The acid test: We stand by our reporting


Back in June we published a three-part series on Jewish extremists that stirred controversy and debate in the Jewish community.

Our critics’ primary objection seemed to be JTA’s decision to focus on the issue, which they dismissed as a trivial problem. Our series of stories, they charged, smeared the Jewish settlement movement in its entirety.

I’m confident that most fair-minded people who read all three stories will reject such claims as nonsense. We took extra care to make clear that the "radical settlers" in question represent a tiny minority of the Jewish residents of the West Bank and "often are dismissed as rogue, fringe elements by the mainstream settler movement." We dedicated an entire story to describing life in an outpost and the perspective of those who have chosen to live there. And the special series was merely one component of JTA’s ongoing, comprehensive coverage of Jews who live in the West Bank.

Recently, however, a group of critics launched a letter-writing campaign accusing JTA of "cultivating hatred of Israel and Israelis,” urging supporters to send us this form letter. As far as I can tell, most of the complaints center on one allegation: that acid has been thrown at Israeli forces. Here’s how we reported it:

Over the last year and a half, radical settlers seem to have upped the ante. They have defaced Muslim tombstones, set fire to Palestinian olive groves, assaulted Palestinians, slashed tires of IDF vehicles and thrown acid at Israeli soldiers.

The incident in question took place on Dec. 4, 2008, as Israeli forces conducted a surprise evacuation of Jewish families from a disputed four-story building in Hebron. According to several news sources (Ynet, Fox News, Ha’aretz, The Jerusalem Post) an Israeli police officer was injured by acid thrown into his eyes by some of those trying to stop the evacuation. The police told us as much almost immediately after the fact.

We could have also mentioned that some settlers had been warning that any attempt to evacuate the bulding, dubbed Peace House by Jewish supporters, would be met with violence. In a successful effort to minimize the threat, Israeli border police moved in during the day. According to The Jerusalem Post, authorities discovered stockpiles of homemade weapons. After the operation, angry settlers reportedly rampaged through Hebron, attacking Palestinians (including two who were shot outside of their home) and burning Palestinian olive trees.

When we started hearing from some who questioned the acid report, we went back to the police who said that they stood by their version of events. Of course, I guess it’s possible that the Israeli police made up the acid story (and planted the piles of weapons), in an elaborate frame job aimed at making settlers look bad — and news outlets of various political stripes fell for it. But we see no evidence of this. Regardless, the acid-throwing incident was the only part of our report our critics questioned; they did not dispute that some radical settlers had vandalized Israeli military equipment, vandalized Palestinian property, defaced Muslim graves and attacked Palestinian civilians.

We stand by our stories.

In case you missed them, here they are:

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