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Jewish Journal

The Numbers Racket

by  David A. Lehrer

July 29, 2014 | 3:58 pm

The events in Israel and Gaza over the past few weeks are troubling. Innocents have been killed and the body count keeps increasing. As troubling and tragic as the loss of innocent life is, the reporting of the deaths is accompanied by a perverse willingness on the part of much of the press to blame Israel for “disproportionate civilian casualties”----the notion that Israel hasn’t suffered sufficient casualties to justify the number and percentage of “civilian” deaths in Gaza.

It is a perverse illogic that argues that unintended deaths are only acceptable if the civilians are dying in proportionate numbers on both sides of a conflict.

That argument didn’t apply in Dresden or in Tokyo or in Afghanistan or in Iran or virtually any other war theater until now and makes no sense in Gaza---especially when the intent of the disadvantaged party (in this case Hamas) is to kill as many civilians as possible, they just aren’t very good at it (in no small measure due to Iron Dome’s defense).

Bret Stephens in today’s Wall Street Journal powerfully points out the absurdity of this line of reasoning. In World War II, there were over one million German civilians who died as a result of Allied action. That is set against a total of 67,000 British and 12,000 American civilian deaths. Disproportionate, clearly; justified, absolutely.

What is equally disturbing is the obvious willingness of much of the media to buy the “civilian” death count numbers offered by Hamas and its minions. The numbers should be scrubbed and then scrubbed again before being quoted and used as a yardstick of morality. We are, after all, dealing with murderous fanatics for whom lying would be the least of their sins (for a humorous break read Tom Lehrer’s lyrics from the 1950’s about murderers and the sin of lying).

Stephens notes that those numbers are proffered by the Palestine Health Ministry (run by Hamas) and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (which gets its data from the Palestine Center for Human Rights—as Stephens describes it----“a Palestinian agitprop NGO”).  A law school colleague of mine wrote to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs asking where they get their data on casualties----they confirmed that they it comes from Hamas’ Palestine Health Ministry---a dubious source of accurate information.

He notes that, serendipitously, in 2008-2009 the civilian casualty rate was claimed by the Palestinians as 82% which is exactly the percentage asserted as of two days ago (82% must have tested well in focus groups).

As Stephens points out in his pay-off paragraphs,

The real utility of the body count is that it offers reporters and commentators who cite it the chance to ascribe implicit blame to Israel while evading questions about ultimate responsibility for the killing. Questions such as: Why is Hamas hiding rockets in U.N.-run schools, as acknowledged by the U.N. itself? What does it mean that Hamas has turned Gaza's central hospital into "a de facto headquarters," as reported by the Washington Post? And why does Hamas keep rejecting, or violating, cease-fires agreed to by Israel?

A reasonable person might conclude from this that Hamas, which started the war, wants it to continue, and that it relies on Israel's moral scruples not to destroy civilian sites that it cynically uses for military purposes. But then there is the Palestine Effect. By this reasoning, Hamas only initiated the fighting because Israel refused to countenance the creation of a Palestinian coalition that included Hamas, and because Israel further objected to helping pay the salaries of Hamas's civil servants in Gaza.

Let's get this one straight. Israel is culpable because (a) it won't accept a Palestinian government that includes a terrorist organization sworn to the Jewish state's destruction; (b) it won't help that organization out of its financial jam; and (c) it won't ease a quasi-blockade—jointly imposed with Egypt—on a territory whose central economic activity appears to be building rocket factories and pouring imported concrete into terrorist tunnels.

This is either bald moral idiocy or thinly veiled bigotry. It mistakes effect for cause, treats self-respect as arrogance and self-defense as aggression, and makes demands of the Jewish state that would be dismissed out of hand anywhere else. To argue the Palestinian side, in this war, is to make the case for barbarism. It is to erase, in the name of humanitarianism, the moral distinctions from which the concept of humanity arises.

Bravo for Stephens’ clear headed analysis. It’s worth a read.

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