The Battle for Accuracy in the Media is Engaged: The IDF Weighs in on Casualty Figures

It may be four weeks later, but we now have some important information from the Israeli army on civilian casualty figures during Operation Cast Lead. They weigh in with a highly detailed report.

See Yaakov Katz: World duped by Hamas’s false civilian death toll figures
David Horovitz: Analysis: Counted out: Belatedly, the IDF enters the life-and-death numbers game
The Elder of Zion: The UNRWA school story was a lie

Basing its work on the official Palestinian death toll of 1,338, Levi said the CLA had now identified more than 1,200 of the Palestinian fatalities. Its 200-page report lists their names, their official Palestinian Authority identity numbers, the circumstances in which they were killed and, where appropriate, the terrorist group with which they were affiliated.

The CLA said 580 of these 1,200 had been conclusively “incriminated” as members of Hamas and other terrorist groups.

Another 300 of the 1,200 – women, children aged 15 and younger and men over the age of 65 – had been categorized as noncombatants, the CLA said.

In other words, in terms of identifiable dead according to this report, two-thirds were valid targets of the assault, one-third collateral damage. This is the opposite of the impression given by the claims of the PCHR:

While the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, whose death toll figures have been widely cited, reports that 895 Gaza civilians were killed in the fighting, amounting to more than two-thirds of all fatalities, the IDF figures shown to the Post on Sunday put the civilian death toll at no higher than a third of the total.

The implications here are enormous, particularly given the vast expressions of hatred of Jews and Israelis that the MSM coverage of this conflict — what Shmuel Trigano called a “media progrom” — provoked around the world, much of it based on imagining and believing the damage caused to civilians was “absolute carnage.”

If, indeed, both in the specific figures now presented — two-thirds military death rate, rather than the two-thirds civilian mortality rate as reported by both Palestinian “human rights groups” and journalists — then the situation changes dramatically.

Actually, given how often the media told us that Gaza was the most densely-concentrated population in the world, and that an aerial attack could not help but cause great collateral damage to the civilians, we would expect a very high rate of civilian casualties. Perhaps one of the reasons that the Palestinian figures strike so many as reliable, is that they are actually fairly conservative in terms of collateral damage in aerial attacks on areas densey populated with civilians.

If we compare them with WW II (Dresden, Tokyo) or even Vietnam, these casualty figures are astoundingly low for civilian casualties, which run in the 80-99% range. Even if we compare them with NATO in Belgrade or the US in Mosul, the lowest figures for such activity on record outside of Israel, then the Israeli army outperforms virtually every military on record in the world for its ability to minimize civilian casualties.

(It’s not clear whether the rough comparison the study makes with American figures in Iraq is a sop to American sensibilities, or a fair equivalence. My impression is that acceptable US collateral damage rates, certainly in target killings, is considerably higher than Israel’s.)

When we add to that, the well-known practice of Hamas to hold civilians captive in areas of conflict in order to increase the number of their fatalities, one might consider the Israeli achievement in Gaza — how to minimize civilian casualties while attacking an insufferably vicious enemy who hides in their midst while attacking you — one of the most extraordinary in the relatively recent history of international humanitarianism under conditions of war.

The report presents a revealing difficulty in establishing figures (all statistics are sketches of reality, no more):

Counted among the women, however, were female terrorists, including at least two women who tried to blow themselves up next to forces from the Givati and Paratroopers’ Brigades. Also classed as noncombatants were the wives and children of Nizar Rayyan, a Hamas military commander who refused to allow his family to leave his home even after he was warned by Israel that it would be bombed.

Now there’s a category to identify: Palestinian civilian casualties directly caused by Palestinian initiatives. It could include everything from this case and others of holding civilians hostage, to actual murdering of Palestinians by other Palestinians.

It is, alas, a safe bet to predict that this is a form of warfare that the rest of the world will be seeing a great deal more of in the coming years and decades, all along the bleeding borders of Islam. In that context, it’s probably safe to say that the Israeli achievement will hold up remarkably well in comparison even with military operations in the 2010s and 20s.

So again, I ask the epistemological questions: “Why should the outside observer attribute more credibility to the figures provided by the Israeli army?” Why credit these figures? When will the report be released? Or will it?

How much epistemological priority do we accord, for example, to this revision of the casualty figures from the now notoriously-misreported UN School massacre from 43, most civilians, to 12, three civilians?

As an example of such distortion, he cited the incident near a UN school in Jabalya on January 6, in which initial Palestinian reports falsely claimed IDF shells had hit the school and killed 40 or more people, many of them civilians.

In fact, he said, 12 Palestinians were killed in the incident – nine Hamas operatives and three noncombatants. Furthermore, as had since been acknowledged by the UN, the IDF was returning fire after coming under attack, and its shells did not hit the school compound.

“From the beginning, Hamas claimed that 42 people were killed, but we could see from our surveillance that only a few stretchers were brought in to evacuate people,” said Levi, adding that the CLA contacted the PA Health Ministry and asked for the names of the dead. “We were told that Hamas was hiding the number of dead.”

What are the criterion of reliability we accord the findings of this report, and of others? What direct and indirect indices help us appraise the evidence?

Finally, notes Aussie Dave,

I don’t think Israel have handled this particularly well at all. For a start, why is this being revealed to the Jerusalem Post only? The profile of the average Jerusalem Post reader is someone who already doubted the palestinian version of events. Why hasn’t Israel called a press conference for this, inviting the world’s media? Why aren’t Israeli representatives going on CNN, Fox and the like to present the findings?

Secondly, why didn’t Israel announce beforehand that it is in the process of investigating the palestinian death toll, and initial indications reveal that the figures have been distorted? As usual, I fear much of the damage has been done, and these findings come too late. Israel needs to learn to strike while the iron is hot.

Similar sentiments from David Horovitz.

25 Responses to The Battle for Accuracy in the Media is Engaged: The IDF Weighs in on Casualty Figures

  1. Eliyahu says:

    What Aussie Dave says is a reminder that much of the problem is with our own Nahman Shais and his many clones. Shai has publicly claimed that “nothing can be done.” This is a dangerous view for a spokesman to hold.

    Of course, it is highly hypocritical for Americans or British to criticize or condemn Israel for killing civilians in combat, given the records of those two powers in their various wars over the last century, including recent combat in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan. The “Left” in those countries is hypocritical too since they make much more fuss over what Israel is alleged to do than about their own countries’ killing of non-combatants as “collateral damage.”

    As to journalists, let’s not forget that Lorenzo Cremonesi frankly reported on Hamas efforts to provoke the killing of their own non-combatants. Kudos to Cremonesi.

  2. Aviv says:

    RL, might want to correct the first sentence – 4 months have yet to pass since “Cast Lead”.

    Re: Exclusive to Jpost – Wouldn’t be surprised if the other outlets weren’t interested.

  3. E.G. says:

    “What the psychological studies highlight, however, is the potential paradox in trying to fight bad information with good information.

    Schwarz’s study was published this year [2007] in the journal Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, but the roots of the research go back decades. As early as 1945, psychologists Floyd Allport and Milton Lepkin found that the more often people heard false wartime rumors, the more likely they were to believe them.

    The research is painting a broad new understanding of how the mind works. Contrary to the conventional notion that people absorb information in a deliberate manner, the studies show that the brain uses subconscious “rules of thumb” that can bias it into thinking that false information is true. Clever manipulators can take advantage of this tendency.”

    excerpt from the WaPo article linked here:
    http://www.mindhacks.com/blog/2007/09/infowar_strike_earl.html

  4. Cynic says:

    I don’t think Israel have handled this particularly well at all. For a start, why is this being revealed to the Jerusalem Post only?

    Are you sure that nobody else was approached? Did the Jpost define it as an exclusive report?

    Why hasn’t Israel called a press conference for this, inviting the world’s media? Why aren’t Israeli representatives going on CNN, Fox and the like to present the findings?</em.

    Because it does not interest CNN and ilk. Don’t forget Mr Erlanger of the NYT rejected an invitation to visit the scene and write about Israeli humanitarian efforts in Lebanon in 2006 because he was not Interested in that story!

  5. Richard Landes says:

    E.G., this is terribly important in terms of the impact of the al Durah blood libel. because it was widely accepted, it predisposed people to believe anything about israeli soldiers deliberately killing innocent civilians. can you give refs on these articles?
    r

  6. Great post. but I’m going to have to disagree with the idea that much of the recent Jew hating was based on imagining and believing the damage caused to civilians was “absolute carnage.” The hatred is always there already in a latent form, this was just high time to display it.

  7. Lorenz Gude says:

    I agree the research EG refers to is terribly important. It certainly explains my surprise when I hear people express ‘informed opinions’ whether it be Israel’s slaughter of Palestinian civilians in Gaza or America’s loss of the Iraq war. I’ve learned that I can dig out a much fuller story by carefully reading the Internet. I say carefully, because it takes discrimination. If you just look for confirmation of belief you can get into as big a fool’s paradise as thinking the NY Times is – ahem – fair and balanced. During most of my youth as an aspiring member of the Eastern Intellectual Establishment I dutifully read the NY Times every day and found it an unbiased and transparent mediator of the important realites of the day. I think of it like The Matrix. So it is always good to read some really good material from people with divergent views. For example, I find Real Clear Politics a useful site to pick a few pieces from MSM stalwarts right and left to read each day. Heck, I even found a Krugman a few weeks back I agreed with.

  8. Henrik says:

    It has to be said about the UNRWA school incident, that part of the reason the palarab count reached above 40 was, that they included 12 dead from the Deeb family, whose home was hit some 40-50 meters away from the carnage at the school. Among them, the Deeb family accounts for pretty much all the women and children the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights said died “at the school”. The IDF numbers do not seem to include the Deeb family.

    According to what I have found in the media, the IDF admits to firing 3 grenades at the militants by the school, journalists confirm three grenades hit the militants by the school.

    This leaves the question of what exactly it was that hit the Deeb family. The militants are variously listed as firing mortars or firing Qassams. Palarab witnesses say there were marks from five explosions. This offers the possibility that we are looking at 3 IDF grenades hitting Hamasniks, who are then killed by a mix of the grenades and secondary explosions (the two aditional explosions), and that a Qassam they were preparing to launch misfired, hitting the Deeb family home.

    All conjecture, but conjecture providing an explanation for accounts that otherwise point in a million different directions.

  9. Solomonia says:

    New Detailed Report: ‘World duped by Hamas death count’…

    A Palestinian "Medic". So what else is new? Four weeks after the cessation of Operation Cast Lead, the IDF finally opened its dossier on Palestinian fatalities on Sunday for the first time, and presented to The Jerusalem Post an……

  10. oao says:

    Shai has publicly claimed that “nothing can be done.” This is a dangerous view for a spokesman to hold.

    actually is it not, it is reality. as I reiterated so many times and caroline glick has confirmed in her last column there is NOTHING israel can do to change the trend. no facts and no “you’re hypocritical” will make any difference. because the problem is not anything israel does, but what the world wants to believe and do about the jews, which is due to their own cowardiceand decadence, and not anything that israel does or dos not do.

    the west is in free fall on any measure or dimension you choose, it knows it and it’s desperate to mollify who they believe will be their new overlords. pushing available, but inconvenient facts down their throat will not achieve anything, just the opposite.

  11. E.G. says:

    What exactly would one expect from the release of IDF casualty figures regarding a “battle for accuracy in the media”?

    Some short agency items or a paragraphe in an article with the typical “according to Israeli military… the officer further alleges…” and the inevitable balancing “however, Palestinian Human Rights org., as well as NGO’s and Un authorities asserted…” ?

    And what is a non pro-Israel media consumer likely to retain from this?

    -The number of casualties? Even when they were below 1000 (per Hamas/UN) people were already crying “thousands slaughtered!”
    People get “anchored” on an initial number and eventually adjust their recollection, whatever the data and even across domains. So once the idea of massacre is seeded, it’s hard to uproot it. Who recalls how many died in Srebrenica? Why would John Smith differentiate between Srebrenica and Gaza?

    -The civil/combattant proportion? Is it even relevant? In many a (Western) person’s mind any killing is to be condemned. And even if s/he accepts the idea that it’s a “kill or get killed” situation, harming innocent civilians (or just destroying their home) is too much. Especially too much for the Jewish army (see: double standards).
    Asymmetric warfare is not a clear concept for most people.

    There’s also the credibility issue: lots of people believe that Israel is propagandising, covering up “war crimes” and manipulating media. Stupid PR is impossible even to think of, given that “those people” are so well-known to be exceptionally intelligent and well connected with media…

    In line with the research cited above, I’d use this casualty information within a context that I’d define, rather than fight a “numbers battle”.

  12. oao says:

    during the 30’s the world was indifferent towards the jews and america was the white knight who rode in.

    now the world hates the jews and america is “alibama and the 40 thieves”, which is what it has become. it’s more eager to deal with iran and syria than with own element on the right. who will ride in, huh?

  13. oao says:

    and here’s the israeli elite:

    http://www.jihadwatch.org/archives/024875.php

    as stupid and in denial as EU, US and the rest.

  14. oao says:

    what justification does he have to be the head of the anglican church?

    http://www.jihadwatch.org/archives/024873.php

    but he is right that the UK is lost.

  15. Eliyahu says:

    oao, I don’t have the quote from Caroline Glick handy. However, I think that she was referring to was political concessions and withdrawals from territory. I don’t think that she meant that a strong, intelligent hasbara campaign could not help. Further, it is necessary to expose the NGOs as well as the media. We know that many Americans already are highly suspicious of the media, and rightly so. We need to play into that suspicion, among other things. A lot of fundamental truths need to be stated, such as relatively recent invention of the “palestinian people” notion, the real history of Muslim relations with non-Muslims –Jews in particular– throughout history, Arab and Palestinian Arab collaboration with the Nazis, and many other issues. Of course, a lot of people will be angry that you disrupt their fantasy beliefs. But you have to keep it up anyhow. The Washington crowd gets very disturbed by contradictory messages coming out of Israel [messages that contradict their messages]. That tells us that that is exactly what has to be done.

    You also have to know that the policy of refusing to fight on the hasbara front was a policy instituted by Shimon Peres when he was foreign minister in the 1980s. He deliberately shut down the Israel Information Service [exact name?], a part of the foreign ministry. Peres was quoted as saying that if you have a correct policy, then you don’t need hasbara. Of course, this is very stupid. Peres probably understood this, but his priority was probably reinforcing Labor Party hegemony or domination of Israel and hemming in the Likud. So our hasbara disaster was man-made, that is, homemade. And the chief culprit was Peres, so it seems.

    Shai is probably a hack who got to where he is through Peres’ patronage or that of somebody else in the Labor Party. One of the reasons for Israel’s political defeat in the Lebanon war of 1982 was that it was undermined by Labor and its allies in the Israeli media, etc. Yes, I know that Peres is now Qadimah and that he actually stood up to Erdogan fairly credibly at Davos. That doesn’t change the history. Furthermore, the recent Gaza war was conducted by Barak of Labor and by Qadimah.

  16. E.G. says:

    Eliyahu,

    If my memory is corect, there have been a few more FM’s in the past 20 years, as well as 2 Intifadas and 2 wars. So the “explanation” unit had plenty of opportunities to resurrect. Not that I’m a fan of Peres, but he can’t be held sole responsible.

  17. E.G. says:

    Meanwhile, the propaganda machine is turning.
    http://www.opendemocracy.net/article/the-four-lessons-of-Gaza

    reminder: Al Quds U. discriminates against Jewish Israelis. Won’t admit any.

  18. oao says:

    I don’t think that she meant that a strong, intelligent hasbara campaign could not help.

    if so, she was foreign minister. what has she done at all in this domain? in fact, what has she done to this point, period? she is an utter nephel, her biggest achievement is 1701. now, that’s hasbara for you.

    We know that many Americans already are highly suspicious of the media, and rightly so.

    not enough. and if they are, they believe it’s in the control of the neocons and jews.

    it’s the young generation that counts now, and they’ve not only elected alibama, but they did it without any reason or logic, out of ignorance, stupidity and cockomammy emotions (he’s the One, the mesiah). forget about america, it’s lost too. it’s gullible, bankrupt and scared to death.

    You also have to know that the policy of refusing to fight on the hasbara front was a policy instituted by Shimon Peres when he was foreign minister in the 1980s.

    peres is an idiot. i think that israel was always doubtful of hasbara. in part that’s due to culture: israelis don’t believe in bs and implicitly understand that it’s not gonna do them much good.

    Yes, I know that Peres is now Qadimah and that he actually stood up to Erdogan fairly credibly at Davos.

    there is NO difference between the major parties, they all are lead by the same failed/corrupted leadership. netanyahu? pls give me a break. he talks a good english, but is as incompetent as the rest of them. wat did he do about leaving ghaza? didn’t he just go into the stupidity of “let’s develop the west bank economically and we’ll have peace?”. idiots and failures all. not one iota of spine in them.

    stood up to erdogan? nah. why didn’t he ask him about what they did to armenians and kurds? and why did he rush to call and apologize when it was he who was insulted? the typical diaspora jew: always bending over backwards in the hope he’ll be accepted.

  19. Eliyahu says:

    oao, the first quote from me in your preceding post refers to Caroline Glick. You somehow think that I was referring to Little Miss Birdbrain, Tsipora, the white hope of the Stop Bibi fools. Tsipi is irremediably dumb. But she takes advice, it seems, from certain male oldtimers who are failures themselves.

    I think that it is not only important to do hasbarah, to explain Israel’s case most effectively, but to understand the anti-Israel psywar and propaganda and to find out who devised it and pays to spread it, and what channels are used to spread it, etc.

  20. Eliyahu says:

    that is, the anti-Israel psywar and propaganda has to be understood in its themes, claims, insinuations, innuendoes, subtleties and so on. In other words, what is it trying to say, to convey? What is the underlying argument? How do these themes carry over from earlier versions or forms of Judeophobia?

    What RL and Luc Rosenzweig and the others who worked on the al-Durah case have managed to do is to expose a very central instance of the psywar campaign and to demonstrate not only its falsehood but its nature as a blood libel in the tradition of other blood libels. Recall that the Beilis Case in Russia [Kiev circa 1911] focussed on the alleged murder by Mendel Beilis of a boy of about Little Muhammad’s age. We can go back to Hugh of Lincoln in this vein. Maybe RL can bring some enlightenment from the Middle Ages to our benighted age by drawing a comparison with the Hugh of Lincoln case.

    It is also proper at this point, since RL has gone back to bill moyers, to understand that he is a professional psywarrior. He will say whatever he thinks that he can get away with. Everything that he says is chosen to make a psywar impression.

  21. E.G. says:

    Without Israel there would never have been a “Palestinian” people or problem.

    Their creator is their rival, and they’ve not yet solved their Oedipus complex. They’re still trynig to kill their genitor and have the Mother land to themselves only.

    The infantile behaviour and infantilizing presentation of behaviour (weak-strong, chronic dependence, authoritarian-submitted relationship, incapacity to assume responsibility etc.) indicate that the decades-old “people” either has not yet grown out of the childish Oedipal mental state, or is playing the disturbed (aka traumatised), beaten child scenario… maybe both?

    Perhaps this is also linked to the obsession of child-murder. Recall that the Catholic Church only recently admitted its “family relationship” to Judaism. But (clever Pope!) it’s defined as fraternal, not parental.

  22. oao says:

    Without Israel there would never have been a “Palestinian” people or problem.

    bingo.

    the decades-old “people” either has not yet grown out of the childish Oedipal mental state, or is playing the disturbed (aka traumatised), beaten child scenario… maybe both?

    they are arabs. they were always arabs. they will always be arabs. and they live on jiziya.

    Perhaps this is also linked to the obsession of child-murder. Recall that the Catholic Church only recently admitted its “family relationship” to Judaism. But (clever Pope!) it’s defined as fraternal, not parental.

    i suggest the pope reads “THE MYTHMAKER”. i recommend it to anybody interested in the relationship between christianity and judaism.

    the former is a religion hijacked by paul. has nothing to do with jesus himself.

  23. […] but, when you do the math, they support the Israeli claims that only 12 people died near the Jabalya school. For the full post with links, go to the original posting. PCHR lies about “civilians” […]

  24. […] have been disputes over the number of civilian casualties during Operation Cast Lead (that had been launched to counter Hamas rockets being fired in Israeli […]

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