March 30th or "Land Day" has been a significant date in the calendar of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since 1976, when protests by Palestinian citizens of Israel during a general strike against land expropriation in the Galilee were met with deadly force that claimed six lives.
This year, as is the custom, Palestinians living both inside Israel and the Occupied Territories took part in a variety of activities ranging from olive picking and cultural festivals to demonstrations against the always-ongoing Israeli colonization.
In the Gaza Strip, a series of six rallies at border areas saw at least 9 Palestinians, including a 9-year-old, injured by live ammunition fired by Israeli troops and—apparently—one child killed. Agence France Presse reported:
"A 15-year-old Palestinian, Mohammed al-Faramawi, was shot dead east of southern Gaza town of Rafah near the heavily guarded border shortly before dozens of people marched to the site in a demonstration.
Gaza medics and witnesses said he was shot dead by Israeli forces, charges denied by the Israeli military, which said it had fired warning shots at demonstrators approaching the border but had not hit anyone."
I first saw a report of al-Faramawi’s death on the BBC’s website, where the story was published with an oddly punctuated headline:
“Gaza youth ’shot dead’ in border incident”
An earlier, bare bones version of the report—now updated—suggested that the perpetrators were either Israeli or Palestinian. I wrote to ask the Beeb:
"Why the quote marks around ‘shot dead’? Regardless of who was the perpetrator, he was still shot and died."
Apparently, it wasn’t that simple. BBC NewsOnline replied:
"We use quotation marks to indicate that we are quoting sources on information that we have not been able to confirm ourselves, or that we believe may be contested.
In this case, the only source was the Hamas-run Health Ministry and there was also a great deal of confusion and uncertainty about exactly what happened, which meant it was appropriate to keep the quotation marks.
Even 24 hours later, we are still seeking confirmation – the Rafah hospital says it has not received a body or certified a death, and from the information we have received, the teenager’s family are not 100% sure he is dead. We are continuing to seek confirmation on all the details of the story, while reporting, with appropriate attribution, the information that we do have."
AFP, while often the first wire service to report events, is also often the least accurate. In a situation where it wasn’t necessarily clear what had happened, it wouldn’t be totally shocking that they got it wrong.
The horses’ mouths
In the original AFP report, al-Faramawi’s killing by Israeli troops was reported by "Gaza medics and witnesses". The language used in the BBC report appears to draw suspicion on the source by attributing information to the "Hamas-run health ministry", as if there was a bearded Palestinian spokesman at the foot of every bed in the Rafah Hospital ICU.
In other media reports, the same information is attributed to a Dr. Muawiya Hassanein, director-general of the Ambulance and Emergency department in the Palestinian Ministry of Health.
Dr. Hassanein seems an unlikely candidate for misinformation. You can find Lexis-Nexis newspaper database references to the good doctor as head of emergency services in Gaza in 2005, long before HAMAS were elected. The database contains quotes from Hassanein as far back as 2000, when he served as the head of the emergency room at Shifa hospital in Gaza.
The BBC report, amended since my initial contact, stated that:
"Early reports said Muhammad al-Faramawi had died during a protest, but later reports said the incident occurred before the demonstrations took place, and the main protests were held further north."
The BBC added that there was "speculation over whether the boy could have died in an intra-Palestinian dispute", quoting the Bethlehem-based Palestinian Ma’an News service, which reported mysteriously that:
"local sources who wished to remain anonymous said the death may have been an internal matter."
"…local Palestinians said the boy had been missing since Monday, raising questions about whether he could have been the victim of internal violence."
The usually solid "Weekly Report On Israeli Human Rights Violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory" from the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights in Gaza, covering the period of 25-31 March, makes no mention of al-Faramawi at all.
Even more bizarre in this seemingly open and shut report of yet another Palestinian child’s death, initially apparently confirmed both by eyewitnesses and medical sources, is the fact that no one seems clear on where the child’s body actually is. The BBC’s pieced-together narrative painted a bleak picture of a child left bleeding to death in the Gazan sun:
"It was initially reported that a Palestinian doctor told reporters that medics were not able to reach the body of the boy in time because of ongoing "clashes". An official from the Hamas-run ministry of health said the teenager "was left bleeding for hours" before paramedics were able to get Israeli permission to evacuate him."
Al Jazeera English, which frustratingly gives the source for its March 30th story as "Agencies"—even though AFP made no mention of this and I was unable to find any other wire service report that repeated this information—has Dr. Hassanein telling reporters that:
"medical teams and International Red Cross Committee (ICRC) co-ordinated with the Israeli army to collect the boy’s body."
Ha’aretz "and Agencies" offers the same narrative late on March 30th. Or was the final collection of the body simply inferred by reporters while this saga was in process? The New York Times also reported late on March 30th that:
"By nightfall Tuesday, Palestinian ambulances were still waiting to coordinate their entry into the border area with Israel in order to retrieve the boy’s body, according to Dr. Muawiya Hassanein."
It is entirely possible that the boy was killed prior to the clashes and that it was mistakenly assumed that his body—reported as unable to be retrieved due to the well documented trigger-happy Israeli troops on Gaza’s border—occurred during the Land Day protests.
But for such a contested death in such vague circumstances it seems strange that—as of April 1st—there have been no further reports on the fate of little Mohammed al-Faramawi, the state of his body, or even conclusively that his body was retrieved and he has officially been pronounced dead.
Nigel Parry is a former webmaster of Birzeit University, co-founder of the Electronic Intifada, and a longtime independent media activist, and currently lives in Pittsburgh, PA.