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Biden report to Congress under Elie Wiesel Act seems to use Hamas stats, blame Israel for war deaths

Although Israel has said that 14,000 to 16,000 Gazan noncombatants had been killed as of mid-May, the U.S. government said that the Jewish state killed "tens of thousands" through April.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in Prague, May 31, 2024. Photo by Chuck Kennedy/U.S. State Department.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in Prague, May 31, 2024. Photo by Chuck Kennedy/U.S. State Department.

An official U.S. government report, filed under a federal law named for the late Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize laureate Elie Wiesel, appears to cite official Hamas statistics and to blame Israel—and not the U.S.-designated terror group—for deaths in Gaza since Oct. 7.

The State Department filed the report, which was publicized on Wednesday, on behalf of U.S. President Joe Biden under a section of the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act of 2018, P.L. 115-441.

“The United States is committed to promoting respect for human rights globally and reaffirms atrocity prevention as a core national security interest,” per the report, which “highlights illustrative examples of U.S. efforts during the reporting period of May 2023 to April 2024, unless otherwise noted.” (A State Department spokesperson told JNS that the period covered went from May 1 to April 30.)

The president’s report to Congress states that Hamas, a U.S.-designated terror organization, “is a brutal terrorist organization that has vowed to annihilate Israel and repeat the Oct. 7, 2023, massacre, during which it murdered almost 1,200 Israelis, took more than 240 people hostage, and committed horrific acts of sexual violence.”

The report then appears to blame the Jewish state, and not Hamas, for the subsequent deaths.

“In response, Israel has engaged in military actions in Gaza with the stated intent of defending itself against future Hamas attacks,” per the report. “By the end of the reporting period, tens of thousands of Palestinians were killed and over a million displaced as a result of Israel’s military actions.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on May 13 that there was roughly a one-to-one ratio of Gazan terrorists to noncombatants killed and that “we’re facing 35,000 Hamas terrorists. We’ve killed already about 14,000, wounded many others.”

On the same day, Avi Hyman, a spokesman for the Israeli government, said Israel had killed more than 14,000 terrorists and that some 16,000 civilians had been killed since Oct. 7 as a result of the ensuing war.

Official Israeli statistics appear to record—given the one-to-one ratio—roughly 14,000 to 16,000 civilian deaths in Gaza between Oct. 7 and May 13. (JNS sought comment from the Israeli embassy in Washington.)

It wasn’t clear from the report that the State Department filed if the reporting period ended at the beginning or end of April, though the president’s report appeared to rely on Hamas statistics in its suggestion that “tens of thousands of Palestinians were killed and over a million displaced as a result of Israel’s military actions.”

In the past, Biden and senior U.S. officials have cited Hamas statistics. Some have apologized. Biden was criticized for citing the terror group’s numbers in his State of the Union address.

A State Department spokesperson told JNS on background that the White House is required under the Elie Wiesel Act to produce an annual report on the U.S. government’s efforts to prevent atrocities.

“United States officials have been unequivocal in condemning and demanding accountability for Hamas atrocities, including hostage-taking, conflict-related sexual violence and ongoing endangerment of Palestinian civilians through use of civilian sites for military purposes,” the Foggy Bottom spokesperson said.

“The United States has repeatedly reaffirmed Israel’s right to defend itself and continues to provide significant and sustained military support to Israel, while making clear that Israel has a legal and moral obligation and a strategic imperative to protect civilians, investigate allegations of any wrongdoing and ensure accountability for any violations of international humanitarian law and any abuses or violations of international human rights law,” the State Department spokesperson added.

JNS sought comment from the State Department specifically about the apparent use of Hamas statistics and the appearance of blaming Israel rather than Hamas for Gazan deaths.

‘Hamas fights from among civilians’

David Adesnik, a senior fellow and the director of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told JNS that “the State Department’s inability to distinguish between Hamas fighters and civilians unfortunately echoes the way the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health presents the data, also refusing to distinguish.”

“To say ‘as a result of Israel’s military action,’ that’s unfortunate phrasing,” he added. “The reason that there’s a war at all is, of course, that Hamas perpetrated the massacre on Oct. 7.”

“In other cases, top U.S. officials have recognized that so much of the civilian toll in this war is because Hamas fights from among civilians and built hundreds of tunnels under civilian homes,” he added. “It operates out of hospitals, out of schools. It builds a command center under UNRWA headquarters.”

“That phrasing is unfortunate,” Adesnik said.

A researcher in Washington, who closely follows the region, told JNS that “it’s a little strange. It smacks of Holocaust inversion that in the name of one of the legendary writers who survived the Holocaust, they’re pointing the finger at Israel.”

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