Friday, October 31st, 2014

PunditFact fact-checks claims about Israel and Gaza

Israeli soldiers embrace as they prepare to leave the country's border with Gaza, Aug. 5, 2014. (New York Times)
Israeli soldiers embrace as they prepare to leave the country's border with Gaza, Aug. 5, 2014. (New York Times)

The minute-by-minute changes in the developments in Israel and Gaza make it difficult for fact-checkers to keep things straight.

But since the escalation in violence began last month, PunditFact has been able to examine a few of the claims central to the conflict.

Child casualties

Gaza’s casualties have piled up much faster than Israel’s since bombs began flying on July 8, and on CNN, Jake Tapper attempted to put the disparity in context during an interview with Israeli government spokesperson Mark Regev.

"If my calculations are right, Israel has, in the last three weeks, killed more Palestinian children, more than 200, than the total number of Israeli soldiers killed in military operations since 2006," Tapper said during a July 29 interview.

"At what point does the Israeli government say, enough, we’re killing too many innocent children?"

Regev gave an example of the grief the deaths are causing Israeli officials but maintained that Hamas is responsible for using civilians as human shields.

Tapper’s tough line of questioning made waves, but his numbers largely check out.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs issues a daily report on the humanitarian situation in Gaza, which includes a tally of total deaths, civilian deaths and child deaths, gathered by combining reports from Palestinian authorities -- not Hamas -- and the bodies their own agents have seen in Gaza.

As of Aug. 5, the UN office has reported a total of 1,814 Palestinians killed, including 408 are children. On July 29 when Tapper made his claim, the UN reported that 229 children had been killed.

It’s impossible to know for certain that all the children were killed by Israeli bombs or military strikes, but the figure does outpace the number of Israeli soldiers killed in operations since 2006. We searched a number of different ways and found that 221 Israeli soldiers have died in military operations over the past eight years.

We rated Tapper’s claim Mostly True.

Hamas meeting

On Sunday’s This Week, Fox News pundit Greta Van Susteren criticized Secretary of State John Kerry for meeting with Hamas leaders to help secure a ceasefire.

Van Susteren painted Kerry’s meeting as going against the will of the Arab League, whose members are against the spread of political Islam and therefore are siding with Israel in the current conflict.

"That's why so many people were critical of Secretary Kerry going to Paris and talking with Hamas," she said on Aug. 2. "The Arab League thought that that was, you know, supporting Hamas to the exclusion of the Arab League."

Just one problem: Kerry never met with Hamas, a group designated as a terrorist organization by the United States.

"If Kerry or his representatives were to meet with Hamas, they would spend the next 20 years in Leavenworth (Penitentiary)," said James Gelvin, a Middle East historian at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Instead, Kerry met with officials from Turkey and Qatar, who are considered intermediaries for Hamas. And indeed, that did upset some but not all of the members of the Arab League.

We rated Van Susteren’s claim False.

Gaza’s water issues

We also heard from Palestinian journalist Rula Jebreal, who slammed the U.S. media for "biased" coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

On MSNBC, Jebreal claimed that Between June 30 and July 10, CNN interviewed "17 Israeli public officials versus one" Palestinian official.  We found that claim to be Half True because Jebreal had undercounted some of the appearances by Palestinians.

Jebreal also claimed that U.S. media was ignoring the humanitarian crisis facing the 1.8 million people living in Gaza.

"Most Americans think, okay, Israelis are minding their own business and Palestine woke up one day in Gaza and said okay, let me fire missiles," Jebreal said. "That’s not what’s happening.

"They don’t know anything about the siege, 1.8 million Palestinians living under siege in extreme poverty, with 90 percent that don’t have access even to water."

We can’t get into the heads of all Americans, but we were curious about Jebreal’s claim about the problems people in Gaza have accessing water.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, about 67 percent of people living in Gaza currently have little or no access to running water because of damage to the electricity system or lack of fuel to run generators that provide water, sanitation, and hygiene.

That’s lower than the figure Jebreal claimed. But what's true is that 90 to 95 percent of the water from Gaza’s lone coastal aquifer, their only natural source of fresh water, isn’t suitable for drinking. As a result people have to purchase drinking water from private sources.

We rated Jebreal’s statement Mostly True.