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October 4, 2022 10:59 am
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Media Print Viral Libel That Palestinian Boy ‘Died of Fear’ After Being ‘Chased’ by IDF

avatar by Akiva Van Koningsveld

Opinion

Palestinians walk at the compound that houses Al-Aqsa Mosque, known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem’s Old City May 21, 2021. Photo: REUTERS/Ammar Awad

The September 29 death of Rayan Suleiman, a 7-year-old Palestinian child who died under unknown circumstances following Israeli military activity in the West Bank town of Teqoa, has dominated international headlines in recent days (see herehere, and here).

Responding to unsubstantiated Palestinian accusations that IDF soldiers “chased the boy to death,” US State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel has called for a “thorough and immediate investigation,” adding that the Biden administration was “heartbroken to learn of the death of an innocent Palestinian child.”

After Palestinian Authority (PA) chief Mahmoud Abbas expressed the wish, “may Allah damn them [Israel], may Allah take them … and may Allah help us get rid of them very soon,” the European Union on Friday demanded that Israeli authorities “bring the perpetrators to justice.”

Meanwhile, the story went viral on social media, with Rayan’s name mentioned in more than 65,000 tweets posted over the weekend, including thousands of messages that falsely charged the IDF with “murder.”

The IDF goes to great lengths to avoid harming civilians during its counter-terrorism operations, and every innocent casualty is a tragedy. Yet the media, in their apparent quest to promote a “blame Israel first” narrative, have failed to uphold their professional obligation to scrutinize the facts.

Indeed, the Palestinian account of the events in Teqoa contains notable discrepancies, which cast serious doubt on the accusations against the Jewish state.

According to Israeli army spokesman Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, a “senior officer” visited the Suleiman home after boys from Teqoa were seen throwing stones toward cars driving on a highway near a neighboring Jewish community. Video footage posted to TikTok by pro-Palestinian accounts shows a young boy alleged to be Rayan Suleiman hurling objects with a slingshot in what is described as a “confrontation with the enemy.”

One of the stone-throwers was spotted on the house’s balcony, and the IDF officer reportedly arrived to urge Yaser Suleiman to make his children stop throwing rocks. Hecht said the official spoke in a “very calm manner” before going on his way.

“There was no violence, no entry into the house,” he told local media, while stating that Jerusalem ordered an ongoing probe into the matter. A security source cited by TPS added that there is “no connection” between the military operation in Tekoa and Rayan’s death, crucially noting that the boy passed away after the army had already left.

Nevertheless, in a September 30 piece titled “Palestinians mourn boy who died ‘of fear’ of Israeli troops,” the Associated Press (AP) echoed claims by Yaser Suleiman that his son “died of fear on the spot” when soldiers “burst into the home”:

Rayan Suleiman, with bright eyes and a backpack emblazoned with an animated race car, was walking home from school on Thursday when his family says he and his brothers were chased by Israeli soldiers. After the boys bolted home, the troops banged furiously on the door and threatened to arrest the children, their parents say. Just moments later, Rayan, the youngest of the three brothers, was dead.

The Reuters wire service likewise parrotted the family’s narrative that the 7-year-old, who they said did not have any preexisting health conditions, “died of heart failure while being chased by Israeli soldiers.”

However, Suleiman’s testimony can hardly be given credence, and would likely not hold up in any court of law. Just hours after the incident, Arab journalists quoted Yaser Suleiman as saying that Rayan did not die of a sudden cardiac arrest, but was rather “martyred” following a fall from the balcony of the house.

In their initial comments, the Beit Jala Hospital — as well as the Palestinian Authority-controlled Ministry of Health — also mentioned a “fall,” although they later changed their story to match the family’s new claim. For their part, schools in the West Bank on Saturday circulated a poster produced by the PA Ministry of Education that listed the boy’s cause of death as “falling from a height.”

This inconsistency was almost entirely erased from the mainstream media coverage.

Rayan Suleiman’s sudden death is obviously a tragedy for his family. But as Ramallah has yet to release the official autopsy report, it is impossible for news organizations, or anyone else for that matter, to state with certainty how he died. The prevailing media narrative, however, is seemingly based on mere conjecture.

With anti-Israel activists jumping on every opportunity to promote blood libels against the Jewish state, journalists have an obligation to check the facts.

The author is a contributor to HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias — where a version of this article first appeared.

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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