Last week, I published an essay about Gazan casualties (“Gaza: the myth of civilian casualties”, Tuvia Brodie blog, August 6, 2014). The essay I wrote referred to reports that had begun to appear on The Times of Israel, the Canada Free Press and the website for the Gatestone Institute. At that time, the New York Times and the BBC had also begun to wonder if Gazan civilian casualty numbers were not accurate.
Here’s an update. It comes from an essay written by David Bernstein in the Washington Post (“Volokh Conspiracy scoops the Times on phony Gaza casualty stats UPDATE: The BBC catches on, too”, August 7, 2014).
This update begins with the reminder from Bernstein that he had already accused reporters of ‘journalistic malpractice’ as early as July 26, 2014, several days before anyone else had begun to question the accuracy of those casualty figures. Specifically, he had accused reporters of accepting as gospel all casualty figures that came from what he called the totalitarian-Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry.
Bernstein may now be concerned about the United Nations, not just reporters. He begins this new look at the Gazan casualty numbers by highlighting statements made by The New York Times and the BBC. He begins with comments made by the Times: “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 [but just] 33 percent of the casualties [whose ages were listed].”
Then Bernstein added what might be his most important observation: The Times article stated that news reports “generally rely on the United Nations’ estimate of civilians killed”.
Here, embedded in Bernstein’s update, is the real concern—the UN. Yes, foreign reporters are responsible for much of the world’s condemnation of Israel. But that condemnation doesn’t grow out of the numbers published by Hamas. The condemnation results from the UN’s validation of Hamas’s numbers.
The problem is, as Bernstein has already pointed out, the UN is not an independent arbiter. It relies exclusively on the Gazan Ministry of Health for its numbers. That Ministry is controlled by Hamas.
The UN claims it is careful. For example, Matthias Behnke, a United Nations official, says that UN numbers come from cross-referencing research by several human rights groups” (The Times, ibid).
That sounds good. But the UN doesn’t say how many human rights groups it uses to collect numbers. The UN doesn’t disclose which human rights groups it uses. The UN won’t reveal what data-collection methods those human rights groups used. In truth, Bernstein says, UN officials in Gaza are utterly dependent on Hamas for their well-being and security, and tend in any event to be hostile to Israel, which limits their objectivity.
The UN, in other words, has been less than careful about the accuracy of the numbers it gets from Gaza. It has certainly been less than candid about those numbers.