FRESH AIR

The Palestinian victims of Hamas’ missiles

May 15, 2021 | Tzvi Fleischer and Oved Lobel

(Credit: amir meiri)
(Credit: amir meiri)

At the end of the day, it is Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad who are responsible for every Palestinian and Israeli casualty whenever they choose to ignite a war with Israel, and the most recent round of fighting – the most intense since 2014 – is no exception. After all, it was Hamas and Islamic Jihad that decided to piggyback on tensions in Jerusalem and provoke an all-out war by firing large numbers of rockets at Jerusalem and other major Israeli cities on Sunday evening.

This is always done from residential areas with the conscious purpose of provoking Israeli retaliation that inevitably results in collateral damage and civilian casualties, even as their own rockets are explicitly aimed only at civilian population centres to sow terror and kill and injure as many Israelis as possible.

But in the most recent war – dubbed “Sword of Jerusalem” by Hamas and “Guardians of the Walls” by the IDF – we know Hamas is even more directly responsible for many of the Palestinian casualties in Gaza.

According to the IDF, at least 350 of the more than 1750 rockets fired by Hamas and Islamic Jihad thus far have landed inside Gaza itself.

Moreover, on Sunday alone, Hamas rockets killed at least 17 Palestinians, according to the IDF, before the Israelis even started retaliating for the rocket fire.

One particularly horrible incident, documented by the NGO Defense for Children Palestine (DCIP), saw a Palestinian rocket kill a Palestinian family of eight, including two children at 6:05 p.m. on Monday night in Jabalia.

Another incident documented by the NGO killed six Palestinian children and two adults at 6:10 pm local time on Monday in the town of Beit Hanoun at the Northeast corner of the Gaza strip. While DCIP says it is unclear whose fire killed them, new evidence suggests it is overwhelmingly likely it was a Hamas rocket. Not only were there no reported Israeli strikes in the area at the time, but maps of rocket alerts in Israel make it clear a large number of rockets were passing over Beit Hanoun on the way to Israel at exactly the time the family were killed – see here and here.

On top of the 17 Palestinians killed on Monday, it is not clear how many other Palestinians have been killed by errant rocket fire in the days since – but we do know that rockets aimed at Israel continue to fall inside Gaza in large numbers.

This matters a great deal because of the way the media seems to score conflicts between Israel and Hamas-ruled Gaza based on the numbers of dead – with the one suffering the most casualties given the most sympathetic coverage. Especially emphasised is the number of children killed, with  Israel explicitly or implicitly blamed for this. See, for instance, this ABC banner during the news on May 11:

 

As of Friday evening Australia time, the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health said 119 people had been killed in Gaza, including 27 children. Israel says a majority of those killed, at least 60, are terrorist group operatives – yet it is clear that a large proportion of the remaining 59 who are potentially civilians are actually victims of Hamas rockets. This is especially true of the 27 children listed – we know eight were almost certainly killed by Hamas rockets on Monday, and it is very likely that many of the others killed have fallen victims to such rockets since then.

Yet Australian media coverage never seems to reflect even the possibility that many Gazans are being killed by Hamas rockets falling short.

Meanwhile, Hamas and Islamic Jihad have also managed to murder Arab families inside Israel with their indiscriminate rocket fire, such as Halil Awad and his 16-year-old daughter Nadine just outside the city of Lod, killed in their car on May 12. Halil’s wife was seriously injured in the strike.

On top of injuring and killing their own people, Hamas and Islamic Jihad’s rockets also managed to cut 230,000 Palestinians off from electricity and dramatically reduce access to electricity throughout Gaza by striking the power lines running from Israel into the Strip. This has also reportedly affected sewage processing in Gaza.

The type of war Hamas has chosen to wage against Israel inevitably and tragically results in civilian casualties. However, decontextualised casualty numbers and the general classification of victims by age rather than combatant status completely distorts what is happening in Gaza. In addition, almost all figures come from Gaza’s Hamas-run Health Ministry and should not be taken at face value.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our media coverage reflected this, rather than being dominated by reporters and commentators who look at raw casualty numbers of dubious accuracy, and then falsely pretend that from them they know who is killing whom, and the circumstances, and implicitly and explicitly assign blame accordingly?

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