In April 2002, after Palestinian terrorists caused more than a hundred Israeli deaths in the preceding month alone, Israel launched Operation Defensive Shield. A significant part of this military effort was aimed at the Jenin refugee camp, a known terrorist headquarter.
Within one day of the operation's start, Palestinian spokespeople were saturating the media with reports of a "massacre."
The BBC was especially aggressive in reporting on the massacre, with the numbers of alleged dead increasing exponentially. On the first day, 30 were reported to have been massacred. Within a week, the BBC was publishing an analysis comparing Jenin to "the massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon in 1982, in which at least 800 Palestinians died."
The BBC also gave heavy play to hysterical reports from UN observers, who contended that the situation was "horrific beyond belief". Likewise, the BBC gave lead coverage to the International Committee for the Red Cross (which at that time was still refusing to admit Israel to its ranks), representatives of which contended that Israel was hiding the war dead.
Amnesty International chimed in on the BBC's pages, with an Amnesty expert opining that, because there were bodies found under fallen buildings, there almost certainly was a massacre. And so the "Jenin Massacre" myth was born.
And it was a myth. From the start, the Israeli Army reported far lower casualty rates for the Palestinians. Although the Army initially thought that deaths might have been as high as 200 Jenin residents, within days it was scaling down that number to 70 Jenin residents.
The final toll, in fact, was in the 50s, with almost all of the dead being armed fighters. The IDF itself lost 33 soldiers, a higher death toll than it would normally have incurred had it not placed its soldiers at extra risk in order to minimize the risk of killing the civilians who found themselves in the midst of terrorist hideouts.
The truth -- that there was no massacre -- emerged very quickly. Within weeks of the battle in Jenin, Honest Reporting provided a comprehensive summary of the myth's propagation in the British media, and of the falsity of those same stories. The British media, however, while retreating from its "massacre" language, has never backed down from or apologized for its wildly inflated coverage.
Two years later, in an article about the UN's rebuilding of Jenin, replete with references to the threat Israel continues to pose to a town even the BBC acknowledges is a "Martyrs' Capital", a BBC report neutrally reported that "The battle of Jenin sparked international outcry" and that "Charges of war crimes committed by Israel were made, while Palestinian authorities made unsubstantiated claims of a wide-scale massacre," without ever mentioning its own role in emphasizing the rumors while downplaying any contrary reports. Click on Jenin Massacre to view full entry.