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The West is still swallowing Hamas’s propaganda

The media coverage from Gaza has totally distorted the truth about this conflict.

Daniel Ben-Ami

Topics World

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Anyone watching the media coverage of the war in Gaza could be forgiven for thinking that civilians, and only civilians, are being killed. Israel is usually portrayed as a military Goliath, ruthlessly crushing the defenceless Gazans. It often appears as if Israel is indiscriminately carpet-bombing civilians, while deliberately targeting aid convoys, hospitals and schools. Meanwhile, Hamas and its terrorists are conspicuous by their absence in the images and discussions of Palestinian casualties.

Needless to say, this bears little relation to reality. Hamas had an estimated 40,000 gunmen in Gaza before the conflict began last year. Hamas terrorists are the target of Israel’s operations and are surely well represented among the dead. Yet news reports routinely gloss over this reality, implying that Israel is waging war on civilians rather than terrorists.

Back in February, Hamas acknowledged to the Reuters news agency that it had lost 6,000 fighters since Israel’s invasion. More recently, Israel has estimated that it has killed at least 13,000 Hamas gunmen. Yet images of these thousands of Hamas casualties never seem to appear on our television screens. Or when they do, we are led to believe they are civilian deaths.

That disjuncture points to a key problem with the media’s portrayal of the war. The big international news organisations, such as the BBC and Sky, are generally reliant on local freelance reporters for their coverage in Gaza. But these stringers dare not film or photograph anything that might go against Hamas’s narrative. In fact, they could be killed for doing so. Instead, these journalists tend only to record civilian casualties. Worse still, some of the key on-the-ground sources the BBC and others have come to rely on are not remotely impartial or objective.

Another widely unreported issue is that Hamas rockets aimed at Israel often fall short of their targets and end up dropping into Palestinian territory. The IDF has estimated that around 12 per cent of Hamas missiles fired from Gaza end up falling short. That would suggest a significant proportion of the Gazan casualties were likely killed directly by Hamas, not by Israel.

Most media reporting says that over 30,000 people have died in Gaza since 7 October last year. But there are good reasons to question this total. For one thing, the figures are produced by the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health. And they almost certainly include Hamas soldiers, not just civilians, as well as those civilians killed by Hamas rockets.

What’s more, a recent statistical analysis by Abraham Wyner, a professor of statistics at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, suggests that the total figure is itself suspect. Writing in the Tablet, he shows how the reported casualty figures rose in a completely linear way over the first two weeks of Israel’s ground invasion. In other words, the daily increases in deaths were just too regular to be credible. In a situation as chaotic and unpredictable as a war, you would expect more people to be killed on some days, and fewer on others. If these casualty statistics reflected reality on the ground, then you would expect some daily variability.

But the problem goes deeper than systematic media bias or dodgy statistics. To properly understand what is happening, we need to remember that this is a war with two sides, rather than a unilateral attack by Israel.

Hamas is committed to the destruction of Israel. Its leaders have pledged to repeat the murderous 7 October terror attack on Israel again and again. Although Israel is regularly accused of carrying out a ‘genocide’ in Gaza, Hamas is the only party in this war that is officially committed to the genocide of the other. Israel’s official position, on the other hand, is that its soldiers should avoid civilian casualties where possible. And it has taken measures to do so, such as warning of impending attacks, even when this puts its own forces at greater risk.

Hamas’s capacity has been degraded in several months of fighting. At least 18 battalions out of 24 have been destroyed. But that still leaves several battalions in the fight. These are mainly concentrated in Rafah, in the south of the Gaza strip, where Hamas has tunnels extending into Egypt. This means Hamas still has the capacity to supply ammunition and weapons into Gaza for its genocidal war against Israel. This explains why the Israelis have continued to fight and why they see taking control of Rafah as such a priority.

Hamas has also been all too happy to use Palestinian civilians as a human shield against Israeli attacks. Where its battalions have been defeated, surviving gunmen have ditched their uniforms and melted into the civilian population to engage in guerrilla warfare. They have no hesitation in attacking Israeli troops from within a crowd. If and when Israeli soldiers counter-attack, they are then accused of attacking Palestinian civilians.

Perhaps the most astounding element of the war is Hamas’s use of its extensive tunnel network. As Haviv Rettig Gur, senior analyst at the Times of Israel, has argued, Hamas has spent its 17 years in control of Gaza building a labyrinth of tunnels. With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that its goal was to create an underground military complex, shielded by Gaza’s civilian population above. It has taken up the concept of a human shield to a grotesque degree. At the same time, no infrastructure has been built above ground during Hamas’s rule over the strip. Much of the aid donated to desperately poor Gazans was diverted to Hamas to be used in its war against Israel.

The scale of Gaza’s tunnel complex is monumental. London has a population of about nine million people, who are served by a Tube network of about 250 miles, of which about half is in tunnels, with the rest above ground. In contrast, Gaza has a population of just over two million people. But it is estimated to have about 300 miles of tunnels. So Gaza has about a quarter of London’s population, but about two and a half times the length of its tunnels.

The existence of this tunnel network places the 7 October attack in an even more horrifying light. Hamas and its allies slaughtered 1,200 civilians on that day – mainly Jews but also some non-Jewish Israelis and foreign nationals – and kidnapped another 253. But it also set up the Gazan population for an Israeli counter-attack. Hamas knew that Israel would have to defend itself against a terror group that had pledged to destroy it. However, Hamas leaders knew that they could hide from any Israeli retaliation behind the human shield of Gazan civilians. Worse still, from Hamas’s cynical perspective, the deaths of Palestinian civilians are actually an advantage, as they can be exploited in the propaganda war against Israel.

This is what Israel is fighting against – an Islamist death cult that wants Israel’s destruction and is more than willing to sacrifice the lives of the civilians under its rule. The civilian casualties in Gaza are indeed a terrible tragedy. Like those Israelis killed on 7 October, they too are victims of Hamas’s terror.

Daniel Ben-Ami is an author and journalist. He runs the website Radicalism of Fools, dedicated to rethinking anti-Semitism. Follow him on Twitter: @danielbenami

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