Israeli messaging on deadly Jabaliya explosion makes inroads on international media

Effort by Israeli officials to show children killed Saturday were victims of failed rocket launch, not IDF strike, is widely picked up by news outlets reporting on conflict

A headline on the German newspaper Bild's website, August 7, 2022, that reads: 'Palestinian rocket kills civilians in Gaza' (Screenshot)
A headline on the German newspaper Bild's website, August 7, 2022, that reads: 'Palestinian rocket kills civilians in Gaza' (Screenshot)

Israeli officials have been working hard since Saturday evening to convey the truth that an explosion in the Gaza Strip that killed multiple people, including several children, was the work of a failed rocket launch by Palestinian terrorists rather than an IDF strike.

When it comes to global media coverage of the incident, the effort appears to have paid off.

Initial reports from Gaza claimed an Israeli strike in the Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza had killed seven civilians, including four children. Photos circulating on social media showed seven body bags. But the IDF stated unequivocally on Saturday and again on Sunday that it had not struck anywhere in the area at the time of the blast, and that it had video and radar proof that the explosion was caused by a rocket misfired by Palestinian terror operatives.

CNN wrote on its website: “The Palestinian Health Ministry initially said the blast was caused by an Israeli airstrike. Israel rejected the claim and said it was the result of errant rocket fire, and released a video showing what it said was the Islamic Jihad rocket sharply changing course in the air and hitting the building.”

On Saturday, The New York Times initially reported that “three children were also killed on Saturday, though it was not immediately clear whether they were hit by an Israeli strike or a misfired Palestinian rocket. The Israeli military said they were killed by a failed Islamic Jihad rocket launch.”

A day later, the newspaper cited figures from the Palestinian Health Ministry noting six children dead in the latest round of fighting, adding: “Israel said some of those children were killed on Saturday night when an Islamic Jihad rocket misfired and fell short in the northern Gaza Strip. The Israeli military said it had not been operating in that area at the time. Islamic Jihad has not commented on the Israeli claim.”

Relatives of a young Palestinian killed during the night in the Jabaliya refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, react during his funeral in the same camp, on August 7, 2022. (Mahmud HAMS / AFP)

The France-based news agency AFP cited Israel saying “it had ‘irrefutable’ evidence that a stray rocket fired by Islamic Jihad was responsible for the deaths of several children in Jabalia, northern Gaza, on Saturday.”

On Saturday, The Associated Press wrote, “The Israeli military said an errant rocket fired by Palestinian militants killed civilians late Saturday, including children, in the town of Jabaliya, in northern Gaza. The military said it investigated the incident and concluded ‘without a doubt’ that it was caused by a misfire on the part of Islamic Jihad. There was no official Palestinian comment on the incident.”

A man inspects damage to a house at the Jabaliya camp in the northern Gaza Strip on August 6, 2022. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

By Sunday, however, AP only reported that so far “among the dead were six children and four women” — without noting that several of them may have been killed by Palestinian rocket fire.

The German Bild news site ran a headline stating: “Palestinian missile kills civilians in Gaza.”

Qatar-based Al Jazeera noted that Hamas said four children were killed in the blast and “blamed Israel for the deaths, but the military denied any responsibility, saying the explosion was caused by a failed rocket launched by Islamic Jihad. Al Jazeera could not verify the claims immediately.”

Both IDF and governmental officials led a vigorous public campaign to make it clear that Israel was not responsible for the deaths in Jabaliya. On Sunday morning, the IDF released a video it said showed the failed rocket launch.

The video showed a barrage of rockets launched from the coastal enclave at Israel, and one that falls short.

The head of the Prime Minister’s Office’s Public Diplomacy Directorate, Elad Tene, added: “All fire by the Islamic Jihad terrorist organization is a double war crime: it is shooting at civilians, and using Gazan civilians as human shields. This incident is an example of Islamic Jihad harming the residents of Gaza. All harm to innocent civilians is tragic.”

Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s international spokesperson, Keren Hajioff, released a video statement, saying: “Tonight, Islamic Jihad terrorists fired a rocket towards Israel which fell short inside Gaza, hitting a Palestinian home in the Jabaliya neighborhood and tragically killing at least four children. There is video documenting the entire thing. There was no Israeli activity in the Gaza Strip, in that area or at that time.”

Speaking on Channel 12 news on Sunday afternoon, Col. (Ret.) Miri Eisin, who served in IDF Intelligence for 20 years and later as an international media adviser to the prime minister, said Israeli youth active on social media were helping bringing an important message to the world.

“One of the best things that has developed in the past few years, both inside but also outside the Foreign Ministry among young people in Israel, is going into social media” and defending Israel, she said.

“There are currently people who are 18, 20, 25, both through the Foreign Ministry and also on their own initiative… they’re coming and talking not just about Jabaliya,” she said, and reaching audiences that may otherwise not hear the Israeli perspective.

As of Sunday afternoon, the IDF said close to 780 rockets had been fired from Gaza into Israel. About 270 had been intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system and around 180 fell short in the Gaza Strip.

Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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