Martha Gellhorn: Counting Arab casaulties

(8 November 1908 - 15 February 1998)

Letter to The Times, June 23 1982

Sir, After the Six Day war, Jordan claimed that Israel had bombed hospitals and refugee camps on the West Bank and in Gaza, and 25,000 soldiers and civilians were dead. The figure was later reduced to 15,000. For three weeks at the end of the war, I retraced the course of the combat, looking for proof of these grave allegations. All hospitals and refugee camps were unharmed, untouched; No refugee anywhere was hurt or forced to flee from danger. There was fighting in only three inhabited on the West Bank and in the southern section of Gaza town; villages were not destroyed. I accepted Arab statements on the spot, wherever the Israeli army had passed, even though these statements denied visible evidence. The final civilian death toll was 127 Arabs and 23 Israelis. I wrote then that all death were to be mourned but none should be exploited for propaganda. Now the media are asserting that up to half a million people in Lebanon have been made homeless, or killed or wounded. The latest article I have seen in the Times states that 'almost 10,000 people' have been killed. Who has queried the sources of this information? Who has searched for proof of this appalling casualty count? It cannot be presumed that the half million or the 10,000 dead are all in Beirut where verification is impossible. Such numbers of people, dead or alive, cannot vanish. Detailed fact-finding is essential to serious journalism. I suggest that Israel again stands condemned on the basis of gross propaganda. I suggest also that a nation's frontier is unarguably sovereign territory and no nation will suffer indefinite attacks across its frontier. Why is it right for Britain but base and wrong for Israel to safeguard its sovereign territory?
Martha Gellhorn