Two organizations in Israel have cautioned against accepting casualty figures coming out of Gaza.
Both the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Center and NGO watchdog organization NGO Monitor this week criticized the verification methods of the left-wing human rights group B’Tselem – The Israel Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories - for its claims of Gaza casualty numbers that were recently released for Operation Protective Edge.
“All figures or data originated from Hamas’s ministry are not reliable,” Dr. Reuven Erlich, the head of the Amit terrorism center, told The Jerusalem Post during a telephone interview on Sunday, adding that one should be “suspicious of all figures from the Gaza Strip.”
“Conversation orders come from Hamas and are not objective,” he added.
According to an August 12 posting on B’Tselem’s website, the organization’s most recent data shows that at least 1,767 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip from the time the fighting began through August 10. The fatalities include 431 minors (one minor participated in the hostilities), 200 women under age 60 and 85 people aged 60 and over.
According to B’Tselem, “With the current military campaign ongoing, B’Tselem is taking testimony from Gaza residents, mainly by telephone. B’Tselem verifies, to the best of its ability, the reliability and precision of the information reported; nevertheless, in these circumstances, reports may be incomplete or contain errors.”
The Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor issued a report titled “B’Tselem in the UNOCHA Protective Cluster: Casualty and Legal Allegations in the 2014 Gaza War,” in which it concluded that “the Israeli NGO B’Tselem has played a central role in allegations regarding civilian casualties during the 2014 war in Gaza.
B’Tselem presents what it terms ‘initial’ and ‘preliminary’ data, but these are inherently unverifiable and based solely on information from Palestinian sources in Hamas-controlled Gaza.”
NGO Monitor leveled criticism against B’Tselem for relying on the Hamas Health Ministry in Gaza as its “primary source for casualty claims,” asserting that “B’Tselem has no independent sources of information in Gaza, and as an Israeli organization, is unable to send personnel or verify information, particularly during major conflicts.
Its only source of independent information is from telephone interviews with Gaza residents, whose claims cannot be verified.”
“B’Tselem repeats claims from PCHR and Al Mezan – both Gazabased NGOs that are closely linked to the Hamas agenda. PCHR and Al Mezan are political organizations without credible methodologies for analysis of casualty claims, as shown in the January 2009 conflict [Operation Cast Lead],” alleged NGO Monitor.
It added that the B’Tselem data “provides the appearance of credulity to the casualty claims disseminated by UNRWA/OCHA [United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] officials and repeated widely by journalists, political leaders, and others.”
In an email to the Post on Sunday, Roy Yellin, a spokesman for B’Tselem, sharply rejected the findings of the NGO Monitor report.
”B’Tselem is dedicated to provide accurate information, and therefore investigates and verifies any data independently, never relying solely on official sources neither in Israel or on the Palestinian side,” he said.
“B’Tselem does have field researchers on the ground in Gaza and has the professional capacity and evidence to support its publications.
For example, the difference in the death toll figures between B’Tselem and Palestinian Ministry of Health report is due to our strict verification measures,” he added.
Erlich told the Post that his organization is working on a project to detail the circumstances of every Palestinian who died in Operation Protective Edge, and stressed that Hamas has a “policy to hide identities” and manipulate figures.