Analyzing Casualty Numbers, NYT Ignores Hamas Call for Duplicity

The New York Times today delved into the discussion about Gaza casualties. In line with what CAMERA has already noted, the newspaper points out that young males, those in the age range of those most likely to be fighters, are disproportionately represented among Palestinian fatalities:

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 and 33 percent of the known-age casualties.

The information, though buried 17th paragraph, is important to help readers understand what went on in the Gaza Strip. But other absolutely essential information is kept from readers.

Describing one Palestinian group’s method of determining who is a civilian and who is not, reporter Jodi Rudoren wrote,

He said he did not rely on the Health Ministry data ….
Instead, his 10 field workers collect names directly from Gaza’s 13 hospitals (four have been closed because of bombing) and five morgues, and go to the site of virtually every strike to conduct interviews and fill out detailed questionnaires in support of war-crimes accusations. Surviving children might deny that their father was a fighter, but a medical worker might say he arrived at the emergency room with a weapon in hand.

One might forgive the reporter for failing to ask what it might mean for the casualty count if, for example, fighters happen to put their weapons aside before reaching the emergency room. But it is inexcusable that she would note that casualty numbers are largely dependent on doctors’ testimony without reminding readers that Hamas, which operates from near the emergency room at the Shifa hospital and had gunmen operating at other hospitals, has explicitly called on the Gaza public to pretend all casualties are civilians.

If members of a terror organization — a group that feels no compunction about blowing up cafes full of civilians or throwing fellow Palestinians off rooftops — are roaming the hallways of a hospital, and if that same organization has asked the public to avoid admitting casualties are militants, how might this influence a doctor at that hospital who is asked whether a patient was a gunman or not?

It’s a question informed news consumers need to consider. But in this article, which purports to help readers better understand the challenges related to casualty counts, they are not given enough information to do so.

Rudoren fails to ask another important question related to casualties. She writes, correctly, that “Israel contends that some of the casualties were caused by errant Hamas rockets or mortars.” Indeed, with 475 Palestinian rockets estimated to have landed in the Gaza Strip, it’s likely that those misfires took a significant toll. So why didn’t she follow up on this? The two Palestinian NGOs she relies on in the piece mention the death of 10 Palestinian children and an elderly man at al-Shati refugee camp, widely thought to have been killed by a misfired Palestinian rocket, in their daily casualty updates. (Unlike other strikes that resulted in civilian casualties, Israel emphatically denied having fired in the area, and independent reports describe Hamas preventing journalists from accessing the scene and clearing debris.)

So did the NGOs cited by The Times list Yousef ‘Abdul Rahman Hassouna, 11; Mahmoud Hazem Shubair, 12; Ahmed Hazem Shubair, 10; Jamal Saleh ‘Olayan, 8; Baraa’ Akram Miqdad, 7; Mohammed Nahidh Miqdad, 13; Mohammed Mahmoud Abu Shaqfa, 7; Mohammed ‘Emad Baroud, 10; Ahmed Jaberr Wishah, 10; Mansour Rami Hajjaj, 14; and Subhi ‘Awadh al-Hilu, 63 in their count of civilians killed by Israel? It’s an important question, but again, one Rudoren does not ask.

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