How many civilians were killed in Gaza?
By Ben-Dror Yemini
Every week new reports are published on the number of civilians killed in the Gaza Strip during Operation Cast Lead. Again and again, Israel is blamed for “disproportionate casualties among civilians.” Here and there, claims of “war crimes” are raised. It must be said that, first, any civilian death is deplorable and everything possible must be done to prevent such deaths. Second, any reasonable allegation must be investigated. There is not an army in the world that has not made mistakes, and the IDF is no exception. But apparently there are many entities that are enamoured of lies. Hamas claimed from the start that only a small number of those killed in Gaza were fighters. Many human rights organisations adopted the claims made by Hamas and other Palestinian organisations. So the time has come, if truth has any meaning whatsoever, to present the real story.
Abdullah Abdal Hamid Muammar, a 22-year-old student from the village of al-Nassar north of Rafah, was killed in Operation Cast Lead. So we are told by the official report of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR). This report contains details about the war casualties that purport to be accurate. The purpose is obvious – to prove to the whole world that most of the casualties were innocent civilians who were hurt by the bombing of the civilian population.
Many human rights organisations, including Amnesty, B’Tselem and Human Rights Watch (HRW), relied, in whole or in part, on the PCHR data, which turned Muammar into an innocent victim. But there’s a problem with that. According to a publication issued by the Press Department of the al-Qassam Brigades, Muammar was a member of Hamas, and he appears in a picture on an Arabic website in which he is carrying a Qassam missile. This is also the case with many other “innocent civilians”. They were terrorists. It turns out that, to discover that lie – which was just one of many – meticulous investigations were required. Dr. Tal Pavel of the Interdisciplinary Centre, Herzliya, and Jonathan Dahoah-Halevy, a researcher at the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs, investigated each name on the list of casualties.
The various organisations announced that between 1,200 and 1,400 were killed in Gaza. The number may have been inflated, as claimed, for example, by journalist Lorenzo Cremonesi, reporting from the Gaza Strip for the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. It is also worth mentioning the investigation conducted by the IDF which appears to be a bit more reliable and puts the number of killed at 1,164, as well as the fact that Hamas issued explicit instructions to conceal and deceive.
According to Pavel’s research, 564 of the dead were members of Hamas. All of them were honoured, as fallen fighters, on Hamas websites. In addition to them, according to IDF investigations, about 100 Islamic Jihad members were killed. Assuming that other terrorists were killed, for example those belonging to Fatah, then most of the dead were not innocent civilians. And that’s just the beginning.
The bombing of the Hamas Police Academy earned wall-to-wall condemnation because, according to international law, police are considered civilians. Here we will go into the results of the research conducted by Dahoah-Halevy. According to a name-based investigation of each of the “policemen”, it turns out that 88.4% of them belong to the security – i.e. terrorist – mechanisms of Hamas. One of them, Muhammad al-Dasuqi, a member of the Resistance Committee, is suspected of being one of the perpetrators of the terrorist attack on an American convoy in 2003.
One of the most prominent events in the Gaza operation was the bombing of the UN school in the Jabalya refugee camp on Jan. 6. All the media around the world publicised horrific pictures of “over 41 killed in the Al Fakhura school.” The condemnation was worldwide, from the UN Secretary General, through the President of the United States, to the Prime Minister of Great Britain.
Many long weeks passed before it was shown to be a libel. First, the three artillery shells did not hit the school at all. Second, Hamas people were firing from the area and the IDF aimed its fire at them. Third, the number of killed was far smaller than originally reported. Most of the media and human rights organisations that publicised the original news did not bother to publicise the information that was disclosed.
There were still many killed who are not identified as fighters. That is also worth investigating. If the IDF strike lacked discernment, the demographic breakdown of the casualties should have been identical to the demographic breakdown of the general population. However, a different picture emerges. A quarter of the population are adolescent girls. Eight percent of those killed were adolescent girls. A quarter of the population are adult women. Only 14% of those killed were women. The higher percentage of male casualties – much higher than their proportion of the population – proves that among them were a higher percentage of men involved in the fighting. In other words, the percentage of civilian casualties was dramatically smaller than the claims made against Israel. According to a more in-depth investigation by a team of researchers from the Interdisciplinary Centre in Herzliya between 900 and 1,070 of the casualties (63%-75%) were killed because they were involved in the fighting. If we add to that the fact that Hamas used civilians as human shields, or adolescent boys who were forced to participate in the fighting, the percentage of the casualties who were involved in the fighting only increases.
It is interesting to note the behaviour of the armies of Western countries when they had to conduct a similar war. Let’s assume that there is no comparison with the World War II Allied bombing of Tokyo and Dresden. We’ll deal with something more similar in scale and closer in time. In 1999, NATO forces conducted a similar war, mainly by aerial bombing, against Yugoslavia (Operation Allied Force). Four hundred and sixty two soldiers, 114 policemen and 489 to 512 civilians were killed.
Because there, the policemen were actually policemen, and in Gaza they are terrorists, the general balance shows that Israel hurt fewer civilians than NATO did. Add in the demographic breakdown and the forced use of adolescent boys and civilians, the number of innocent casualties is apparently far lower.
Even when this research became available, no one in the media bothered to make corrections. On the contrary. The media, in Israel and around the world, are tainted with a peculiar selectivity. Any serious research that proves that there were no war crimes is rejected. Any fabrication that doesn’t have a shred of basis in fact rates enormous headlines. That is what happened with the bombing of the al-Fakhura school in Jabalya, and in other cases as well.
Professor Arnold Toynbee, who was no friend of Israel, wrote in one of his books, “In the history of man’s endeavours to develop culture, there has never been a society whose progress and cultural level were so advanced that in time of revolution or war, its members could be depended upon not to commit evil acts.” That is true of Israel and it is true of every country that finds itself in a state of war. So I will reiterate that every deviation should be investigated. But by the same token, there is no need to hide the true picture: given than Gaza is controlled by an entity whose way is terrorism, whose platform is antisemitic, and whose official objective is the destruction of the State of Israel, the number of innocent casualties in the course of the operation was far smaller than the stories fabricated by Palestinian organisations, human rights organisations and newspapers in Israel and around the world. We can, and should, publicise serious claims of deviations and criminal behaviour. But we also can, and should, at least to the same extent, present the serious research.
Ben-Dror Yemini is the opinion-editor of the daily newspaper Maariv. Translated from the original Hebrew by Ami Isseroff of Mideast Web (www.mideastweb.org). © Maariv, all rights reserved.