Last week, Khulood Badawi, a U.N. relief worker in Jerusalem, tweeted a photograph of an injured Palestinian girl, saying "Palestine is bleeding. Another child killed by Israel. Another father carrying a child into a grave in Gaza."
The photograph, it turned out, was more than six years old -- captured by a Reuters photographer, and depicting a child who had been injured in a swing accident.
"She was not killed by Israeli forces," Ron Prosor, Israel's U.N. ambassador, wrote in a letter to the U.N. emergency coordinator, Valerie Amos, in which he demanded the woman be fired "Although Ms. Badawi's portrayal of this photo was clearly a blatant falsehood, her post became the top tweet for anything related to Gaza on Twitter."
The U.N.'s chief spokesman, Martin Nesirky, today confirmed that the tweet was not true, adding that "it is regrettable that an OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] staff member had posted information on her personal Twitter profile which was both false and which reflected on issues that are related to her work."
"The opinions expressed in her Twitter profile in no way reflect the views of OCHA, nor were they sanctions by OCHA," Nesirky said. "OCHA strives to ensure its neutrality and impartiality in all aspects of its work and it is important that the private actions of our staff do not undermine these principles in countries in which we work."
The controversy comes as Israel is engaged in a series of violent exchanges with the Palestinians, with Palestinian militants firing more than 100 rockets at Israeli civilians, wounding several civilians. Israel has retaliated with a series of air strikes that have killed 25 Palestinians, according to the Associated Press.
Badawi, an Israeli citizen and long time Palestinian activist before she was hired by the United Nations, did not respond to a request for comment left on her Twitter account, which she stopped using on the day her employers learned about the erroneous tweet.
But her Twitter feed links to a story by another woman, Diana Alzeer, who claimed she posted the photo on her own site, mistakenly thinking that the photograph was recent. Alzeer ran a correction after learning that the photo was old. Badawi subsequently deleted the entry on her Twitter feed.
Israel's U.N. ambassador has cited the erroneous tweet as cause for Badawi's dismissal, saying that she "not only failed to remain impartial; she actively engaged in the demonization of Israel."
But Israel apparently got questioned by some of its Twitter followers for posting an old photograph to illustrate the current violence. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's spokesman, Ofir Gendelman, posted a photograph showing "an Israeli woman lying on the ground with her two children, their hands over their heads, their faces squashed into the pavement," according to the Associated Press.
Gendelman wrote that the picture captures the moment "when a rocket fired by terrorists from Gaza is about to hit their home." The photo, AP reported, was from 2009. "I never stated that the photo was current," Gendelman told followers who pointed out that the photograph was old. It illustrates the fear that people in southern Israel live in."
U.N. officials, meanwhile, would not say whether Badawi would keep her job.
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Ed.: this post has been modified to correct an error. Badawi is an Israeli citizen, posted by OCHA in Jerusalem, not Gaza.