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Op-Ed: Lessons from the Gaza War, IV:Body Counts as Propaganda

Each day, journalists report an ever-higher number of Gazans who have been killed, bewailing the lack of proportionality.
Published: Thursday, July 17, 2014 7:06 AM


This is the fourth in a series. To view previous articles, click herehere and here.

News media coverage of the Gaza war increasingly is focusing on the body count.

It's an easy way to make Israel look bad. And it tends to obscure who is the real aggressor in this conflict, and who is the real victim.

Each day, journalists report an ever-higher number of Gazans who have been killed, comparing it to the number of Israeli fatalities, which is still, thank G-d, close to zero, although even one Israeli fatality is a whole world. This kind of simplistic reporting creates a sympathetic portrayal of the Palestinians, who are shown to be genuinely suffering, while the Israeli public just seems a little scared.

But there are important reasons that there are so many more Palestinian Arab casualties than Israeli casualties.

The first is that the Israeli government has built bomb shelters for its citizens, so they have places to hide when the Palestinian Arabs fire missiles at them.  By contrast, the Hamas regime in Gaza refuses to build shelters for the general population, and prefers to spend its money buying and making more missiles.

It's not merely that Hamas has no regard for the lives of its own citizens. But even worse: Hamas deliberately places its civilians in the line of fire, in the expectation that Palestinian civilian casualties will generate international sympathy. 

On July 10, the Hamas Ministry of the Interior issued an official instruction to the public to remain in their apartments, and "and not heed these message from Israel" that their apartment buildings are about to be bombed. 

A New York Times report on July 11 described in sympathetic detail how seven Gazans were killed, and many others wounded, in an Israeli strike despite multiple advance warnings by Israel to vacate the premises. In the 18th paragraph of the 21-paragraph feature, the Times noted, in passing: "A member of the family said earlier that neighbors had come to 'form a human shield.' "

Isn't that outrageous? Israel voluntarily gives up the advantage of surprise in order to warn Gazan civilians and save their lives. Hamas responds by trying to ensure that Palestinian Arab civilians get killed. And the international community chastises Israel for the Palestinian fatalities!

Another reason there are so many more Palestinian casualties is that Hamas deliberately places its missile-launchers and arms depots in and around civilian neighborhoods. Hamas hopes that Israel will be reluctant to strike such targets because of the possibility of hitting civilians. Hezbollah does the same thing in southern Lebanon. This is by now an old Arab terrorist tactic, going back more than three decades.

"One must understand how our enemy operates," Prime Minister Netanyahu pointed out at the most recent cabinet meeting.

"Who hides in mosques? Hamas 

"Who puts arsenals under hospitals? Hamas.

"Who puts command centers in residences or near kindergartens? Hamas.

"Hamas is using the residents of Gaza as human shields and it is bringing disaster to the civilians of Gaza; therefore, for any attack on Gaza civilians, which we regret, Hamas and its partners bear sole responsibility."

The final reason the Palestinian casualty toll is higher than that of Israel is that Israel has a superior army, and it's winning this war. Those who win wars almost always have fewer casualties than those who are defeated.

In Israel’s case, that's a good thing. Israel need not feel guilty or defensive about winning. It's a lot better than losing, as the Jewish people have learned from centuries of bitter experience as helpless victims.

Anyone with knowledge of history can appreciate how misleading casualty statistics can be. In World War II, the United States suffered about 360,000 military deaths. The Germans lost 3.2-million soldiers and 3.6-million civilians. Does that mean America was the aggressor, and Germany the victim?  Japan estimates that it suffered 1 million military deaths and 2 million civilian deaths. Does that mean America attacked Japan, and not vice versa?

The fourth lesson from the Gaza war: The body count is a form of Arab propaganda, which actually conceals who is the aggressor, and who is the victim.

Moshe Phillips and Benyamin Korn are members of the board of the Religious Zionists of America.