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Middle East Issues





IHT Publishes Patrick Seale's Deceitful Column


Over the last several years, Hamas and Islamic Jihad have concealed suicide bombers in ambulances, placed poison and ball bearings in suicide bombs to make them even more deadly, fired missiles from civilian homes, hid bombers in shipping containers, dug tunnels to infiltrate into Israel to launch attacks, and attacked the Pi Glilot fuel depot, which could have killed 10,000 or more people. One might say that these terror groups have attempted to perfect murder.

In light of the murderous tactics and goals of these terror groups, Israel has launched a military campaign in the Gaza Strip to halt the firing of notoriously imprecise Qassem rockets into civilian areas of Israel, and to foil the large-scale smuggling of arms from Egypt. In contrast to Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Israel has taken steps to safeguard the lives of innocent civilians, by for example, warning Gazans to leave their homes, targeted by Israel for housing terrorists and/or arms.

Therefore, when Patrick Seale claims in an Oct. 27 International Herald Tribune that murder is "an Israeli speciality perfected over the past several decades," he inevitably relies on factual inaccuracies to make his case ("Israel's scandalous siege of Gaza").

Factual Inaccuracies

First, Seale charges:

Israel has killed 2,300 Gazans over the past six years, including 300 in the four months since an Israeli soldier, Corporal Gilad Shalit, was captured in a cross-border raid by Palestinian fighters on June 25. The wounded can be counted in the tens of thousands. Most of the casualties are civilians, many of them children.

Is it true that “most” of the 300 Gazans killed since June 25 are civilians? Not according to B’tselem, an organization highly critical of Israel. B’tselem provides detailed information about the 275 Gazans killed from June 25 until Oct. 19. Though the organization does not label the victims civilians or otherwise, it does provide details about the circumstances of the individual’s death, including whether or not they were participating in hostilities at the time of their death. The list also indicates whether the slain Palestinian was wanted by the Israeli security forces. This information provides a good indication as to whether the slain were civilians or not. A tally of the non-civilians, in other words, those participating in hostilities at the time of death, plus a few who were not participating in hostilities at the time of the death, but were nevertheless “wanted,” totals 136. In contrast, those not wanted, and not participating in hostilities at the time of their death, total just 139. Thus, since June 25, an almost exactly equal number of civilians and fighters were killed. Of course, it is possible to quibble with some of B’tselem’s particulars; in such borderline cases, we gave the benefit of the doubt, and labeled the Palestinian a civilian. (In disputed circumstances, B’tselem invariably accepts Palestinians claims and discounts Israeli ones. Thus, B’tselem claims that five teenagers killed July 12 in Deir al-Balah were not participating in hostilities at the time of their death. The Israeli military, however, claims that the five were all armed(Associated Press, July 12). Likewise, the Israeli military says four teens killed on July 10 were militants (AFP, July 10); B’tselem says they were not participating in hostilities at the time of their death, though the group acknowledges the youths were “approaching Qassam launchers.” We placed these questionable cases, as well as Palestinian security officials killed while in their posts, in the “civilian” category. As a result, even this fifty percent figure for civilian deaths is likely inflated.)

Likewise, a careful week-by-week analysis of reports by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) reveals the same statistic—half of the Gaza fatalities are civilians. The detailed analysis completely discredits the claim in PCHR’s report summary of Sept. 6 that “257 Palestinians, mostly civilians . . . have been killed by the IOF” since June 25. A thorough review of the weekly PCHR reports on Israeli military activity in Gaza and the West Bank reveal that a significant proportion of those categorized as “civilians” are actually combatants. From June 25 to Sept. 6, out of 250 individually identified fatalities in Gaza and the West Bank, 88 were described as “resistance activists” or “fighters”; 32 were identified as members of a specific terrorist group and six were members of a government military force. 124 were either identified as civilians or nothing at all was specified. In other words, half of the Palestinian fatalities are identified as something other than civilians. The report summary section apparently shifts “resistance activists” or “resistance fighters” into the civilian category allowing PCHR to claim that most of the casualties were civilians. (This was confirmed by Donald MacIntyre, correspondent for the Independent.) In short, data from PCHR and B’tselem both contradict Seale’s allegation that “most” of the Gazans killed since June 25 are civilians. The maximum proportion of civilians killed is 50 percent.

Second, Seale charges:

The killing continues on a daily basis – by tank and sniper fire, by air and sea bombardment, and by undercover teams in civilian clothes sent into Arab territory to ambush and murder, an Israeli specialty perfected over the past several decades.

It is entirely untrue to claim that Gazans have been killed on a “daily basis.” According to the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, from June 25 (the day that Palestinian gunmen captured Gilad Shalit) until Oct. 17, there were 42 days in which there were no Palestinians fatalities whatsoever in either the Gaza Strip or the West Bank. (There were 73 days which saw Palestinian deaths.) The PRCS numbers, which refer to deaths in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, can be accessed from http://www.palestinercs.org/crisistables/table_of_figures.htm. Scroll down to see links to "monthly reports" showing daily casualties for each month in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. (Therefore, the number of days in which there were no fatalities just in Gaza is even greater than 42. For instance, according to B’tselem, the three fatalities on Sept. 7 were in Qabatiya, the Jenin district of the West Bank.) In July, the Los Angeles Times corrected a similar erroneous claim in an Op-Ed by Henry Siegman.

Third, Seale makes the related false claim that Palestinians are “bombed on a daily basis.” The Oct. 12-18 Weekly Report by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights details all Palestinian claims about Israeli actions that week. Though it mentions Israeli bombing attacks on Oct. 12, Oct. 13, and Oct. 14 (all on the Gaza Strip), it does not report any bombings for Oct. 15, Oct. 16, Oct. 17 or Oct. 18. In the previous week’s report, Israeli bombing (including missile) attacks were reported on two days, Oct. 9 and Oct. 11. In other words in a period of 14 days, five days saw Israeli bomb attacks on Palestinians—hardly bombings “on a daily basis.”

Finally, Seale misstates the number of Israelis killed by Qassam rockets: “Five Israelis have been killed by these rockets in the past six years.” In actuality, nine Israelis have been killed by Qassam rockets (as have two Palestinian workers, a 10-year-old Palestinian girl, and two foreign workers.) The Israelis are: Afik Zahavi, 4, and Mordecai Yosepov, 49, both killed June 28, 2004 in Sderot; Yuval Abedeh, 4, and Dorit (Masarat) Benisian, 2, both killed Sept. 29, 2004 in Sderot; Dana Galkowicz, 22, killed July 14, 2005 in Netiv Ha’asara; Ayala-Haya (Ella) Ebukasis, 17, killed Jan. 15, 2005 in Sderot; and Nissim Arbiv, hit Jan. 2, 2005 in a rocket attack on the Erez industrial zone, and died of his wounds nine days later; and two Israeli Arab shepherds killed in Kibbutz Nahal Oz on March 28, 2006. This is not the first time that Seale has distorted the record on Qassam casualties; earlier this year, the Guardian corrected his erroneous claim about the number of victims.
 
Corrections Required
CAMERA provided editors with information detailing these errors. Today, the Tribune ran several letters which successfully challenge many other points raised in Seale's vitriolic Op-Ed. The multiple letters critical of Seale, however, do not exonerate editors from printing corrections on these outstanding factual problems. Stay tuned to learn about future corrections.
 
Update, Nov. 8: The Tribune today corrected some of the above points.

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