Investigative journalist distrusts AP report on Gaza casualties

IDF Artillery Corps during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza last summer. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Investigative journalist Richard Behar has issued a detailed rebuttal to the Feb. 13 Associated Press (AP) report on the number of Palestinians killed during last summer's war between Hamas and Israel in Gaza.

The AP report found that "508 of the dead—just over 60 percent—were children, women and older men, all presumed to be civilians."

One third of those killed, according to the article, were children younger than 16, and 19 casualties were babies. "In 83 strikes, three or more members of one family died," and "among those killed were 96 confirmed or suspected militants—just over 11 percent of the total, though the actual number could be higher since armed groups have not released detailed casualty lists," AP reported.

"The remaining 240 dead were males between the ages of 16 and 59 whose names did not appear in AP searches of militant websites or on street posters honoring fighters," the news agency added.

But Behar, who initially posted his critique on Facebook, expressed little faith in the accuracy of these figures, largely based on the August 2014 analysis of the media's bias on the summer war that he had written for

The AP "violated their responsibilities to readers during the war" by simply parroting "the Hamas claim that most of the war dead were civilians. Sometimes they attributed it to the U.N., which received its figures from Hamas," Behar wrote in his latest critique.

Behar added that the AP does not explain its methodology for its "current 'examination' of the 247 airstrikes on houses?"

"What specific problems did they encounter that might have skewed or affected their research? We’ll never know, because AP doesn’t tell us those anecdotes," he wrote.

There are other signs indicating that the AP's figures may be misleading. According to the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, Hamas may be "obfuscating the actual lists and affiliations (of those killed), partly because of objective technical difficulties (poor paperwork and a lack of access to some of the bodies), and partly deliberately as part of its propaganda campaign against Israel," Behar wrote.

In addition, Eado Hecht, an independent defense analyst at the the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies think tank in Israel, told Behar that the AP story focused only on “those killed while inside houses ostensibly targeted by the Israelis."

“I write ‘ostensibly’ targeted by Israelis because something in the order of 2,600(+) Palestinian rockets and mortar bombs were fired deliberately (most of them) or by mistake into Palestinian residential areas. The deliberate fire being against Israeli soldiers in that area—but without warning local civilians to move out. So of the 247 houses struck, how many were clearly struck by Israel and how many by Palestinian fire," Behar wrote.

Even though the AP also cited the U.N. as a source for some of its figures, Hecht told Behar that U.N. figures are actually "Hamas-controlled figures passed on to the U.N."

It is worth reading Behar's full analysis of AP's reporting on Gaza casualties during the summer war. The Algemeiner published Behar's take in its entirety here.

"Why did this matter?" Behar asked. "Because every time a major media outlet reported that 'a majority' or 'a vast majority' or the 'overwhelming number' of casualties were civilians, it reverberated around the globe like a missile—fueling anti-Israel and general anti-Semitic sentiment (and violence against Jews in Europe and elsewhere)."

Another notable analysis of media bias on Israel is former AP reporter Matti Friedman's "An Insider’s Guide to the Most Important Story on Earth," published by Tablet Magazine last August.

Posted on February 17, 2015 .