NY Times still can't get it right on Gaza fatalities in Operation Cast Lead

In its May 3 edition, the New York Times revisits  fatalities in Operation Cast Lead, Israel's counter-offensive against Hamas at the end of 2008 ("Israel Military Closes Inquiry into Deaths of Gaza Civilians" by Isabel Kershner, page A11).

Writing about an IDF probe of collateral fatalities. which found that Israeli troops didn't deliberately attack civilians, Kershner reports that "up to 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed" during the three-week war.

There are at least two problems with Kershner's formulation of Palestinian fatalities.

First, Israel - after exhaustive earlier investigations - put the number of Palestinians fatalities at 1,166.  Kershner provides no attribution or evidence for her inflated total.

Second, by lumping together terrorist and civilian fatalities, Kershner leaves readers with an erroneous impression that Israel killed more than 1,000 civilians.  Not so.  An IDF breakdown shows this definitely wasn't the case -  a preponderant majority of 709 were identified as Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives, i.e. terrorists; 162 were men between the ages of 16 and 45, whose connection to Hamas was uncertain, and only 295 definitely were civilians.

Nor does Kershner mention earlier IDF findings about the deaths of 21 members of a Gaza clan - the subject of her May 3 article.

Had she done so, Times readers would have been informed that the earlier probe of the same incident found that the IDF ordered civilians into a house to keep them out of harm's way, but that some of the family members began leaving the house, which IDF troops interpreted that they might rejoin the fight and only then fired in their direction.

In fact, Kershner's overall piece is notable for its omission of the extent to which Hamas and other terrorist groups burrowed deep into civilian neighborhoods and even commanded Red Crescent ambulances to transport supplies and terrorists. Hospitals also were used for military purposes.   The main contributor to civilian fatalities was not the IDF, but Hamas and Islamic Jihad who recklessly used civilians as human shields.

There are a couple of other points about Operation Cast Lead that Kershner does get right, first, when she reports that the Israeli counter-offensive was meant to end years of relentless Gaza rocket attacks on communities in southern Israel.  And second, when  she acknowledges that an initial UN report by South African jurist Richard Goldstone pointing to possible Israeli war crimes was recanted by Goldstone, who concluded that Israel did not deliberately kill Palestinian civilians.

But the article's misleading count of Palestinian fatalities, Kershner's failure to mention important evidence about the circumstances of the 20-plus deaths of a Palestinian family, and lack of critical context about terrorist tactics, including widespread use of human shields, are another example of the Times and Kershner loading the dice against Israel.

Because of what is really mind-boggling about Kershner's article is that it follows a long line of such pieces that put the IDF under a microscope, while the UN and the Times remain mostly blind and silent about the still ongoing rocket attacks on Israeli civilians by Gaza-based terrorist groups.  In the wider context, it's the likes of Hamas that are the aggressors while Israel merely exercises its right of self-defense under international law.  But don't expect the Times to rebalance its coverage anytime soon.

In its May 3 edition, the New York Times revisits  fatalities in Operation Cast Lead, Israel's counter-offensive against Hamas at the end of 2008 ("Israel Military Closes Inquiry into Deaths of Gaza Civilians" by Isabel Kershner, page A11).

Writing about an IDF probe of collateral fatalities. which found that Israeli troops didn't deliberately attack civilians, Kershner reports that "up to 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed" during the three-week war.

There are at least two problems with Kershner's formulation of Palestinian fatalities.

First, Israel - after exhaustive earlier investigations - put the number of Palestinians fatalities at 1,166.  Kershner provides no attribution or evidence for her inflated total.

Second, by lumping together terrorist and civilian fatalities, Kershner leaves readers with an erroneous impression that Israel killed more than 1,000 civilians.  Not so.  An IDF breakdown shows this definitely wasn't the case -  a preponderant majority of 709 were identified as Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives, i.e. terrorists; 162 were men between the ages of 16 and 45, whose connection to Hamas was uncertain, and only 295 definitely were civilians.

Nor does Kershner mention earlier IDF findings about the deaths of 21 members of a Gaza clan - the subject of her May 3 article.

Had she done so, Times readers would have been informed that the earlier probe of the same incident found that the IDF ordered civilians into a house to keep them out of harm's way, but that some of the family members began leaving the house, which IDF troops interpreted that they might rejoin the fight and only then fired in their direction.

In fact, Kershner's overall piece is notable for its omission of the extent to which Hamas and other terrorist groups burrowed deep into civilian neighborhoods and even commanded Red Crescent ambulances to transport supplies and terrorists. Hospitals also were used for military purposes.   The main contributor to civilian fatalities was not the IDF, but Hamas and Islamic Jihad who recklessly used civilians as human shields.

There are a couple of other points about Operation Cast Lead that Kershner does get right, first, when she reports that the Israeli counter-offensive was meant to end years of relentless Gaza rocket attacks on communities in southern Israel.  And second, when  she acknowledges that an initial UN report by South African jurist Richard Goldstone pointing to possible Israeli war crimes was recanted by Goldstone, who concluded that Israel did not deliberately kill Palestinian civilians.

But the article's misleading count of Palestinian fatalities, Kershner's failure to mention important evidence about the circumstances of the 20-plus deaths of a Palestinian family, and lack of critical context about terrorist tactics, including widespread use of human shields, are another example of the Times and Kershner loading the dice against Israel.

Because of what is really mind-boggling about Kershner's article is that it follows a long line of such pieces that put the IDF under a microscope, while the UN and the Times remain mostly blind and silent about the still ongoing rocket attacks on Israeli civilians by Gaza-based terrorist groups.  In the wider context, it's the likes of Hamas that are the aggressors while Israel merely exercises its right of self-defense under international law.  But don't expect the Times to rebalance its coverage anytime soon.

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