Don’t trust the AP’s report on civilian deaths in Gaza

The APTN Building in London. Photo: Benjamin Holler.

The APTN Building in London. Photo: Benjamin Holler.

Algemeiner (Feb 15) — AP and other major media outlets (including the New York Times and Reuters) simply parroted the Hamas claim that most of the war dead were civilians. Sometimes they attributed it to the UN, which received its figures from Hamas. Why did this matter? Because every time a major media outlet reported that “a majority” or “a vast majority” or the “overwhelming number” of casualties were civilians, it reverberated around the globe like a missile—fueling anti-Israel and general anti-Semitic sentiment (and violence against Jews in Europe and elsewhere).

… 2. Last month, the highly-regarded Meir Amit Intelligence and Information Center released its latest report on the subject of civilian casualties. Their experts are taking the time to go through the deaths, one by one, and their final tally won’t be available for months—if not years. Indeed, after Operation Cast Lead [2008-9], as I’d reported, “nearly two years passed before a Palestinian minister inadvertently let slip that the IDF figures then were correct,” according to Eado Hecht, an independent defense analyst who has taught military theory and history at the IDF Command and General Staff College. (Hecht currently works with the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, one of Israel’s leading think tanks.)

However, in the Meir Amit center’s January report, they announced that 1,600 of the 2,140 Gazans who were killed have been identified as such: 55% are combatants, and 45% non-combatants. For the other 540 people, they do not yet know which category to put them in. The center also says that Hamas is obfuscating the actual lists and affiliations, partly because of objective technical difficulties (poor paperwork and a lack of access to some of the bodies), and partly deliberately as part of its propaganda campaign against Israel.

The article in AP is focused on “a particular subset of the fatalities—those killed while inside houses ostensibly targeted by the Israelis,” defense analyst Hecht told me on Friday. “I write ‘ostensibly’ targeted by Israelis because something in the order of 2,600(+) Palestinian rockets and mortar bombs were fired deliberately (most of them) or by mistake into Palestinian residential areas. The deliberate fire being against Israeli soldiers in that area—but without warning local civilians to move out. So of the 247 houses struck, how many were clearly struck by Israel and how many by Palestinian fire.”

… 3. AP then credits “preliminary” UN figures that at least 66% of the total dead were civilians. Really? And where did the UN get that number? We know the answer [from Hamas]. And why didn’t AP do their readers a service by at least including the 45% figure from the Meir Amit center that contradicts the UN/Hamas?

… 5. One other thing I noted in my article last summer (which I’m delighted that more than 114,000 people felt worthy of viewing—thus supporting this kind of media criticism): A groundbreaking study ignored by my colleagues came out in June of 2014, a month before the Israel-Hamas war started. A prominent group of American public health experts found that civilian casualties constituted 85% to 90% of the 248 armed conflicts in the world since the end of World War II. While even one civilian casualty in Gaza is a tragedy, given the complexities and civilian-shielding in Gaza, what the IDF has accomplished there will be a model for future warfare. Might not AP consider such statistics when they write articles such as Friday’s? Given the rise in anti-Semitism around the world just since the summer’s war, such stats might give some historical context that might even lessen the Jew-hatred—or at least not expand it.

6. I’ll close with more from my communication today with defense expert Hecht. “UN figures are not really UN figures,” he says, which I also reported back in August. “They are Hamas-controlled figures passed on to the UN.”

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