By E. O. Ziyon
As an observer of previous Israeli operations in Gaza, and as the person who has uncovered and publicized some huge journalistic errors during those times, I strongly caution reporters not to make the same mistakes that they have made in the past in their coverage.
Mistake #1: Assuming that all Gaza casualties are the result of Israeli airstrikes
At least three Gaza civilians have been killed this year by terrorist rockets.
During Operation Pillar of Defense, the media was fooled at least twice – and possibly three times – with false Arab reports that children were killed by Israeli airstrikes when they were killed by errant terror rockets from Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Even schools have been hit by terrorist rockets.
Also, several civilians have been killed from gunfire during funerals of terrorists.
When terrorists are firing rockets hurriedly, as they are now, the chances for misfires is even greater. Not to mention “work accidents” (which have killed dozens this year alone) are probably more likely to occur in Gaza weapons workshops and laboratories.
Also Gaza spokespersons are known to lie and blame Israel for deaths caused by internal explosions.
For all these reasons, journalists must be especially careful when reporting on civilian deaths in Gaza.
The rule of thumb is that if the IDF denies an airstrike in an area where people were killed, the people were not killed by an Israeli airstrike.
On a similar note:
Mistake #2: Assuming that Gaza casualties and damage are the direct result of Israeli airstrikes
Lots of Israeli airstrikes towards terror targets hit weapons caches and explosives, and often the secondary explosions are larger than the direct explosion from the strike. Israeli forces don’t always know the size of the weapons caches, and sometimes the secondary explosions cause deaths and injuries that cannot be blamed on Israel which is only aiming at military targets according to the laws of armed conflict.
This is of course much more difficult to know for sure, but stories should be filed with this in mind.
Mistake #3: Believing that victims are civilian when they are not
Most of the time, Hamas and Islamic Jihad are happy to announce deaths of their members, ushering them into paradise. But not during wartime.
Over 750 of the people killed during Cast Lead were terrorists, but Hamas did not publicize the deaths of many of them until months afterwards. As a result, during the operation the media assumed, wrongly, that the majority of deaths were civilian. It took a long time to research and crosscheck the names of the dead and their affiliations. (It would be wonderful if an enterprising reporter would do this research instead of people like me.)
Some NGOs will even call combatants “children” in order to inflate the number of supposedly civilians being killed. DCI-Palestine and Euro-Mid Observer have been particularly egregious in this regard.
PCHR and Al Mezan doesn’t lie as badly, but their definition of “combatant” is usually restricted to anyone in uniform actively engaged in fighting, not terrorists who are hiding in civilian clothing. So Hamas “policemen” who are also members of the Al Qassam Brigades terror group would invariably be called “civilian” even though Hamas admits that they regard them as combatants.
It is easy to allow oneself to be fooled in the fog of war, especially when one doesn’t know the history of how terror groups manipulate the media. Let’s hope that this time around the reporters are more aware of the pitfalls of believing, uncritically, what terrorists and their supporters tell them.