CNN’s “Sabbath Massacre” propaganda

To: Walter Isaacson, Chairman and CEO
Rick Davis, VP Standards and Practices (
Mike Hanna and Jerrold Kessel, Jerusalem Bureau

Cc. Wolf Blitzer, Matthew Chance

18 November 2002

Dear CNN,

For three days now, even after members of the Israeli and international press have thoroughly debunked the notion that Jewish “worshippers” were attacked in Hebron, CNN has continually published accounts asserting that:

“Palestinian militants ambushed a group of Israeli Jews on their way home from prayer services… The Israeli Jews were returning from a religious service to mark the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a site holy to both Jews and Muslims.”
“Palestinian gunmen opened fire on Israeli Jews returning from a Friday service at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a site holy to Jews and Muslims, according to the Israel Defense Forces.”

It is not only CNN’s website that is propagating this narrative. During live coverage on 15 November, the following exchange was noted:

WOLF BLITZER: “As we told you at the top of the hour, a Jewish Sabbath celebration turned deadly in the West Bank today. Israeli authorities say at least 12 people were killed in Hebron when Palestinian militants opened fire on a group of Jews on their way to prayer services. CNN’s Matthew Chance is covering the story. He’s joining me now live from Jerusalem — Matthew.”

MATTHEW CHANCE: “Thanks, Wolf, and those are indeed the latest casualty figures that we have from the Israeli security forces saying that 12 people have been killed as a result of that Palestinian gun attack on the group of Jewish worshippers leaving, we’re told, the Tomb of the Patriarchs in central Hebron. They were set upon as they moved to the southern outskirts of the city, ambushed by those Palestinian gunmen.”

Amos Harel writing in Ha’aretz on November 17th, stated:
“The Foreign Ministry’s successful “spin” on the Islamic Jihad attack in Hebron on Friday night in which 12 Israelis were killed, matched by statements made by official spokespeople such as Minister Danny Naveh and director of the prime minister’s office Dov Weissglas, lasted only a few hours.

What happened in Hebron on Friday night was not a “massacre,” as claimed by the spokespeople, nor was it an attack on “peaceful Jewish worshippers” returning from prayers at the Tomb of the Patriarchs.

The attack actually began several minutes after all of the worshippers had already returned safely to Kiryat Arba. The twelve Israeli casualties in Hebron were not murdered in the same fashion that residents of Kibbutz Metzer were, nor did they die in the same manner in which young settlers were murdered in Hermesh.

Those killed Friday were killed in combat. All of the victims were armed fighters, who were more or less trained. They fell victim to a well-planned ambush that included both machine-gun fire and grenades, which trapped them in a compromising situation they found hard to overcome. There is a vast difference between what happened on Friday night and the horrific massacres carried out by Palestinian terrorists in civilian settlements.”

[“Analysis/The attack in Hebron was not a ‘massacre” (PDF, 74K)]

Other examples include Justin Huggler in the Independent, who wrote:
“This was not a “Sabbath Massacre” of civilians, as the Israeli Foreign Ministry claimed on Friday. None of the dead were worshippers. Most would have returned to Qiryat Arba before the attack took place, which would explain why only soldiers and those helping them were killed.”

(“Militants kill top colonel in Hebron ambush”)

The Israeli government’s motivation for spinning this attack is obvious.

Since the 15th, Prime Minister Sharon has called for the creation of territorial continuity between the Israeli settlement of Kiryat Arba and the enclave where 450 settlers live in the heart of Hebron. The geography of this Palestinian area will require expulsions, land confiscation, and the bulldozing of homes.

This planned war crime (a phrase that clinically describes such violations of the Geneva Convention) requires the oxygen of international outrage in order for Israel to successfully spin this further colonisation of Hebron as “self defence”.

CNN’s role is surely not to be disseminating demagogic propaganda that casts an attack by a Palestinian resistance group against armed and aggressive foreign combatants who are involved in the ongoing and progressive military occupation of their land — an attack they are entitled to carry out under international law — as a massacre of the pious.

CNN needs to immediately address this error.


Nigel Parry and Ali Abunimah
The Electronic Intifada

Related links:

  • Israel falsely claims “massacre” of “worshippers” in Hebron (16 November 2002)
  • NPR’s false reports about Hebron continue (17 November 2002)
  • ADC Cautions Media on Israel’s Deceptions (18 November 2002)
  • Israel spins “massacre” of “worshippers” to grab land in Hebron (19 November 2002)