Time Runs Out on Counting Casualties in Gaza
August 4, 2014
Last week I received an email from Time magazine, asking if I “would be interested in contributing a piece for Time.com on the casualty numbers being reported in Gaza. These come mostly from Hamas, and we’re interested in a piece on how reliable/unreliable the numbers are,” the email said. But the magazine apparently wasn’t interested in the product they requested.
I immediately responded that I would be willing to provide them with a piece, and, at their request, suggested what I would plan to say. They wrote back the following: “I think we need a piece that focuses on the reported casualties and how we can/should unpack those numbers as reliable or not. What source or sources should we be going to, and how should the casualty count be done? I don't think we need to address Israel being treated as the aggressor since I think many will be familiar with that perspective and its counter.” When I submitted a full piece targeted more toward what they suggested, they decided to pass. It wasn’t “quite what we’re looking for so will have to pass.”
The media have been playing games with the coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and most of it favors the residents of Gaza. After the UN school in Gaza was hit last week, and said to have killed 15 or 16 people, Time ran a story, which, as stated in the postscript at the end of the article, was a corrected version. By Time magazine’s admission, the earlier version of the story “drew a premature conclusion that the attack on the Gaza shelter was committed by Israel. The source of the attack has not yet been confirmed.”
NBC news also cited “Israeli shells” for the attack and spoke with “health ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra.” Israel acknowledged that a single Israeli Defense Force (IDF) shell hit the school courtyard, but said it was at a time when there was no one there, and that it had nothing to do with the deaths of those 16 people.
It’s not surprising, then, that The New York Times on July 28 counted the “mounting outrage over the hundreds of civilian Palestinians dead” as among several levers in the leverage that Hamas has in cease-fire negotiations. This hints at something all too true: every dead or crying Palestinian woman and child serves as propaganda on behalf of the militant Hamas terrorist cause.
The New York Times also describes Hamas, which was designated a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department in 1997, as a “militant Palestinian faction that dominates the Gaza Strip” in this piece. The article front-loads the pro-Hamas sources as it makes its analysis, but the “former Israeli chief of military intelligence” is given the last word. “This is their ideology, this is what they believe in; it’s the resistance,” says Amos Yadlin. “To ask Hamas to demilitarize Gaza is like asking a priest to convert to Judaism.”
How many people really read the Times’ articles to the last sentence, especially in a 1,300-word piece?
But the Times does hint at one important issue: for all the talk about aid to those in the Gaza Strip, would international aid produce the intended effect at this point? “Politically isolated after breaks with Syria, Iran and especially Egypt, and its effort at reconciling with the Palestinian factions that rule the West Bank having failed to bear fruit, Hamas has all but given up on governing Gaza to focus on the battlefield,” writes the Times. Resistance is now a make-or-break issue.
The mainstream media’s reporting on the whole has been despicable. Although Israel agreed to five cease-fires, every one of them was broken by Hamas—which, since the Palestinians are now supposedly a “unity government,” is the same as the Palestinian government. For those who think that Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah in the West Bank represent the moderates, they should pay attention when he declares the current conflict a religious “War for Allah.” In fact, Abbas is no moderate at all, as former Israeli diplomat Yoram Ettinger has detailed. Earlier this year Abbas said there is “no way” that he will accept Israel as a Jewish state.
Unfortunately, Time magazine, like most of the media, is determined to blame Israel in this conflict. Thus, they weren’t interested in an article that even partially discussed Israel being unfairly treated as the aggressor.
With all of their images of hospitalized and injured children, and adults, how often do the reporters connect the dots and say, “This is happening because Hamas is using women and children as human shields, and doing what it can to create more such casualties, since that is what they understand works to bring pressure on Israel. Hamas clearly does not care about the lives of its own people.” That should be the obvious conclusion to these so-called journalists, but instead, the focus of most of the reporting is to characterize Israel as the aggressor, the real terrorists, responsible for all of these casualties. Besides, the numbers of civilian deaths coming from Hamas, or the Gaza Health Ministry, are largely propaganda. How many of the casualties are caused by missiles fired from Gaza that didn’t make it into Israel? How many are because they were used as human shields? How many were killed because they were viewed as collaborators with Israel? I discuss more about the issue in the article below that was apparently too hot for Time magazine to touch.
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 its “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.