Counting Casualties in Gaza
The death toll continues to rise in the Gaza Strip, for both Palestinians and Israelis. But media outlets have been relying on figures from the Gaza Health Ministry, which has a vested interest in making sure the death toll reflects poorly on Israelis. Raphael Ahren wrote for The Times of Israel recently that “the number of casualties, and the percentage of civilians among the dead, comes exclusively from Palestinian sources.” Israeli sources will likely not publish their numbers until much later.
In addition, according to Ahren, the United Nations has been using this same Gaza Health Ministry figures within its own reports, lending them greater credibility. The liberal ThinkProgress, a project of the Center for American Progress, challenges Ahren by saying that the United Nations only partially relies on the Gaza Health Ministry, which was historically run by Hamas. But it still gets some of its numbers from there. How much?
News organizations such as The Washington Post and CNN have been reporting on the Palestinian death toll in a causal vacuum. What should be reported is that the deaths are the responsibility of Hamas, which is committing the double war crime of targeting civilians with their missiles, and using their women and children as human shields. In addition, there are credible reports of Hamas killing members of Fatah, the supposedly moderate partner in the recently formed “unity government” for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.
A couple of Washington Post articles point to the complexity of the issue. The first of two July 21st articles covered the terrorist activities within the tunnels proceeding from Gaza into Israeli soil, and the second discussed the rising Palestinian death toll. It was a choose-your-own-adventure: pick whichever side of the Palestinian-Israeli debate you’re on and proceed.
One might think that the first Post story of the two could have at least informed the second, given their close proximity. According to Washington Post writer Terrence McCoy, “…a Palestinian militia document obtained by Al-Monitor said the objective of the underground network was ‘to surprise the enemy and strike it a deadly blow that doesn’t allow a chance for survival or escape or allow him a chance to confront and defend itself.’”
The latter article focuses on the death toll of average Palestinians, which now stands at more than 500. Little mention was made of terror tactics by the Palestinians. It is as if McCoy’s story doesn’t exist.
“The number of Palestinians seeking refuge with the United Nations also rose overnight, growing to at least 85,000 people now living in 67 shelters, mostly at schools, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency said Monday,” reported the Post. “The United Nations also said a preliminary review in Gaza found that more than 72 percent of those killed were civilians, not militants, and include large numbers of women and children. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian affairs said the high numbers of children and noncombatants raises ‘concern about respect for the principle of distinction and proportionality under international humanitarian law.’” Who is aiding the UN in compiling these figures—Palestinian officials, or objective observers? We now know the answer—it’s both, and since it’s “preliminary” and from the Gaza ministry source, these figures are suspect.
A citizen blogger went through Al Jazeera’s list of names of the deceased, and found that approximately 82 percent were male, and a plurality were in their 20s. And that is not atypical. Consider Bret Stephens of The Wall Street Journal, who wrote that “at the height of the so-called  al-Aqsa Intifada” 2.8% of those killed were female. “To be female is a fairly reliable indicator of being a noncombatant,” wrote Stephens in 2008. “… If Israel had been guilty of indiscriminate violence against Palestinians, the ratio of male-to-female fatalities would not have been 35-1.”
Steven Stotsky of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), who went to the same Al Jazeera website, captured the demographics of those killed between July 7 and July 14. “Media coverage often parrots the line fed by Gazan authorities that ‘most of the casualties are civilians’ despite the well-established propensity of Gazan authorities to exaggerate the proportion of civilian casualties,” he writes.
“Sami Abu Zohri, a Hamas spokesman, called the Israeli offensive in Shijaiyah ‘a massacre’ and ‘a war crime,’” reported the Post. This is reminiscent of the so-called Jenin massacre of 2002, which even the UN acknowledged was a fabrication, and a history of other exaggerated claims by Palestinians that serve their short term interest of gaining public sympathy while Israel is condemned.
Even Secretary of State John Kerry sees through this type of propaganda, while most of the media apparently can’t. Asked by Candy Crowley on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday whether the U.S. is “comfortable” with “Israeli actions thus far,” Secretary Kerry said, “The fact is that Hamas uses civilians as shields, and they fire from a home, and draw the fire into the home, precisely to elicit the kind of question you just asked.”
Facts like these should make it into the Post’s and other news outlets’ reporting.
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