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BBC Statistician: Gaza Casualty Figures Don’t Square with “Indiscriminate” Charge

In an analysis published yesterday, Anthony Reuben, head of statistics for BBC News, cautioned against accepting Gaza casualty figures at face value.

Working from figures from the United Nations, Reuben observes:

So there were 216 members of armed groups killed, and another 725 men who were civilians. Among civilians, more than three times as many men were killed as women, while three times as many civilian men were killed as fighters. …

Nonetheless, if the Israeli attacks have been “indiscriminate”, as the UN Human Rights Council says, it is hard to work out why they have killed so many more civilian men than women.

Reuben also cites casualty figures from Al Jazeera and The New York Times showing that a disproportionate number of those killed have been men of  military age.

In addition to the analysis contradicting charges that Israel launches indiscriminate attacks, Reuben quotes IDF spokesman Capt. Eytan Buchman about the reliability of the casualty numbers: “It’s important to bear in mind that in Operation Cast Lead [the last Israeli ground offensive in December 2008-January 2009], Hamas and Gaza-based organisations claimed that only 50 combatants were killed, admitting years later the number was between 600-700, a figure nearly identical to the figure claimed by the IDF.” (The admission that Buchman referenced was in 2010, nearly two years after Operation Cast Lead.)

Reuben concludes that, based on his analysis of the casualty figures, “it does mean that some of the conclusions being drawn from them may be premature.”

In addition to greater awareness in the media that casualty figures may be misleading or wrong, there’s also a growing realization that intimidation by Hamas colors the way the conflict with Israel is presented.

These are two elements of a problem described by Mark Lavie in the August 2014 issue of The Tower Magazine, in an article titled Why Everything Reported from Gaza is Crazy Twisted:

Journalists, of course, won’t tell you what your missing in the coverage. Their anchors or editors won’t tell you why large parts of the story are colored a certain way or taken from a certain angle. They don’t want to put their reporters’ lives at risk.

Thiis is the main reason that video and pictures seem to flow freely out of Gaza. But critical elements of the story itself can’t, and neither can all the pictures and video. It gives the impression that the story is being covered, when only part of it—sometimes a small part—is being covered.

[Photo: Redvers / WikiCommons ]