There is every reason to doubt the figures given by Hamas for the number of dead and wounded in Gaza. In Jenin in 2002, Palestinian spokesmen gave staggering figures: first 3,000, then 500. A UN inquiry downsized this to 54 and confirmed that most were combatants.
In this asymmetric warfare the Palestinians systematically manipulate media images to score points. So why doubt a report by Lorenzo Cremonesi in Corriere della Sera saying Hamas had wildly exaggerated the total? Cremonesi mentions the surprise of NGOs at the credulousness of Western organisations who accepted Hamas figures.
But then there is the Israeli army’s instant, unambiguous response: Cremonesi is wrong and we have a list of 900 dead Hamas fighters to prove it.
We don’t know who is right but the following is clear: Hamas did its best to use civilians as human shields; its fighters dressed as civilians (in violation of Geneva Conventions); it forced ambulances to move its fighters; it didn’t report their deaths; and it dropped their bodies at morgues without uniforms.
So why is the death toll so important in the end? The evidence that Hamas broke all the rules of international law is overwhelming; and so is its subsequent responsibility for innocent deaths on its side of the border.
And even if the death toll of 1,300 is ultimately correct, it means that 70 percent of all fatalities were combatants — not a massacre, given that most died because they were human shields.