Jewish-owned olive trees in Samaria uprooted by Arabs - CNN nowhere in sight
Jewish-owned olive trees in Samaria uprooted by Arabs - CNN nowhere in sightShomron Residents' Council

CNN has faced an online backlash after issuing a report claiming that "settlers" had uprooted 800 Palestinian-owned olive trees near Hevron - based purely on unverified allegations by PA-based outlets with questionable records on fact-checking themselves.

CNN London-based "digital newsdesk editor" Don Melvin wrote the piece, entitled: "Israeli settlers reportedly chop down 800 Palestinian olive trees" on Sunday.

The report which follows is a truly bizarre patchwork of unverified claims:

The official Palestianian (sic) news agency is reporting that Israeli settlers have chopped down and seized about 800 Palestinian-owned olive trees near the town of Shuyukh, east of Hebron.

The report, by WAFA, the Palestine News & Information Agency, cited "a local source," whom it did not identify. Israel has yet to comment on the report.

The source, described by WAFA as "a local activist," told the agency that residents of the Israeli settlements of Bani Kadim and Asfar broke into an olive orchard near the town and chopped down the trees, which belonged to people who lived in the area.

PA-based outlets regularly report such alleged instances of Jewish "settlers" uprooting astonishingly large quantities of olive trees within an impossibly short period of time. One such report earlier this year by Bethlehem-based Maan News Agency - which claimed that 5,000 trees had been uprooted in one night near Shiloh in Samaria - nearly ended up provoking a major incident between armed US Consulate guards and an Israeli security team from the village of Adei Ad.

Interestingly, the outlandish figure of 5,000 was later revised to 500 - but no evidence was provided and locals (including this reporter) were unable to identify any trace of such an incident of any scale.

But aside from the lack of fact-checking dubious sources, and the absence of any pictorial evidence or documentation of such an extensive alleged attack, several online responses pointed to the unlikelihood of an incident of such a mammoth scale taking place at all (let alone undocumented) - including the pro-Israel Elder of Ziyon blog:

What does “chopped down and seized” mean? 400 chopped down and 400 seized? Or did they chop down 800 olive trees and then put them onto a convoy of trucks to cart them away?

It takes a long time to chop down a mature olive tree. New saplings, which are often planted by Palestinians in order to steal public land, are relatively easy to uproot, but this says “chopped down and seized.”

No photos. No videos. No named sources. No corroboration. WAFA reports a story that matches none of the normal standards of journalism- and CNN parrots it under the guise of only reporting what anti-Israel Arab media is saying.

But there was more - with a healthy dose of "said" and "reported" to cover his bases - Melvin's appetite for unverified hearsay apparently not satiated:

Israel forces said not to protect Palestinians from violence

The news agency quoted the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem as saying that Israeli security forces do not always deploy in advance to protect Palestinians from settler violence, even when such violence can be anticipated.

    "In some cases, rather than restricting violent settlers, Israeli security forces impose restrictions on the Palestinians," the news report quoted the human rights group as saying.

    There are over 500,000 Israeli settlers living in settlements across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Many international leaders say the settlements hinder the chances of achieving a stable peace with two states, one Palestinian and the other Israeli, living side by side.

    Incident at Aqsa Mosque also reported

    Also Sunday, more than 175 right-wing Jewish extremists entered the Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem, escorted by Israel police and security personnel, according to sources inside the mosque. The sources cannot be named for security reasons

    Indeed, hundreds of Jewish visitors did legally tour the Temple Mount on Jerusalem Day - abiding by strict draconian laws forbidding non-Muslims to pray there - but why they are characterized quite so menacingly is a mystery.

    As media Watchdog Honest Reporting asked:

    So where’s the “incident” that CNN refers to? On the basis that Jews as well as tourists are allowed to visit the Temple Mount compound at set hours, is this really an “incident?” And who are these unnamed “sources inside the mosque?”

    175 people is a far larger group than would normally be allowed on to the Temple Mount and there are no other media reports in the foreign or Israeli press to suggest anything unusual took place on the Temple Mount on Sunday. Has it occurred to CNN’s reporter that the Palestinians consider any Jew who visits the Temple Mount to be an “extremist?” Was it a group of 175 people or was that merely the total number of visitors to enter the compound on Sunday?

    For all the unverified claims by Palestinian or far-left sources, the best Melvin could offer in the way of "the other side" was to state that "CNN is working to get Israeli comment on the assertion" - and apparently still working on it two days later.

    Melvin has yet to respond to an offer by Arutz Sheva to provide him with regular updates on Arab attacks - on Jewish civilians, property and agriculture - in Judea and Samaria, which frequently go unreported in CNN.