Critics’ central complaint revolved around Don Melvin’s lack of sources for the story, which was based entirely on an anonymous “local activist” speaking to the official Palestinian News Agency, more commonly known in the region as Wafa.
The anonymous author of the influential pro-Israel Elder of Ziyon blog wrote: “Really? CNN has sunk so low as to parrot Wafa’s lies without doing a modicum of fact checking?”
Another user, a self-declared activist among Jewish settlers in the West Bank, asked on Twitter: “have u [sic] any idea how long/how many people to chop down 800 trees? u really trust source claiming so? do u know of what u write?”
The CNN article also quoted Israeli rights group B’Tselem through the Palestinian Authority’s news agency as saying Israeli soldiers often are not deployed in advance to protect Palestinians from settler violence and that often restrictions are imposed on Palestinians themselves.
As for the Israeli response to such claims, Melvin wrote: “CNN is working to get Israeli comment on the assertion.”
On Monday, responding to the backlash against his story, Melvin wrote on Twitter that: “Twitter trolls accuse me, the father of two beautiful Jewish girls, of favoring genocide of Jews. Then accuse me of inaccuracy.”
“Write about the Israel-Palestinian issue and people on opposing sides will each accuse you of bias in the opposite direction,” he tweeted.
The original Wafa story claimed a group of Israeli settlers (their settlement or settlements were not named) had chopped down and seized about 800 olive trees belonging to Palestinians from a village near Hebron called Shuyukh.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated that at least 10,000 olive trees belonging to Palestinians were either uprooted or destroyed in 2013 by Israeli settlers.
In the past, Palestinians have been accused of destroying their own crops and framing local settlers for the crime.