The Despicable Return of Casualty Statistics as a Moral Barometer


raanana-terrorBy Alex Margolin

During the 2014 Gaza War, nearly every news report contained an obligatory paragraph listing the number of Palestinians and Israelis killed in action. The figures, which invariably showed a substantially higher number of Palestinian casualties, ultimately served as justification for those who wished to claim that Israel was the real aggressor in the war — since so many more Palestinians had been killed.

It didn’t matter that the violence really began when three Israeli teens and a Palestinian teen had been murdered, followed by a sustained barrage of rockets from Hamas aimed at Israeli civilians. The raw numbers, stripped entirely of context, were pushed as the moral truth behind the headlines.

It also made no difference to the media that Israel took extensive steps to protect its citizens while Hamas used Palestinians as human shields. Some media outlets presented the numbers as a “scoreboard.” HonestReporting called it “casualties as a moral barometer,” and named it one of the five media fails of the Gaza War.

The current wave of terror engulfing Israel looks to be following the same pattern.Reuters, for example, has begun including a “death tally” in its reports on the conflict:

Four Israelis and 26 Palestinians, including eight alleged attackers and eight children, have died in 12 days of bloodshed, the worst spell of street violence for years, stirred in part by Muslim anger over increasing Jewish visits to the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem.

The Reuters report focused mostly on stabbing attacks in Tel Aviv and Ra’anana. The presentation of the numbers, however, leaves out more than it includes. What is clearly a Palestinian onslaught against an innocent population of Israelis looks like Israeli aggression. Why are so many more Palestinians being killed — one may ask.

The raw numbers ignore the facts on the ground. Palestinian attackers are often killed but their victims merely sustain life-threatening injuries and are not included in the tally. Some aggressors were killed before they reached their Israeli victims.

The reference to children may be the most distorted of all. As presented, the numbers give the impression of innocent children who died as collateral damage. But that’s not the case. The number ostensibly includes a 15-year-old Palestinian who was killed by police after he, along with another 13-year old Palestinian, stabbed and critically wounded a 13-year-old Israeli boy riding his bicycle. Other Palestinian minors have been involved in carrying out attacks.

Ultimately, the numbers fail to show what’s really important — that Israel is facing a relentless wave of Palestinian terror. The moral high ground does not belong to the side that loses more people if those people are killed trying to murder innocent civilians. The media has a responsibility to present the situation as it really is. And the raw numbers of people killed create a distorted picture.

This article was originally published by HonestReporting. 



  1. Indeed, using the same methodology as Reuters, one might conclude that in its conflict with Nazi Germany, the United States should be considered the aggressor because fewer Americans were casualties of that war than were Germans.