Scrolling on your phone puts you at the mercy of misleading headlines about Gaza

For many in today’s TikTok world, awareness of news is limited to mere headlines. Instead of carefully reading reports, screen-fatigued people tend merely to scroll from one headline to the next. I’m guilty of that. Probably you are, too.

Enter: The problem of the misleading headline.

This is a mistake (or is it?) whereby a news headline doesn’t convey the truth (or full truth) contained in the story. Those who’ve been made stupid by their smartphones are especially susceptible to this issue.

Sadly, misleading headlines can create or reinforce propaganda and distort public opinion about any number of issues. But for our purposes, let’s focus on the anti-Israel protests in major cities and university campuses. (For my assessment of anti-Israel propaganda, such as the idea that Israel is committing genocide, apartheid, and oppression, see my recent Mercator article “Untangling Anti-Israel Propaganda for Today’s College Students.”)

Let’s analyse three recent headlines.

A misleading CNN headline

“Nearly half of the Israeli munitions dropped on Gaza are imprecise ‘dumb bombs,’ US intelligence assessment finds” (CNN, December 14).

This headline gives the impression that Israel is bombing Gaza indiscriminately (because “dumb bombs” are not guided). Such bombing is a concern because it violates the just war principle of distinction. In war, combatants should distinguish between civilians and enemy soldiers, and aim only to destroy enemy soldiers. Israel claims to be targeting Hamas terrorists, not Gazan civilians, so this headline suggests Israelis are liars — and war criminals.

But if we read only the headline, we would be misled. Deep in the article we read the following:

“A US official told CNN that the US believes that the Israeli military is using the dumb bombs in conjunction with a tactic called ‘dive bombing,’ or dropping a bomb while diving steeply in a fighter jet, which the official said makes the bombs more precise because it gets it closer to its target. The official said the US believes that an unguided munition dropped via dive-bombing is similarly precise to a guided munition.”

Even deeper in the article we read that: “the US also provides Israel with systems that can transform those dumb bombs into ‘smart’ ones….”

Clearly, a headline that’s less biased against Israel would go something like this:

“US assessment: Israel uses precision to strike Gaza — even with ‘dumb bombs.’”

(Acknowledgment: I learned about this CNN example from former Israel spokesperson Eylon Levy in his excellent interview with military reporter and defence analyst Yaakov Katz on Israel: State of a Nation with Eylon Levy.)

Misleading headlines from various news sources

“Palestinian death toll in Gaza climbs to 34,844” (May 14).

This is another headline that can shape public opinion against Israel in its war with Hamas and may even encourage allies to withhold military aid. Even President Joe Biden used the headline’s casualty number in a speech. This headline and slight variations of it have been often presented in recent news reports around the world. See links above and see Google.

That is a large number of casualties, for sure. The impression the headline leaves is that Israel is simply doling out a whole lot of death!

But we should think for a minute. Yes, that’s a lot of ended human lives. And, yes, we should mourn such a terrible loss.

It turns out, however, that the number comes from Gaza’s Ministry of Health — run by Hamas — so it’s dubious at best. Reminder: Hamas is the terrorist group that murdered 1200+ Israelis, injured many more, and took 240 hostages on October 7.

Reminder: Hamas lied about the al-Ahli hospital in Gaza, saying it was destroyed by an Israeli bomb that allegedly killed nearly 500 civilians when in fact, the bomb was a misfired Islamic Jihad rocket (Islamic Jihad is a Gazan ally of Hamas) that landed in the hospital’s parking lot, killing, according to US intelligence, about 100 to 300 people.

Surely, numbers provided by known murderers and liars lack credibility.

But for the sake of argument, let’s say the number of almost 35,000 is accurate. (Keep in mind that more recent news tells us Gaza’s Ministry of Health cannot verify about 10,000 of the alleged casualties, which makes it reasonable to suspect the actual number is considerably lower.)

But even if we say 35,000 Gazans have been killed in the war so far, we should realize that this number (and the new, perhaps lower number) fails to indicate that a large portion are Hamas fighters, not just Gazan civilians.

The Israel Defense Forces estimate they have killed 14,000 Hamas fighters (if we take a terrorist’s number seriously, we should at least take a democratic state’s number seriously). Now, let’s do the math.

The number of Hamas fighters killed is about 40% of the total casualties in Gaza. This means that for every combatant killed, 1.5 civilians are killed.

Of course, each civilian death is tragic. But the combatant-civilian death ratio shows how careful and precise Israel actually is when compared to other instances of recent urban warfare.

For example, in Mosul, Iraq, US-backed forces killed 4,000 Islamic State terrorists and 10,000 civilians. This means that, for every combatant killed, 2.5 civilians were killed. And, in the fight against Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, for every combatant killed, five civilians were killed.

Keep in mind, too, that in Gaza many civilians are killed by misfired rockets launched by Hamas and its Islamic jihadist friends. Since October 7, 2023, Hamas has fired well over 10,000 rockets into Israel. And it’s estimated that between 10% and 20% of those rockets (1,000 to 2,000 rockets) misfired and landed in Gaza. That’s a lot of Hamas’s rockets landing in Gaza — which is populated densely with Gazan civilians.

There’s no doubt, then, that many Gazan civilians are killed by Hamas, not the IDF. Clearly, this reduces the IDF’s combatant-civilian death ratio even more.

Moreover, keep in mind that Hamas — unlike ISIS in Iraq and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan — has had nearly 20 years to embed itself in the Gazan population, where it routinely uses civilians as human shields, and to build hundreds of kilometres of attack tunnels under Gazan homes, hospitals, schools, and mosques. This has made it all the more difficult for the IDF to target Hamas and minimize civilian deaths.

Clearly, in view of these difficult circumstances of war, the above combatant-civilian death ratios demonstrate that Israel has minimized civilian deaths in a way that will no doubt be hailed by Western democracies which value human life as the gold standard in urban warfare.

All this to say: Without further details, the headline “Palestinian death toll in Gaza climbs to 34,844” makes Israel look bad — but misleadingly and unjustly so.



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A misleading headline from Reuters

“Satellite images show 35% of Gaza’s building destroyed, UN says” (Reuters, March 22).

Wow. That is a lot of destroyed buildings! If you scroll on without reading the article (or without reading it carefully), you can’t help but think: Those darn Israelis.

But wait. The article tells a significantly different story.

Consider this (from the article): “In its assessment, the United Nations Satellite Centre, UNOSAT, used high-resolution satellite images … [and] found that 35% of all buildings in the Gaza Strip—88,868 structures—had been damaged or destroyed.”

Put on your thinking caps.

First, notice that to say 35% of all buildings are damaged or destroyed (according to the article’s text) is not the same as saying 35% of all buildings are destroyed (according to the article’s headline). Logic (and common sense) tells us that something can be damaged but not destroyed.

So the headline misleads us by telling us that 35% of the buildings are destroyed, while neglecting to tell us that the 35% includes buildings that were merely damaged. That is an important difference.

Second, and more significantly, notice that the article goes on to say: “Among these [the 88,868 damaged or destroyed buildings], [UNOSAT] identified 31,198 structures as destroyed, 16,908 as severely damaged, and 40,762 as moderately damaged.”

That means of the 88,868 damaged structures 35% were destroyed, 19% severely damaged, and 46% moderately damaged.

Here’s the rub: The headline makes it seem that 35% of all of Gaza’s buildings were destroyed, when in fact only 35% of the damaged structures were destroyed.

That’s a huge difference in meaning. And terribly misleading.

Don’t be bamboozled by misleading headlines, especially if you are interested in truth about the Israel-Hamas war and wish to avoid anti-Israel bias.

Read more — and read more carefully. 

Are you sceptical of figures from Hamas and Israel about the war in Gaza? 

Originally published at The Stream.

Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is a retired philosophy professor (formerly at Providence University College, Manitoba, Canada) and author of the recent book Untangling Popular Anti-Israel Arguments: Critical Thinking about the Israel-Hamas War. A PDF of this book is available for free at his blogAPOLOGIA or the paperback can be purchased at Amazon.  


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  • Hendrik van der Breggen
    commented 2024-07-04 04:22:02 +1000
    Jürgen Siemer: Yes, the death of children is tragic—horrible. It’s a tragedy. But for Hamas it’s a strategy.

    Sadly, many Gazans see their children’s deaths as a sacrifice (as “martyrs”) for the cause of jihad against Israel. Israel targets Hamas, but Hamas hides behind children. Then Western media report the deaths as if they’re Israel’s fault, when in actuality (when careful moral reasoning is applied) they are not.

    The fact is that Hamas and the Gazans who support Hamas foresaw the children’s deaths by hiding Hamas military in (and below) homes, hospitals, and schools. By doing so they knew that homes, hospitals, and schools would become legitimate military targets—and would result in the deaths of civilians, including children.

    Hamas and Gazans who support Hamas instigated a genocidal war against Israel on October 7 and then fought from (and hid underneath) civilian structures they knew would thereby be turned into legitimate military targets. And they knew Israel would target them because they also knew Israel was morally obliged to protect its citizens.

    When it comes to the horrible deaths of children in Gaza, Hamas and Gazans who support Hamas are the moral culprits.

    For additional thought:

    Douglas Murray, “Hamas’ philosophy: All civilians, all children are tools of war,” New York Post, December 28, 2023.

    Israel is guilty of genocide? (From my book.)

    Israel’s response to Hamas is not proportional? (From my book.)
  • mrscracker
    I’m finding it more & more disturbing & depressing to see anti Semitism in my fellow Catholics. I never really understood when my Jewish friends would talk about this historic problem in my own Church, but I understand it now. Very sad & disappointing.
  • Jürgen Siemer
    commented 2024-07-04 03:09:17 +1000
    Hendrik, according to a report from Reuters, by mid May the death toll was at least 35,000 including almost 8,000 children.
    You may debate if the correct number of dead children is 5,000 or rather 10,000.

    But telling the mothers of these children, that the Israelis, who fired the artillery are not responsible for the deaths of the children, but instead the parents and grandparents are responsible due to having voted for Hamas, is indeed very biased – I am avoiding stronger words.

    By the way, Hamas was founded with the support of the Israeli secret service. I guess the Israelis prefer more extreme enemies so that they can bomb them.

    Israel is destroying itself.
  • Hendrik van der Breggen
    commented 2024-07-03 05:37:34 +1000
    Hello again Jürgen Siemer. You accuse me of holding an “extremely biased and one-sided view” and being “blind and deaf to what happens today in Gaza,” but you ignore all my evidence-based reasoning. In other words, you do not engage with my arguments. Instead, you misrepresent me and insult my intelligence.

    Also, contrary to what you imply, nowhere in my responses have I described any human beings as “animals” who do not have dignity (due to being made in the image of God). Rather, I have been treating Gazans as having dignity and agency. How? By taking seriously their views and actions (e.g., their generally positive view of Hamas, their anti-Jewish attitudes learned from UNRWA and parents and grandparents, their anti-Jewish behaviour). I have also been treating Israelis respectfully by untangling falsehoods told about them (see my article above and see my previous article).

    Yes, I am a Christian. That’s why I wrote “I believe that Jesus—God come to earth in human flesh, who lived, died for our sins, and physically resurrected as Lord of Life—is the door to new life with a future, a good future.”

  • Jürgen Siemer
    commented 2024-07-02 15:41:36 +1000
    Hendrik, every human being is created in the image of God, has inherited “dignity”. Humans, even the grand children of your enemy, are not animals, deserve not to be treated like animals.

    Our and the dignity of Isrealies must be visible in the way we treat our enemies. Has Jesus not teached us to love our enemies?

    I assume you call yourself a christian.

    I therefore cannot understand how and why you have developed your extremely biased and one-sided views, and why you seem to be blind and deaf to what happens today in Gaza.
  • Hendrik van der Breggen
    commented 2024-07-01 11:27:03 +1000
    For additional thought about how media often misleads us with regard to Israel, see

    For additional thought about the historical and legal aspects of the founding of the State of Israel, see the 19-part video series WHOSE LAND? (Each part is quite short, ranging from 5 minutes to 15 minutes, for a total of about 3.5 hours.) This video series features retired British Army Colonel Richard Kemp.
  • Hendrik van der Breggen
    commented 2024-06-30 02:24:03 +1000
    Hello again Jürgen.

    In a comment prior to your last one you asked me to do a thought experiment in which I am a 25-year-old man in Gaza in 2023 and so I explained that I would probably be a Hamas supporter/fighter. This scenario is highly probable, it seems to me, given the Islamic-jihadist/ pro-Hamas culture of Gaza due to UNRWA indoctrination and the Islam-Nazi anti-Jewish ideological background of previous generations.

    But in your latest comment you suggest I am mistaken. You think that the tough living conditions in Gaza prior to October 7, 2023, should be emphasized as playing an important role in the thought experiment, because, you say, Gaza was an “open-sky-prison.” I think, though, that your suggestion reinforces my view.

    To see this, we should ask: WHY were the living conditions in Gaza so tough? Answer: (a) Because, even though Gaza was given independence by Israel in 2005, in 2006 Gazans voted in Hamas—an Islamic-jihadist organization whose explicit goal (see their charter) is to destroy Jews. And (b) because Hamas has spent billions of UN aid dollars to turn Gaza into a war machine against Israel (complete with ideological indoctrination via UNRWA) instead of using those dollars to care for Gazan citizens. In fact, since 2006 Gaza has launched thousands upon thousands of rockets towards Israel and has built and attacked Israel via tunnels (even before October 7). As a result of these hostilities, Israel built up its borders along Gaza for the sake of its security against Hamas-led Gaza (Egypt also built up its border with Gaza). All this to say: the tough living conditions in Gaza (the “open-sky-prison”) are Gaza’s doing—because of its ongoing fanatical Jew hatred and ongoing war preparation against Israel. It’s a sacrifice that’s part of Islamic-jihadist martyrdom.

    You ask: “Where do you see the door, the young in Gaza could open to both leave Islam and find a new life, a life with a future?” My answer is four-fold. First, prayer. Pray that the evil-doers (on all sides) be restrained and thwarted and that truth, goodness, and beauty prevail. Second, ensure that Hamas is defeated (and the hostages released). Third, encourage the international community to help rebuild Gaza (as Germany and Japan were rebuilt after World War II) and to promote education that instills careful thinking, peaceful co-existence, and a love of truth, goodness, and beauty. Fourth, pray that Gazans would find the truth, goodness, and beauty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I believe that Jesus—God come to earth in human flesh, who lived, died for our sins, and physically resurrected as Lord of Life—is the door to new life with a future, a good future.

    Thanks, Jürgen, for the conversation.
  • Jürgen Siemer
    commented 2024-06-28 20:00:10 +1000
    Hendrik, you explain the worldview of our 25 year old thought Experiment Palestinian from Gaza with bad education from teachers, parents and grandparents. It seems as if you see only these explanations.

    How about the actual living conditions? Well, this 25year old guy has lived in an open-sky-prison. He may have never left the place in his life, although it has been possible but difficult.

    Does that reality of life, that had confirmed his bad and biased worldview do many times, not also play a role?

    For your info, I have very negative opinions about the religion of Islam, not only the so-called Islamists.

    Where do you see the door, the young in Gaza could open to both leave Islam and find a new life, a life with a future?
  • Hendrik van der Breggen
    commented 2024-06-28 09:59:38 +1000
    Edits for my previous comment
    *have been abrogated
    *Anti-Israel Arguments
  • Hendrik van der Breggen
    commented 2024-06-28 07:55:33 +1000
    Jürgen Siemer:

    You asked me to engage in a thought experiment. You wrote: “Imagine you were a 25 year old young man living in Gaza in 2023. Living conditions are very harsh, have been since you were young. Probably the worst aspect is that there is almost no prospect for you, no hope for a “normal” live. What would you think?”

    My answer:

    Probably I would think that I should continue to fight for Hamas. After all, I’ve grown up with UNRWA schooling (and perhaps even was a teacher there). From a young age I’ve been taught that Jews are scum and should be killed. Why? Because, according to my lessons, Jews are the cause of everything that’s wrong in the world and because Allah (via the Prophet Mohammad) tells me to kill Jews. My hope for a “normal” life is not what Westerners think I want. Rather, my desire is to serve Allah by emulating Mohammad—not the peaceful Mohammad in his early years, whose peaceful teachings have abrogated, but the Jew-hating jihadist Mohammad of his later years. My hope and great prospect in life is to bring glory to Allah. Allahu Akbar! If I die killing Jews, then I will honor Allah. And, as a bonus, my fellow martyrs and I will end up in a paradise of sensual delights! So, along with my fellow Hamas fighters, my life is such that I am determined to love death more than life.

    My Gazan parents and grandparents—who voted for Hamas—encouraged this thinking in me (and still do) because they were influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood. After World War II, the Muslim Brotherhood embraced—as a hero—the Jew-hating Nazi-collaborator Haj Amin al-Husseini. Al-Husseini, a.k.a. the Grand Mufti, was the undisputed leader of Palestinian Arabs before and after World War II and his Jew-hatred was an inspiration. Al-Husseini worked for the Nazis in promoting anti-Jew propaganda in the Arab world during World War II. In fact, during the war he visited with Adolf Hitler (and lived in Berlin); he was friends with Adolf Eichmann (a major organizer of the Holocaust); he sympathized with Eichmann (in his desire to rid the world of Jews, including the Jews in the Middle East); and al-Husseini even attempted to organize a Muslim SS (an elite military guard of the Nazi Reich). Al-Husseini was my family’s hero! And not only did al-Husseini heroically work with the Nazis in their efforts to destroy Jews, al-Husseini favoured a war of extermination against Israel in 1948 instead of agreeing to a two-state solution. Why? Because the region of Palestine was once conquered by Muslims (i.e., the Ottoman Empire) and so, according to Islam, it becomes part of the lands of Islam (Dar al-Islam) and so its loss through conquest (to the British at first, and then to the Jews) constitutes a robbery—an injustice to the Allah-ordained order of things. And a specifically JEWISH state in a previously Islamic land is additionally wrong! In other words, Palestinian leaders such al-Husseini and company, along with my parents and grandparents, were/are as proudly anti-Semitic as Nazis (but with an Islamist flavor), so my parents and grandparents inculcated this anti-Semitism in me, too.

    That’s probably what I would think as a 25-year-old man living in Gaza in 2023, given my anti-Semitic schooling and upbringing in Gaza.

    P.S. For a bit more about Haj Amin al-Husseini, see the quotes in chapter 3 of my book Untangling Popular Ant-Israel Arguments:
  • Jürgen Siemer
    commented 2024-06-27 20:01:02 +1000
    Hendrik, just a thought Experiment:

    Imagine you were a 25 year old young man living in Gaza in 2023. Living conditions are very harsh, have been since you were young. Probably the worst aspect is that there is almost no prospect for you, no hope for a “normal” live.

    What would you think?
  • Hendrik van der Breggen
    commented 2024-06-27 04:53:02 +1000
    Frank Daley: You claim that my article “deflects from the core moral issue,” i.e., “that Israel has been committing genocide against the Palestinians in Gaza.” No, your claim is false. Please notice that at the beginning of my above article I mention and link to my previous Mercator article in which I discuss the genocide charge.

    Here is what I wrote in my previous article for Mercator:

    “True or false: Israel is committing genocide. False. Israel is fighting a war of self-defence — a war started by Hamas. And it is Hamas that is the genocidal regime. In the Israel-Hamas war, Israel is targeting Hamas fighters and is not trying to wipe out Gazans. Hamas, on the other hand, targets all Israelis and wants to exterminate all Jews — whether women or men, children or aged, civilians or soldiers. That is genocide! Yes, sadly, in targeting Hamas fighters Israel has killed many Gazan civilians. This is a tragedy. But for Hamas it’s a strategy. Hamas hides behind (and below) Gazan civilians, knowing Israel is reluctant to kill civilians, yet also knowing Israel is morally obliged to risk killing Gazans to stop Hamas and thereby protect Israeli citizens. To Israel’s credit, the civilian-combatant death ratio is low when compared to other cases of urban warfare in recent history. And this is all the more impressive when we also realize that many Gazan casualties are due to the misfiring of many Hamas rockets. Again: Israel is not committing genocide. Rather, Israel is engaging in self-defence against a genocidal Islamist-jihadist regime — a regime that deliberately sacrifices its own citizens so gullible Westerners will believe it is the victim, and thus not support the only democracy in the Middle East. (In view of the campus anti-Israel protests and the Biden administration’s waffling support for Israel, Hamas is playing its wicked game all too well!)”

    Also relevant to refuting the genocide charge is the section (in my above Mercator article about headlines) which deals with the headline “Palestinian death toll in Gaza climbs to 34,844.”

    Relevant, too, is chapter 11 “Israel is guilty of genocide?” of my book Untangling Popular Anti-Israel Arguments: Critical Thinking about the Israel-Hamas War to which I provided links in my article. To make matters easy, here is a direct link to the chapter “Israel is guilty of genocide?”:

    See too my book’s chapter 12 “Israel’s response to Hamas is not proportional?”

    In addition, you (or interested readers) may wish to consider a lawyer’s view on the genocide charge. See Natasha Hausdorff in this 24 minute interview:

    All this to say: Evidence and reason show that Israel is not committing genocide.

    I hope my comment is helpful.

  • mrscracker
    Mr. Daley, the point is more that civilians in Gaza are exploited, indoctrinated, intimidated, & used as human shields by Hamas. Suffering or dead Gazans have been Hamas’s bread & butter. They have no incentive to improve the lives of the people in Gaza. That would turn off the flow of humanitarian aid Hamas has appropriated to buy weapons & build tunnels for all these years.
    Hamas are mercenaries. They work for the highest bidder, most recently Iran.
    Israel’s neighbors want peace. Iran doesn’t. That’s what October 7th was all about: disrupting the peace accords.
  • Frank Daley
    commented 2024-06-26 11:54:36 +1000
    Yet another article from Mercator on Gaza that deflects from the core moral issue. The core moral issue, as has been well documented by the International Court of Justice, is that there is a plausible case that Israel has been committing genocide against the Palestinians in Gaza.

    Points such as arguing about what percentage of buildings in Gaza that have been destroyed as a way to deflect from the moral atrocities being committed by Israel is frankly abhorrent.
  • mrscracker
    Thank you Mr. van der Breggen .
    I enjoy reading/listening to Douglas Murray.
  • Hendrik van der Breggen
    commented 2024-06-25 05:27:23 +1000
    Thank you, mrscracker!

    On the broader theme of misleading articles about the Israel-Hamas war, this recent article by Douglas Murray is important: “All eyes should be on Al Jazeera for being founded, funded — and directed — by terrorists,” New York Post, June 20, 2024.
  • mrscracker
    Thank you for sharing this and for your fair mindedness. You wonder how any media source takes the word of mercenary terrorists and then publishes that as fact?
    One of the most intelligent headlines I’ve read was " It Takes a Village to Hide Hostages. "
  • Hendrik van der Breggen
    published this page in The Latest 2024-06-24 09:44:02 +1000