Fact-check: Did Netanyahu Challenger Benny Gantz Really Kill 1,364 'Terrorists' in Gaza?

Gantz's new election campaign video, featuring footage of Gaza's destruction, cites official Israeli government statistics. But even the Israeli Foreign Ministry and IDF admit that there were less militants and more civilians

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Palestinians look the damage of a destroyed house where five members of the Ghannam family were killed in an Israeli missile strike early morning in Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, Friday, July 11, 2014.
Palestinians look the damage of a destroyed house where five members of the Ghannam family were killed in an Israeli missile strike early morning in Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, Friday, JuCredit: AP

On Sunday, the latest contender for the premiership, Benny Gantz – a former Israeli military chief of staff and presently the leader of the Hosen L'Yisrael party – ran his first campaign video as the race for the upcoming election heats up, listing his military achievements.

On the backdrop of images of destruction in Gaza accompanied by dramatic music, Gantz claimed that during Operation Protective Edge in 2014, under his command, 1,364 "terrorists" were killed.

The video claims that the figure is based on a Foreign Ministry report, but according to a Foreign Ministry report released on June 15, 2016, the number of Palestinians involved in fighting who were killed was actually 936.

According to Israeli government breakdown, the Israel Defense Forces and Foreign Ministry admit that "military activists" constituted just 44 percent of all those killed during Operation Protective Edge. The army says that of the 2,125 Palestinians killed, 936 were "terrorists" and at least 761 were civilians – of them, 369 children younger than 15 and 284 women. The identities of the remaining 428 were not categorized.

In his video, Gantz appears to have taken the number of "terrorists" and added to it all 428 unrecognized victims to have reached the total number of 1,364 "terrorists" he boasts of having killed.

A later report issued by the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, titled "Estimate of Hamas dead during Operation Protective Edge" updated the number of militants among the dead to 48.7 percent.

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Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem reported a month after the fighting that 2,202 Palestinians died from IDF fire, of whom 765 participated in fighting or fulfilled a military role in the Gaza Strip. B'Tselem said that 1,391 Palestinian civilians were killed, 63 percent of the total, 526 of them below the age of 18.

Quiet for 3.5 years? Depends who you ask

Benny Gantz's video took pride in "3.5 years of quiet" on the Israeli front with Gaza. Indeed, during the 3.5 years Gantz refers to - mid-2014 to the end of 2017, no Israeli soldiers or civilians were killed by this fire. But Gantz doesn't explain why he randomly stops counting at the end of 2017.

From the end of Operation Protective Edge to year-end 2018, at least 870 shells and rockets were fired at Israel. Almost all were fired in 2018 - in the first half of that year, the number of shells and rockets fired at Israel climbed by 726 percent compared to the previous year.

But in 2018, two people were killed: Aviv Levi, 21 from Petah Tikva, who was killed by a Palestinian sniper in the Gaza border in July, and Mohammed Abu Asabeh, 48, a Palestinian laborer who was staying the night at a flat in Ashkelon that took a direct rocket hit two months ago.

Dozens of Israelis, soldiers and civilians, were injured (or suffered shock) from rockets fired towards Israel since Operation Protective Edge ended in 2014.

On the Palestinian side, just during the Great Marches of Return which began in March 2018, more than 180 Palestinians have died and tens of thousands have been injured, according to the UN.

Airborne firebombs also began flying into Israel from Gaza in 2018, causing fires that burned about 30,000 dunams inside Israel, two-thirds of which was nature reserves, according to the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. A lot of crops burned too.

'Hamas suffers blow after blow' - and so do Gaza's civilians

The images Gantz used in the film, which he titled "6,321 targets destroyed – parts of Gaza have returned to the Stone Age" are actually from Rafah, taken the day after the body of Lieut. Hadar Goldin was captured ("Black Friday"). In the hours after his capture, Israeli forces instituted the so-called Hannibal directive, involving massive fire in order to prevent kidnappers from absconding with kidnapped soldiers.

Gantz takes pride in Black Friday pictures, an event that spurred international disapproval and had Amnesty International accusing Israel of committing war crimes.

That day, Israeli forces advanced into a populated area and used heavy gunfire to isolate the site. The operation also required aerial support that was more aggressive than usual. On that day alone, somewhere between 135 and over 200 Palestinians died and hundreds were injured, according to Amnesty International. It isn't clear how many of the dead and injured were affiliated with Hamas.

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