Twisting Casualty Counts in 50-day Gaza War
With a ceasefire under way between Israel and Hamas, both sides are summing up casualty counts. Israel has issued preliminary figures that point to a fairly even split of Palestinian fatalities – about 1,000 combatants/terrorists and some 1,100 noncombatants for an overall total of some 2,100 dead Palestinians. Israeli officials also note that the Palestinian civilian collateral count, while remarkably low in the history of warfare, would have even been less if Hamas hadn’t embedded its rocket launchers amidst civilian neighborhoods in Gaza.
Western media, however, have a quite different twist in their reporting of Palestinian and Israeli fatalities, which is -- surprise, surprise -- more in sync with Palestinian fatality breakdowns. The emphasis here is on civilian casualties, with hardly any indication of how many Palestinian combatants/terrorists were killed. The New York Times and the Washington Post both use such spin in their dispatches.
Here is how William Booth and Ruth Eglash of the Washington Post sum up the Palestinian fatality count: “UN agencies report that 2,104 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza hostilities, including 495 children and 253 women. Sixty-nine Israelis were killed – 64 soldiers and five civilians. A guest worker from Thailand also was killed in Israel.” (“Israel, Gaza share final 4 deaths in conflict” front page, Aug. 28}
Note that while the Post provides breakdowns for children and women, there is no fatality breakdown for Palestinian combatants. Their numbers are carefully hidden. Also, the 495 total for dead Palestinian children happens to be grossly misleading. Booth and Eglash fail to tell readers that the UN count for “children” includes anyone under 18. Which means that, under terrorist training by Hamas, Gazans in their teens and even sub-teens already have graduated as combatants and hardly fit the common notion of “children.”
Also, while the Israeli total of killed soldiers appears in the Post’s coverage, the Palestinian total of killed combatants is left out.
The New York Times also plays this game of hiding Palestinian fatalities.
Here is how Times correspondent Isabel Kershner deals with fatality counts: “Gaza suffered most of the casualties, with more than 2,100 Palestinians killed in Israeli strikes, while 64 Israeli soldiers and six civilians died.” (“In Israel’s South, Families Worry About the Future of Settlements Near Gaza” Aug. 28, page A10)
Note the total disappearance of dead Palestinian combatants/terrorists. Instead, there is the stark contrast between Israeli and Palestinian fatality numbers. Which feeds into public perceptions of disproportionality -- an erroneous perception because Israel did more than any other nation in wartime to issue advance warnings of airstrikes in an extra effort to minimize civilian casualties. Even as Hamas welcomed Palestinian civilian casualties in a morbid twist to make Israel look bad.
Thus are statistics used -- or rather misused -- to favor one side over the other. As the old saying goes, there are lies, damned lies and statistics.
Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers