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The Gaza War & Hamas

Shortly after writing the previous blog entry (How Many Civilian Casualties in Gaza?) a link to the website of B’tselem arrived from a friend. This devotes many articles to the damage and casualties in Gaza. Possibly, the sender meant them as an antidote to my article. Instead, it reminded me of a story I heard many years ago.

This was not long after the BBC’s monopoly of British television was broken by ITV. One of the innovations of ITV was the introduction of wrestling into sports programs. Much of this was the sham, entertainment-type of wrestling – far too vulgar for the BBC.

One day, as the wrestling was being shown; earth was visited by beings from space – almost certainly Martians. While circling the earth, their receivers somehow picked up the wrestling transmissions.

Unfortunately, these suffered a serious malfunction – and only one of the wrestlers was visible. The Martians watched as the lone wrestler repeatedly smashed his head against the corner post, screamed in agony, twisted his arms behind his back, contorted his face in pain, bounced off the ropes, rose into the air and crashed to the floor in an unconscious heap.

Disturbed by this alarming display, the Martians could see no rational explanation and concluded that the earthlings were mad. Curiosity satisfied, they reversed direction and headed back into space never to return.

B’tselem and Palestinian Civilian Casualties in the Gaza War

On 11 August 2014, the B’tselem website contained 15 ‘front page’ articles about the current war in Gaza. Surprisingly, only a single brief article and a small part of a second were about Hamas. Even more surprisingly, the sole article devoted to problems experienced by Israelis living near the Gaza border contained the amazing suggestion that the main problem was the noise of the fighting!

Of the remaining articles, with the exception of an item about a legal dispute with the A-G of Israel, all focused on presentations of the damaged buildings and civilian casualties of the current conflict. Claiming to have its own resources for counting Palestinians casualties, B’tselem’s figures were scarcely any different to figures claimed by Hamas or organizations dominated by Hamas.

The problem is that these figures are impossible. Further, B’tselem surely knows this. This means that there is a basic dishonesty at work.

Lies by Omission

There are many reasons for believing this. For example, the Hamas Interior Ministry directed its spokesmen to report that ALL casualties are civilian (see www.memri.org). With B’tselem’s claimed sources in Gaza as well as the usual internet access, is it possible to believe that it is unaware of this deliberate deception by Hamas?

Secondly, a large number of Hamas rockets failed to reach Israel and instead fell on Gaza. At the time of writing the previous article for this blog (How Many Civilian Casualties in Gaza?), the IDF put the number at over 100. Since then the number of such incidents has grown. For example, on just one day, 31 July, over 140 rockets were fired at Israel of which 50 fell short and hit Gaza.

Without a system of air raid shelters and security rooms in houses and apartments in Gaza, such as found throughout Israel, extensive damage and casualties from such an ‘assault’ is inevitable. Yet, despite having its own sources of information in Gaza, B’tselem has failed to investigate these incidents or produce casualty figures and pictures of damage.

Thirdly, B’tselem will surely know that Al-Jazeera has compiled a list from Hamas sources of what it says are civilians killed. This shows that male deaths were over 80% of the total. Even more indicative, those men between the ages of 18 and 38 were over 65% of the total. In short, deaths among men of fighting age are disproportionately high. Yet this too is unmentioned by B’tselem.

Fourthly, the policy of Hamas to use civilians as human shields is well documented in film, speeches by Hamas officials and leaflets exhorting the population of Gaza. Further, this practice specifically banned in the laws of war, such as the Geneva Convention and its Protocols (e.g. Protocol 1, article 51 paragraphs 3 & 7).
At a minimum, according to paragraph 7, this means that by taking part in hostilities civilians lose their legal protection, and therefore they cannot be legitimately classified in this way. Yet this too is ignored by B’tselem.

Fifthly, like Hamas, B’tselem do not clarify if their figures include those Gazans executed by Hamas for allegedly collaborating with Israel.

Concealing the Truth

As far as I can trace, B’tselem ignores all these issues.

To put this another way, for an organization with 25-years of experience, with its own network of connections and the usual media and online sources, there is a lot that B’tselem fails to see. However, unlike the Martians, who for technical reasons could only see part of the picture, B’tselem has no such handicap.

Unfortunately, B’tselem is not alone in this inability to see or assess the difficulties of accepting data from an openly dishonest source. For example, its website hosts a press release by 10 Human Rights Organizations, (including B’tselem). The press release includes claims about the number of civilians killed in Gaza according to what it says are UN estimates. Presumably, quoting the UN is meant to lend credibility to the figures. However, on examining the source quoted this respectability evaporates.

The source given is a report by OCHA – the UN Office for Coordinating of Humanitarian Affairs. With its sub-title of ‘Occupied Palestinian Territories’ for its work in Gaza, OCHA has issued several editions of a “Gaza Emergency Situation Report”. According to OCHA, these have been produced “in collaboration with humanitarian partners”.

With all the reliance placed on this source by the press release of the 10 Human Rights Organizations, it is disturbing to see how vaguely OCHA describes its data source:

”Data on fatalities and destruction of property is consolidated by the Protection and Shelter Clusters based on preliminary information, and is subject to change based on further verification.”
(e.g. Report of 24 July, note 1)

The Clusters consist of humanitarian groups, both UN and non-UN, working in Gaza. Unfortunately, OCHA Reports provide no further information about them or the standards to which they operate. Nor does OCHA offer any information regarding the source or sources of the “preliminary information” from which the Protection and Shelter Clusters derives data. Nor is any idea given of who or how this unspecified and unsourced data is “consolidated” or verified.

By contrast, OCHA is clear and open regarding its data-source for injuries to civilians in Gaza. According to these Reports, (e.g. 24 July, note 2) its source is none other than the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza. In other words, the source is Hamas.

Manipulation

In one sense, the precise number of civilian casualties is not the critical issue. This is true in the sense that all civilian casualties are too many.

On the other hand, Israel’s critics have scarcely been able to bring themselves to acknowledge the extensive measures taken by the IDF to limit civilian casualties. Unfortunately, and probably inevitably, these measures are not fool-proof. But Israel’s critics have been entirely unable to identify an army that takes comparable precautions.

In fact, Israel’s critics have shown little interest in this. This is because they are mainly interested in maximizing the number of civilian deaths and have few scruples about their methods of doing this. In other words, for them the number of civilian deaths does matter in order to present Israel in as bad a light as possible.

But B’tselem is supposedly experienced, informed and reliable. Therefore, it is impossible to believe that they are ignorant of the deliberate falsification of numbers by Hamas as part of its political need to magnify civilian losses. Likewise, it is scarcely possible that B’tselem is unaware of the additional difficulties listed above in assessing the number of civilian casualties.

Therefore, this inevitably raises the question of why B’tselem does not speak out on these matters? At a minimum, it would be expected that it would make strenuous efforts to disassociate itself from the avalanche of misleading and hostile views of Israel presented by the mainstream international media.

In reality, by its silence B’tselem indicates only that it is happy to join with those in the international media who are equally happy to promote the misrepresentations of Hamas propaganda. Its silence on these issues is an effective form of collaboration with that deception in order to maximize the political and diplomatic damage to Israel.

If this were not the aim, it would be simple for B’tselem to distinguish and disassociate itself from those organizations that bombard the world with propaganda hostile to Israel.

This measure would also gain the organization credibility in Israel and make it more effective. It would convince many Israelis that B’tselem was really on their side and not simply another one-sided anti-Israel advocacy group.

Unfortunately, this approach would probably not be well received among many of B’tselem’s overseas supporters and financers.

Click here for part 2.

Jon Dyson

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