John Holmes, the top United Nations humanitarian official, admits to Hamas’s “cynical use” of Palestinian civilian installations. He told the Security Council that “the reckless and cynical use of civilian installations by Hamas, and the indiscriminate firing of rockets against civilian populations, are clear violations of international humanitarian law.”
By not shying away from forceful criticism of Hamas violations of international law, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs signals that his office is less flagrantly one-sided than some other agencies in the United Nations. (Holmes also raised questions about Israel’s response to the Hamas violence).
Unfortunately, though, Holmes seems unaware that Hamas “cynical use” does not end with its treatment of Gaza civilians. The group also cynically uses the Western media — and humanitarian officials — to spread misinformation that it disseminates for propaganda purposes.
In his Jan. 27 briefing to the Security Council, Holmes unquestioningly relayed dubious casualty statistics released by the Hamas-run health ministy in Gaza, saying that “according to the Palestinian ministry of health, whose figures have not been seriously challenged …, 34 percent of these [deaths and injuries] were children.”
The inadvertent death of children during war is certainly regrettable. But even this topic — perhaps especially this topic — must be discussed, to the extent that the fog of war allows it, factually. Concern about reports of civilians being harmed during fighting between Hamas and Israel does not justify inflating the numbers in order to influence world opinion.
So it is troubling that Holmes not only relays Hamas’s figures, but also claims they supposedly “have not been seriously challenged,” when it is clear the numbers are unreliable. Hamas’s allegation that 34 percent of the total casualties were children has been challenged, including by the partisan Palestinian Center for Human Rights. A Jan. 22 press release by PCHR asserts that children made up about 22 percent of the dead and 26 percent of the wounded.
PCHR’s count, which is accompanied by lists of names and some level of detail about the circumstances of death, not only constitutes a serious challenge to Hamas’s claims, but a substantive one as well. According to the figures cited by Holmes — he relayed that 34 percent of about 1,300 deaths and over 5300 injuries were children — over 2,244 of Gaza’s injured and killed were under 18 years old. But PCHR’s figures show that 1,414 of the injured and killed were under 18 years old. In other words, the figures echoed by Holmes inflates the number of child casualties by at least 830.
It is not surprising that Hamas-run organizations would manipulate casualty figures in order to score a much-needed public relations victory. The group’s military wing absurdly insists that it killed at least 49, and probably over 80, Israeli soldiers, and that it lost only 48 fighters. In fact, 10 Israeli soldiers were killed during the fighting, and even according to PCHR, which has likely classified a number of militants as civilians (see below), over 200 of the Gaza dead were militants.
The public, and organizations like the United Nations, must view information from the terrorist group with a critical eye, and should certainly refrain from lending credence to Hamas propaganda that has already been discredited.
(Serious questions about PCHR’s classification of casualties have been raised by CAMERA. See here for details. According to unofficial and anonymous statements by IDF officials quoted in the Israeli press, the percentage of fighters among the Palestinian casualties is significantly higher than that reported by both PCHR and the Palestinian ministry of health.)