The first casualty of war: Truth

Do you have to be anti-Israel to believe Palestinian lies?

anas naim 248 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
anas naim 248 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Which is the greater factor in getting consumers of news to believe that "1,300 Palestinians, most of them civilians" were killed during Operation Cast Lead? Intrinsic anti-Israel bias - or a high degree of gullibility to manipulative international media coverage? Put another way, do you have to be anti-Israel to believe Palestinian lies, or is Palestinian mendacity so well-constructed, so plausible, and so well disseminated by collaborative media outlets like Al Jazeera that even well-meaning people can't help but believe the worst of Israel? These questions are prompted by some significant reporting in Monday's Jerusalem Post ("Int'l community was duped by Hamas's false civilian death toll figures, IDF claims"). Even well-regarded Palestinian pressure groups have been claiming that Israel killed 895 civilians in the Gaza fighting. Operating on the basis of such "data," coupled with a poisoned wellspring of antipathy against the Jewish state, Mahmoud Abbas has been making the case for indicting Israeli cabinet ministers and military officers for international war crimes. Pro-Palestinian campaigners allege that two-thirds of the Arab fatalities were civilian. The IDF insists that no more than a third of the dead were civilians - and not a one was targeted intentionally. So instead of "1,300 killed, most of them civilians," we now have reason to believe, based on the IDF's methodical analysis of 1,200 of the Palestinian fatalities thus far identified by name, that 580 were combatants and 300 non-combatants. Of these 300, two were female suicide bombers, and some others were related to terrorists such as Nizar Rayyan, a top Hamas gunman who insisted that his family join him in the hereafter. "The first casualty when war comes is truth," said US senator Hiram Warren Johnson. Take, for instance, Arab eyewitness accounts of the number killed at the Jabalya UN School on January 6 - some 40 dead, maybe 15 of them women and children. The IDF says the actual figure is 12 killed, nine of them Hamas operatives. With time, perhaps, the names and true identities of each and every one of the Gaza dead - including the 320 as yet unclassified - will be determined. One point is indisputable: Despite the best efforts of both sides, the IDF wound up killing more Palestinians unintentionally than the Palestinians killed Israeli civilians on purpose. This is known as "disproportionality." Israeli officials, given bitter experiences such as Jenin in 2002, when a grossly false narrative of massacre and massed killing was disseminated by Palestinian officials, should have long since internalized the imperative to try to ascertain the number and nature of Palestinian dead in real time. But while the figure "1,300 Palestinians killed, most/many of them civilians" is now embedded in the public consciousness, it is emphatically not too late to try to set the record straight. Atrocity stories are nothing new. The British have been charged with using them to create popular outrage during the Boer War. The allies used them against Germany during World War I - which, incidentally, allowed the real Nazi atrocities during WWII to be dismissed long into the Holocaust. Nowadays, it matters what masses of uninformed or ill-informed people far removed from the Arab-Israel conflict think. Dry statistics released so belatedly will win Israel no PR credit in a world of 24/7 satellite news channels and real-time blogging. Nevertheless, the fact that an Israeli narrative is finally out there is significant. Perhaps responsible news outlets will want to reexamine some of their original reporting, along with the assumption that "most" of the dead were non-combatants. Palestinian propaganda is insidious because those being manipulated are oblivious to what is happening. Chaotic images of casualties being hurried to hospitals, gut-wrenching funerals and swaths of shattered buildings create an overarching "reality." Against this, Israel's pleadings that the Palestinians are culpable for the destruction, and that the above images lack context, scarcely resonate. Despite six decades of intransigence and a virtual copyright on airline hijackings and suicide bombings, the Palestinians have created a popular "brand" for themselves by parlaying their self-inflicted victimization into a battering ram against Israel. Disseminators of news should have learned better than to take Palestinian death-toll claims at face value, least of all when sourced directly or indirectly from the Hamas-run government of Gaza.