Five days into Operation Protective Edge, the out-going UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, issued a statement that the number of casualties in Gaza raises “serious doubt about whether the Israeli strikes have been in accordance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law.”
In a similar vein, UNWRA Spokesperson Chris Gunness has a running commentary of casualties on his Twitter feed, including the plea to “Imagine being a 5 year old in #Gaza This is the 3rd terrifying bombardment in your short life. Where else have 5 year olds suffered thus?” These numbers and emotional appeals, however, are seriously misplaced.
If many civilians are being killed in Gaza, it is because Hamas is storing and launching deadly missiles from within populated areas and exploiting the population there as a human shield. Conversely, if even one civilian were to be illegitimately targeted, that single killing would be illegal.
Thus, the UN officials’ emotive statements are entirely disconnected from the legal and moral implications of Israel’s actions.
Similarly, many highly politicized non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have issued overwrought statements on Gaza casualties, making unverifiable claims that the vast majority are civilians and blaming Israel again. These comments stand in stark contrast to the sterile, pro-forma and brief mentions of Hamas rocket attacks on Israeli civilians, to the extent they are mentioned at all.
Amnesty International, for example, stated, “Since Israel launched Operation Protective Edge in the early morning of 8 July, more than 100 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip, most of them civilians who were not directly participating in hostilities.”
Ken Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, tweeted, “My daughter’s head here, my son’s arm there: Life for a #Gaza family under #Israel attack. Six children killed,” linking to a tendentious article out of the UAE.
Oxfam’s statement highlighted “civilians in Gaza, who are already impoverished by the ongoing Israeli blockade and account for the vast majority of those injured and killed in the violence.”
As in the past, media outlets have uncritically adopted these memes, focusing extensive coverage on the Gaza casualties, as if the real-time consequences of war were simply points in a video game.
Seeing increasing casualties, undoubtedly with women and children hurt alongside the Hamas fighters, pulls at heartstrings and makes for good headlines.
It is also an effective way for NGOs to maximize anguish and drive up influence and thus, donations.
Yet, many other numbers are missing from this simplistic narrative. Here are just a few, critical for understanding and preventing future conflict: • 850 and rising – the number of missiles fired by Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups on Israeli and West Bank population centers – each one a war crime.
• 8 million – the number of civilians in both Israel and the West Bank at risk from indiscriminate missile attacks.
• Thousands – the number of rockets and other weapons stored by Hamas and Palestinian terror groups in Gaza mosques, schools, hospitals and homes.
• 27 and rising – number of misfired Hamas rockets that have landed in Gaza.
• Dozens – the number of Hamas leaders cowardly hiding in underground bunkers while co-locating weapons within the heart of its civilian population placing them at risk of attack.
• 0 – the number of tweets by UNRWA condemning these illegal practices by Hamas.
• Hundreds of thousands – the number of warnings issued by the IDF to Gazan civilians located near the targets of impending attacks, even at the expense of the success of its own operations.
• Dozens – the number of Gazans admitted to Israeli hospitals for treatment.
• Tens of thousands – of tons of goods being trucked into Gaza by Israel each day despite the incessant rocketing of its civilian population.
• 48, 51 – just some of the provisions of the Geneva Conventions prohibiting human shielding and co-locating weapons and fighters in civilian areas; Hamas violates these multiple times every day.
• Billions – the amount of dollars spent by Israel to develop the Iron Dome system aimed at protecting its civilian population from Palestinian war crimes.
• 0 – the amount of money spent by Hamas to protect its own population.
• Billions – the amount of international aid squandered by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority to be used on terror infrastructure.
• Tens of thousands – the number of weapons being smuggled into Gaza from Syria and Iran. OHCHR, UNRWA and NGOs are silent about this fact even as they incessantly harp on Israel’s blockade. Imagine if Israel had not been enforcing these restrictions – how much higher would this number be? • 0 – the number of BDS actions, protests and war crimes lawsuits organized by “human rights” NGOs against Hamas and other terror organizations.
• 0 – The number of civilians in this and future conflicts that will be protected as a result of the immoral and tendentious statements issued by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, OHCHR, Oxfam, Gisha and other NGOs.
The author is the legal adviser of NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based research organization. She is the co-editor of The Goldstone Report ‘Reconsidered’: A Critical Analysis.