In the ongoing Israeli/Hamas hostilities, a dark and unsavory feature of reportage has clearly emerged — journalists reporting the war from Gaza have often been in no position to tell the true or full story. The evidence that truth has been thus the first casualty is already abundant.
For example, Hamas maintains a major military headquarters in a basement beneath the Shifa hospital in Gaza City. Yet, during this conflict, we saw no footage of Hamas occupying the hospital.
We also saw hardly any footage of Hamas terrorists firing rockets or operating in residential areas of Gaza, though this is occurring literally every day. Not one of 37 images from three slideshows published by The New York Times during July showed even a single Hamas gunman.
Why? Intimidation of journalists. Consider the following cases:
The conclusion is obvious: When journalists operate in a terror haven under the close scrutiny of pitiless murderers, we cannot simply rely on terrorist-compliant reports. All too often, the reports we have seen or heard of Israeli strikes on schools or of killing large numbers of Palestinian civilians have proved to have been fabricated by Hamas.
Thus, on Aug. 3, media reports claimed that Israel had targeted and hit a UN school in Rafah, resulting in 10 deaths. Israel was widely condemned. Yet, only a few publications, such as The Wall Street Journal disclosed that the Israelis had in fact targeted three Islamic Jihad terrorists on a motorbike outside the UN facility, which is where the missile struck, as the Israelis said all along.
In fact, of three UN schools that Israel was reported to have hit in the last two weeks — and for which it received strong international condemnation — the evidence now shows that the civilian deaths in one case was probably the result of a misfired Hamas rocket, a second was hit by Israel fire while Palestinian terrorists were firing from within it and a third was simply never struck directly by Israel at all.
The media also shows a propensity to accept Hamas casualty figures and report them as coming from something seemingly respectable, like “the Palestinian Ministry of Health” or the United Nations. The trouble is that the Palestinian Ministry of Health is part of Hamas, which is not only an internationally recognized terrorist organization but has a vested interest in inflating Palestinian casualty figures. It also turns out that the UN normally has made no precise estimates of its own. It generally repeats the figures Hamas gives it, which are then often reported as being “UN figures.”
One example of Hamas inflating figures: as of July 29, the Meir Amit Intelligence Center, staffed by seasoned former Israeli military and intelligence officers, estimated that Israel had killed 335 terrorist operatives, 347 civilians and 440 as yet unidentified Palestinians. In contrast, Hamas’ claim that 852 civilians had been killed was being regularly reported that day.
More than doubling the figures of Gazan civilian fatalities, has a clear political purpose: it enables Hamas to claim that something like 70 percent of Gazan casualties are civilians, thus helping to paint Israel as a reckless bully rather than the most careful army in the world.
The combination of fear, intimidation and willingness on the part of journalists and NGOs to retail Hamas propaganda distorts vital truths about this war. Israel has not developed incisive methods for dealing with this. As Winston Churchill once said, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”
Morton A. Klein is National President of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA). Dr. Daniel Mandel is Director of the ZOA’ s Center for Middle East Policy and author of H.V. Evatt & the Creation of Israel (Routledge, London, 2004).