[Opinion] The Gaza Numbers Game
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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.”
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.
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.