For weeks, we’ve read about and seen the Gaza fighting. Innumerable reports describe particular cases of death and injury as arising from Israeli action and encompassing large numbers or proportions of civilian casualties. Much of this reportage carries the not-so-subtle implication that Israel is on the rampage. Don’t believe it.
It is by no means the case that the casualties we see on our screens stem from Israeli action, nor is it always clear whether casualties are those of armed Hamas terrorists, voluntary human shields, or of genuinely innocent civilians.
As Bret Stephens put it this week in the Wall Street Journal, “When minutely exact statistics are provided in chaotic circumstances, it suggests the statistics are garbage. When a news organization relies—without clarification—on data provided by a bureaucratic organ of a terrorist organization, there’s something wrong there, too.”
Indeed there is. Here are three examples among many that could be chosen which show precisely what is wrong in presuming Israeli guilt.
1. Italian reporter, Gabriele Barbati, disclosed that Israeli was telling the truth and Hamas was lying when he confirmed that the deaths of 10 people at the Al-Shati refugee camp on July 28 was not the result of Israeli fire, as had been widely reported (and, in the case of NBC, never corrected), but of a misfired Hamas missile. But when did Barbati disclose this? –– only when he was out of Gaza, beyond the reach of Hamas retaliation.
2. On 16 July, according to UN officials, “the Israeli military delivered text messages to virtually all the residents of Ash Shuja’iyya and Az Zaitoun neighborhoods in eastern Gaza city, approximately 100,000 people, warning them to leave their homes … ahead of attacks to be launched in the area … the Palestinian Ministry of Interior in Gaza reportedly instructed the residents … not [to] flee the area … the vast majority decided to stay.” In these circumstances, however much care Israel exercised, civilian casualties were ensured by Hamas.
3. On July 8, 7 Gazans were killed, and two dozen wounded in Khan Younis by Israeli strikes — but not because Israel struck recklessly and without taking precautionary steps. Israel had forewarned residents that it would attack a house occupied by terrorists, but civilians nonetheless flooded the house in question. Why? Because, as the Wall Street Journal reported, “family members who survived said they thought if they stayed as human shields, they could stop the attack and dozens of men rushed to the roof.”
Which leads to a larger point.
Journalists in Gaza are not about to antagonize Hamas. That means exercising self-censorship. For example, Hamas maintains a major military headquarters in a basement beneath the Shifa hospital in Gaza City. Yet, we have seen no footage of Hamas occupying the hospital.
We have also seen hardly any footage of Hamas terrorists firing rockets or operating in residential areas of Gaza, though this is occurring all the time. Not one of 37 images from three slideshows published by the New York Times has shown even a single Hamas gunman.
In recent weeks, Hamas has rounded up and summarily murdered some 30 Gazans for collaboration with Israel. No trials, no burden of proof –– and no mercy. Gaza is not Israel. Journalists know well not to challenge Hamas. They cannot report without fear or favor.
When journalists operate in a terror haven under the close scrutiny of pitiless murderers, we cannot simply rely on terrorist-compliant reports of Israeli strikes killing Palestinian civilians.
An army that was truly reckless and on the rampage, disposing of massive firepower, could have killed tens of thousands by now. For example, in the First Chechen War, Russia spent five weeks carpet-bombing and hammering Grozny, killing what the Russian Parliament’s own Commissioner for Human Rights estimated as 27,000 civilians.
According to the Meir Amit Intelligence Center, staffed by seasoned former military and intelligence officers, as of 29 July, 335 terrorist operatives, 347 civilians, and 440 as yet unidentified Palestinians have been killed in Gaza.
Yet, even if one accepts the Hamas-compliant figures of 852 dead Palestinian civilians, it is clear that the thousands of air sorties, artillery strikes and tank shells fired by Israel in the past three weeks have produced only about 3% of the civilian fatalities produced in five weeks by Russia in Grozny.
More than doubling the figures of Gazan civilian fatalities, however, as the Hamas-compliant estimates have done, has a clear political purpose: it enables Hamas to claim that something like 70% of Gazan casualties are civilians, thus helping to paint Israel as a reckless bully, rather than the most careful army in the world.
Absent Hamas’ rocket barrage and terror tunnels, there would be no war. Those who launch assaults, plan mass terror attacks, embed themselves among their own civilians while targeting those of the other side deserve exposure. It is Hamas that is playing fast and loose with lives in Gaza, not Israel.
This op-ed was co-authored with Dr. Daniel Mandel, Director of the ZOA’s Center for Middle East Policy and author of H.V. Evatt & the Creation of Israel (Routledge, London, 2004).