Thursday, May 07, 2009

In Gaza, After The Battle Is Over--The Battle Of The Numbers Begins

If a country is not vigilant..."The other side will rewrite your history"
Jonathan Dahoah Halevi

After Operation Cast Lead was over, the battle of the numbers began:
On March 12, the PCHR [Palestinian Center for Human Rights] released its most recent statistics: 1,417 dead, including 926 civilians, 255 non-combatant police officers, and 236 fighters.

...On March 26, two months after the unilateral cease-fire and two weeks after Shaheen released his stats, the IDF parried with its own fatality count: 1,166 dead, 709 of them Hamas terror operatives, 295 "uninvolved Palestinians" (89 under the age of 16, and 49 of them women). In addition, the IDF identified 162 men whose names had not yet been attributed to any organization.
In Numbers Game, Simona Weinglass writes about retired Israeli intelligence officer Jonathan Dahoah Halevi and the work he does to determine how many Palestinian Arabs died during Operation Cast Lead--and which ones were terrorists:
He begins to rattle off indictments. "Why is Said Siyam"--the de facto defense minister of Hamas--"listed as a civilian?" he asks. "Muhammad Dasouki Dasliye. Do you know who he is?" Halevi says that Dasliye was a Palestinian Resistance Committee operative and suspect in the terrorist attack against three American security guards in Gaza in October 2003. "Nizar Rayan," Halevi chuckles. "He's a civilian?" In fact, news reports describe Rayan as a militant cleric who mentored suicide bombers and sent his own son on a suicide mission in 2001, killing two Israelis.

Halevi, a pugnacious father of two, is an insider, a former IDF analyst who works days as a counterterrorism consultant but counts Gaza fatalities in his free time.

...Intelligence analysts around the world are following this paper trail, and they don't just work for the Shin Bet or CIA. In fact, in the era of the Internet, vast amounts of intelligence are available to anyone with fluent Arabic, a little training, and a lot of time and patience.
The UN relies on PCHR statistics, so the work Halevi does is no hobby--there are important implications in what he does, and from the way he describes it, finding the truth does not require an extensive amount of digging:
Halevi is already knee-deep in PCHR's latest list from Cast Lead. He has produced a spreadsheet with the names of 230 police fatalities cited by both the Gaza police department and PCHR. For 171 of these, he provides the name of the faction they fought for as well as brief biographies, such as "a munitions expert" or "arrested by Israel in 1993 for weapons acquisitions for suicide missions." Most of the 171 moonlighting policemen are listed as operatives in the Qassam Brigades, with others belonging to Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Palestinian Resistance Committee.

"This information wasn't hard to find," Halevi says. Type one of the names into a Google search and up pops a web site with photos showing the Gaza cop sporting a martyr's headband and M-16. Halevi grants that many of these policemen did actually perform police duties like patrolling streets or directing traffic. "But then they get a call from their friend who says, 'Come on, it's time for a mission,'" Halevi says. "One of the police casualties was even affiliated with al-Qaeda."
Apparently, there will never be anything approaching a concensus between Israeli and Palestinian sources on who is defined as an enemy combatant--
Many of the disparities between the PCHR and IDF numbers seem to be definitional. The IDF has repeatedly stated that any member of Hamas security forces--armed or unarmed--is fair game. Shaheen has a much narrower definition of an uninvolved civilian: "According to international humanitarian law, all armed people are classified as militants and all the people who are unarmed [are civilians]," he says. So if the person was armed at the time of death--which he or his fieldworkers determine by investigating the bodies as they arrive at the hospital--he'll count them as a militant. If the person is not armed, his team will check with family members, neighbors, political parties and Palestinian armed factions to determine the deceased's status as a militant or a civilian. He also checks press releases issues by armed factions. "[The IDF] can say whatever they want," he says. "I mean, [these are] facts on the ground."

But even facts can be subjective. For example, Halevi accuses Shaheen's organization of mislabeling Hamas cleric Nizar Rayan as a civilian. Shaheen explains that Rayan was killed in an Israeli airstrike on his home. There are jihadist posters of Rayan all over Gaza, and yet, "I cannot count him as a militant or fighter," Shaheen says. Rayan was unarmed with his wives and children when he was killed, Shaheen explains. "I cannot count this case as a fighter because he didn't participate as a fighter in the offensive. He was a civilian the whole time--going to the mosque, praying, coming back to his house."

Question to Shaeen: How would you define the Israelis who are fired upon by Hamas? And if those civilians can be designated as targets by Hamas, what about those unarmed members of Hamas on their way to fire those rockets?

B'Tselem is accused of the same sloppiness, and in critiquing the methodology used by B'Tselem, CAMERA notes:
Despite the press release's statement about the percentage of those killed who were civilians, B'Tselem's data do not actually break down Palestinian casualties according to civilians or combatants. In most but not all cases, the organization's detailed list of Palestinian casualties classifies each person as "Killed when participating in hostilities" or "Did not participate in hostilities when killed." Clearly, those in the latter category are not necessarily civilians, as a terrorist could be killed while, for instance, not directly in the process of planting a bomb or shooting a soldier. Moreover, B'Tselem almost never includes any reference to terrorist affiliations of Palestinian casualties, making it impossible for readers to know who was genuinely a civilian and who was not.
Read the whole thing.

Counting up the dead has been reduced to a propaganda war--one that the Palestinians have proven themselves very adept.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad

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