Making Sport of the War in Gaza

Any civilian casualty during war is a tragedy. Nevertheless, innocents have suffered in every military conflict. Thousands, sometimes millions of civilians were killed in the Gulf Wars, World War II and the war on terror. The only conflict, however, where the media counts casualties like sport is the one involving Israel and its neighbors.

This is the case again after Israel was compelled to take military action against Hamas to protect its civilian population from a barrage of rockets threatening most of Israel’s eight million Jews, Arabs, Muslims and Christians. Every day stories highlight how many Palestinians were killed in Israeli raids and ignore the cost to Israel beyond the number of dead as well as the fact that indiscriminate rocket attacks on civilians are a violation of human rights and constitute a war crime.

The “score” comes from Palestinian sources and is rarely, if ever, independently verified. Past history has shown that these statistics are often fabricated; however, they become accepted as facts by media repetition. In Operation Cast Lead, for example, the media parroted Palestinian claims that most of the fatalities were civilians and dismissed Israeli data, which turned out to be far more accurate. In 2010, Hamas Interior Minister Fathi Hammad admitted the group lost more than 600 men during the war, consistent with the Israeli figure of 709, and a majority of the casualties. Hammad also admitted that Hamas used civilians as human shields.

The most disturbing aspect of this body count journalism is that it provokes some consumers to crave Israeli casualties in the name of “proportionality.” Israel’s war on terror is treated as if it were a one-sided football match where the more powerful team is vilified if it runs up the score rather than allow the other team a fair chance. War is no game, and Israelis should not be expected to die for the sake of making the journalists’ scoreboard more even. The aim of Operation Protective Edge is to prevent Israeli casualties.

Radical Palestinians are  prepared to sacrifice their own people for the good of the cause because it makes Israel look like it is running up the score. Hamas, Fatah and the rest have learned that if they can portray Israel as employing “disproportionate” force, the international community will pressure Israel to cease its operations before the the terror threat is neutralized.

The Palestinians have become the masters of media manipulation. Often they simply resort to fabrication to score points. A BBC investigation, for example, found that the hashtag #GazaUnderAttack has been used to distribute pictures of the effects of Israeli airstrikes on Gaza. A BBC investigation  found, however, that many of these images are not from the current fighting or even from Gaza. Some date as far back as 2009 and others are from conflicts in Syria and Iraq.

Scoreboard journalism also misses the point of the rocket attacks, which is not just to kill Israelis, but to make life intolerable for them. Moreover, the scoreboard does not reflect other casualties, such as the 28 percent of adults and 75 percent of children in the town of Sderot, the principal target of Palestinian terror attacks, who were found to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. And this was in 2008; more than 3,000 rockets have been fired into Israel since then.

Israelis will not cooperate with the world’s apparent desire for “balanced casualties.” Israel has built a powerful army and spent millions of dollars on bomb shelters and anti-rocket defense systems like Iron Dome to protect its citizens and it intends to use them.

Israelis want to stop the terror attacks; they do not want to harm innocent Palestinians. Israelis lament Arab casualties while many Palestinians celebrate attacks on Israel as if they won the World Cup.

Colonel Richard Kemp, former Commander British Forces in Afghanistan, said in 2009 of Operation Cast Lead, “The IDF did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.” Those same measures, which include calls and flyers warning civilians to evacuate the field of battle, and operations aborted when civilians are in the vicinity, are being used again in Operation Protective Edge.

No innocent Palestinians would be in any danger if Mahmoud Abbas prevented terrorism, as promised in the Oslo agreements and the Road Map. They would also be in less danger if Hamas terrorists did not deliberately hide among Gaza’s civilians and use them as shields. Hamas’ disregard for their fellow Palestinians was displayed when Israel urged residents living in the northern Gaza Strip to evacuate the area and Hamas told them to stay in their homes and ignore Israeli warnings of an impending military operation.

The Israeli government showed great restraint when only a handful of rockets were fired, but as the barrages increased, and created an unbearable threat to life and property, Israel had no choice but to defend itself. No country would tolerate such ongoing threats to its civilian population and, like the United States and other countries, Israelis want the casualty “scoreboard” to be one-sided, with as few victims on their side as possible.

Mitchell G. Bard is the author of 23 books including After Anatevka: Tevya in Palestine, The Arab Lobby and the forthcoming Death to the Infidels.

About the Author
Dr Mitchell Bard is the Executive Director of the nonprofit American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise (AICE) and a foreign policy analyst who lectures frequently on U.S.-Middle East policy. Dr. Bard is the director of the Jewish Virtual Library, the world's most comprehensive online encyclopedia of Jewish history and culture. He is also the author/editor of 24 books, including The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews and the novel After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.