After more than a month of strife in Israel and Gaza, two major news organizations are posing serious questions about the widely repeated Palestinian casualty figures disseminated by Hamas officials in Gaza.
The BBC on Thursday published an article alerting readers, “Caution needed with Gaza casualty figures.”
“Among civilians, more than three times as many men were killed as women, while three times as many civilian men were killed as fighters,” the BBC observed, adding, “If the Israeli attacks have been ‘indiscriminate,’ as the U.N. Human Rights Council says, it is hard to work out why they have killed so many more civilian men than women.”
In other words, the high number of men killed seemingly supports Israel's assertion that it is targeting terrorists, not civilians.
Similarly, a New York Times examination of the casualty figures published Tuesday appears to provide similar support:
The Times analysis, looking at 1,431 names, shows that the population most likely to be militants, men ages 20 to 29, is also the most overrepresented in the death toll: They are 9 percent of Gaza’s 1.7 million residents, but 34 percent of those killed whose ages were provided. At the same time, women and children under 15, the least likely to be legitimate targets, were the most underrepresented, making up 71 percent of the population and 33 percent of the known-age casualties.
The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, an Israeli research organization, examined the first 150 names on the Hamas-run ministry’s list of Palestinian deaths and militant websites and found that many were known members of Palestinian terrorist groups.
Of the 150 names, the center “identified 66 names of Palestinians killed as terrorist operatives. … In addition, we identified six terrorist operatives killed during the period that the [Hamas] Health Ministry’s list refers to. Four of them do not appear on the list and two others appeared on later lists. Another terrorist operative turned out to be injured and not killed. Hence the total number of terrorist operatives is 71.”
The Israeli research group found photos of more than half of the dead militants.
The deficiencies in the Hamas-provided list “are not accidental but are part of Hamas’s policy of concealment and deception.”
“Hamas’s policy is designed to create an image of a large number of civilians who were killed, to strengthen the image that Israel is carrying out a ‘massacre’ of civilians and to create an ostensibly factual infrastructure for a political, propaganda and legal campaign against Israel during Operation Protective Edge and on the day after,” the Israeli group concluded.
The Israellycool blog last month pointed out other anomaly: It said dozens of names had been listed twice on the Palestinian casualty list frequently quoted by the media. Separately, of the 592 names that blogger Elder of Ziyon counted, 42 were listed more than once.
“[T]wo people are listed as being killed three times! And by sheer coincidence — they are both children!” the blogger observed. “This means 7 percent of the names being solemnly offered to the world media are double or triple counted.”
When India’s NDTV caught Hamas militants using the cover of a hotel where foreign media were staying to launch their rockets at Israel, it reported that they were carrying out their attacks dressed as civilians — a tactic that could contribute to skewing the death count.
“When militants are brought to hospitals, they are brought in civilian clothing, obscuring terrorist affiliations," Israel Defense Forces spokesman Capt. Eytan Buchman told the BBC News. "Hamas also has given local residents directives to obscure militant identities."
Not all Gaza deaths have been the result of Israeli airstrikes during the conflict: in some instances, Hamas rockets have reportedly actually missed or fallen short of their targets and struck Palestinians in Gaza. The most widely reported case was July 28, when the IDF reported that Hamas-fired rockets fell on the outpatient clinic at Shifa Hospital and the Shati refugee camp, killing 10, including nine children.
But there have been other Gaza deaths that seem to make little sense in the scope of the conflict. Jerusalem Post Arab affairs correspondent Khaled Abu Toameh reported Friday that Hamas had accused a former senior official, Ayman Taha, of spying for Egypt, executed him — and then blamed Israel. Hamas claimed in a statement that Taha was “martyred” in an Israeli airstrike on his apartment building.
“Hamas had no explanation, of course, as to why the man had been hit in the head and chest by bullets that were apparently fired from close range,” Toameh noted in a post on the website Gatestone Institute.
Taha is just one in a group of Palestinians executed in recent weeks on suspicion of spying, but Hamas has not admitted to carrying out the killings.
“Instead, Hamas will add the people it has murdered to the list of ‘casualties of Israeli aggression,’” Toameh wrote. “The international media, for its part, will simply endorse the Hamas story because it is more convenient to blame Israel than to get into trouble with a radical Islamist movement that carries out extra-judicial executions.”