Wednesday, June 08, 2022

I sent this letter to IMPRESS and Bellingcat today. IMPRESS is an independent British organization that maintains a standards code for accuracy in reporting, and Bellingcat subscribes to their regulations. 


Good day.

I would like to submit an IMPRESS complaint about the May 14, 2021 Bellingcat article, "Unravelling the Killing of Shireen Abu Akleh," under the grounds of being inaccurate.

The main problem with the article isn't what it says, although it does have major errors of fact. Its main shortcomings is in what it omits. By leaving out relevant facts, it violates the guidelines of IMPRESS that " a significant inaccuracy may be judged by considering whether the story, taken as a whole, was likely to create a false impression."

The Bellingcat article summary leaves little doubt as to its conclusion that the only reasonable explanation for Abu Akleh's death is the IDF shooting her, seemingly deliberately:

As the open source video evidence shows, when IDF soldiers and an armed group were engaged in fighting on the street where Abu Akleh eventually fell, the IDF position had a clear trajectory and was closer to the spot where she was shot. This is in contrast to the more obstructed and more distant positions of the armed groups. The leading vehicle in the IDF armoured vehicle convoy seen in the bodycam footage was located approximately 190 metres from the spot where Abu Akleh was shot. In contrast, the armed group seen firing down the street in Video Three was located some 300 metres away.

Preliminary forensic audio analysis of a video captured in the aftermath of Abu Akleh’s killing also appears to suggest the gunfire originated roughly 177 to 184 metres away, assuming that the weapon and round used are consistent with those seen being used by the IDF and armed Palestinian groups in the area. This estimate more closely aligns with the approximate distance between the IDF position and the site of the journalist’s killing than between the latter and the location of the armed groups.

There are some errors of fact here. 

First of all, according to the position of the IDF in Bellingcat's own map, the IDF is about 197  meters away from Abu Akleh, not 190. More importantly, the article uses the audio forensics to determine that the shooter was between 177 and 184 meters away from Abu Akleh. The difference of 6 meters is understood to be within a range of error. However, the measurement from the audio analysis must be made from the location of the microphone on the camera, not Abu Akleh's position. The camera was roughly a further 14 meters away. So now the IDF is about 30 meters outside the possible zone of a gunshot from an M16 or M4, which is no longer a discrepancy that can be overlooked of 3%, but a major discrepancy of 13% of the distance. 

An audio forensics error cannot account for such a discrepancy, meaning that the IDF's probability of shooting Abu Akleh with the information we have has gone from "the best guess we have" to "nearly impossible."

That is a significant inaccuracy.

The errors of omission are arguably more important. The article does not allow for the possibility of any Palestinian militants who can be between 177-184 meters away from Abu Akleh (really the microphone). They float the idea that a gunman in the building next to the IDF would have had line of sight but say they have no evidence of any such gunman.  

This diagram, excerpted from Bellingcat, gives the impression that there were no other known gunmen besides the two groups shown:

Yet the authors overlooked plenty of open source evidence that there were not only gunmen in the "Goldilocks zone" but that there were many Palestinian snipers in positions all over Jenin.

The evidence of militants who were southeast of Abu Akleh comes from a video and a photo. You can see the video in this tweet, with a followup tweet showing their location:

Additionally, there is a still photo of some 15 gun toting militants on that same street, from the same morning:

There is a problem of line of sight, but Bellingcat did not even mention these people to see if there was a possibility that there was a line of sight from them to Abu Akleh to begin with. I believe that there might have been a line of sight from further south on that street, where there is a hill, but that is further than the 184 meters. Nevertheless, the cemetery has sections that have a lower wall, and across the street from Abu Akleh was mostly a tarp; as far as I can tell no one looked for bullet holes in the tarp. 

Still, not even mentioning this group, even to dismiss it, gives the impression that no one but the IDF is even potentially guilty of killing Abu Akleh. This is a major inaccuracy.

Furthermore, video evidence of witnesses show that there were many who saw snipers in buildings. I show one video here - the extended video in which one can hear the bullets than killed Abu Akleh: The reporters, or perhaps residents, point out multiple sniper hideouts in buildings, pointing southeast. Snipers in buildings would have line of sight - and by definition they did because the witnesses could see them above the hedges to the north of the cemetery.

Moreover, the two witnesses closest to Abu Akleh themselves said that they saw snipers in buildings across from them. Shatha Hanaysha said that "we were standing across from a building with snipers." and "we were between the wall and the snipers." This indicates that the snipers were towards the east, not due south where the IDF was, parallel to the wall. 

Similarly, reporter Ali Samoudi said he heard "the sound of bullets raining down on us from the side of the occupation soldiers who were on the roofs of the buildings opposite us." 

 Again, there were no IDF snipers during this operation, and IDF snipers do not use the 5.56mm bullets that killed Abu Akleh. These journalists mistook Palestinian snipers for IDF soldiers. (At least one building southeast of Abu Akleh is both the exact distance for the audio forensics and an ideal sniper position with a clear shot down a street between the sniper and where the IDF could be expected to travel.)

There is more evidence of Palestinian snipers all over Jenin, such as this video taken from the northwest of Abu Akleh's location where gunshots can clearly be heard even though the IDF is over 270 meters away from the rooftop. 

Together, the evidence is overwhelming that trigger happy Jenin youths, amateurs with M16s from 180-190 meters away, are far more likely to have killed Abu Akleh - perhaps mistaking her helmet poking over the brush as belonging to an IDF soldier - than a professional army that has huge disincentive to kill reporters. 

Why was none of this evidence even mentioned? The reader is being misled, perhaps deliberately, to believe that there are no Palestinian militants in the area besides the two groups identified to the south of the IDF convoy.

That error of omission is the basis of Bellingcat's thesis that the IDF is the most likely culprit in Abu Akleh's death, when there are many other militants in the area at the time, many of them closer to Abu Akleh than the IDF was. 

These facts have been tweeted to Bellingcat, under the assumption that they would be at least addressed and the article updated, but that has not happened. Therefore I am submitting this formal complaint in the hopes that this additional evidence can be evaluated in an objective manner and the article updated with all the relevant information, not only the information that leads one to a specific conclusion.

I hope to hear from you soon.

Thank you,

Elder of Ziyon


I will keep everyone posted as to what I hear back. Bellingcat says "We will acknowledge your complaint by e-mail or in writing within 7 calendar days and will normally respond to your complaint with a final decision letter within 21 calendar days. If we uphold your complaint, we will tell you the remedial actions we have taken."

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