Searle, Ramadge has stated:

1. That the publication of the column was an error of judgment. It occurred at a time when The Age had a “holiday team” in place. I was on leave. So was the Business Editor.

2. The publication of the column in no way reflects on The Age’s commitment to report issues in regard to Israel or the Middle East with fairness, notwithstanding that many of the issues are complex.

3. I have suspended Michael Backman from the paper for three months. 

4. I am committed to ongoing, constructive talks with leaders of the Jewish community in Melbourne. In addition, I have strengthened my ties with national leaders too.

To be continued…

Best wishes,

Emily Chrapot
Research Officer
Zionist Council of Victoria
9272 5507