Those Gaza casualty figures and Hamas’ use and abuse of civilian human shields

Regular readers of this blog will be well-used to reports of Hamas using human shields in order to cause maximum Palestinian physical casualties and maximum damage to Israel’s reputation.

Here are several links which help to illustrate this war crime and abuse human rights by Hamas, and which you can make use in countering the libels and smears out there in the international media.

Firstly, why does Israel not publish the real casualty figures in Gaza? The answer is no so straightforward:

For Operation Protective Edge, the only data published so far comes from the health ministry in Gaza. This ministry is run by Hamas, therefore rendering the number of casualties and injuries it reports more than unreliable, said Maj. Arye Shalicar of the Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson’s unit. “Hamas has no shame about lying. We know they’re a terrorist organization that makes cynical use of casualty numbers for propaganda purposes. You can’t trust a single number they publish.”

And yet, the figures from the Gazan ministry are routinely adopted, unquestioned, by the United Nations. “According to preliminary information, over 77 per cent of the fatalities since 7 July have been civilians, raising concerns about respect for international humanitarian law,” states a situation report published Tuesday by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Once given the stamp of approval of such an important body, these numbers are quoted everywhere else.

“All these publications are not worth the paper they’re written on,” said Reuven Erlich, the director of the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center. “They’re based mostly on Palestinian sources in Gaza, who have a vested interest in showing that we’re killing many civilians.”

“Our work doesn’t focus on the number of casualties, but rather on Hamas’s methods, which are the sole reason for the fact that civilians are being hurt; and on our method, which is to do everything to avoid civilian casualties,” said Yarden Vatikai, the director of the National Information Directorate at the Prime Minister’s Office.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tries to hammer this point home every time he talks to a world leader or to the press. “See, the Hamas and the other terrorist groups like Islamic Jihad are firing from Gaza when their rocketeers and their command posts are embedded in homes, hospitals, next to kindergartens, mosques,” he said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “And so we are trying to operate, to target them surgically, but the difference between us is that we’re using missile defense to protect our civilians, and they’re using their civilians to protect their missiles. So naturally they’re responsible for all the civilian deaths that occur accidentally.”

Numbers matter, and although it’s tough to explain the many civilian casualties caused by Israeli air raids, there is nothing the IDF can do about it, officials insist. It’s simply impossible to establish an independent body count while the hostilities are ongoing, admitted a senior official in the government’s hasbara apparatus. “It’s a challenge. But even if you said: No, only 40 or 50 percent of those killed were civilian, and not 70 — would that change anything in the world’s opinion?”

The numbers game is not an arena in which Israel can win, the official said. “When it comes to arguments over the actual justice of our campaign, I think we can win. When it comes to numbers, though, we cannot win. Because first of all, we don’t really have the ability to count the casualties, and secondly, because most people don’t really care that it was, say, only 50 percent and not 60.”

If the UN or other groups want to investigate possible war crimes or the high number of casualties after Operation Protective Edge, Jerusalem will deal with it then, the official said. Even if Israel were to publish its body count at the same time as the Gazan health ministry, it would not prevent a second Goldstone report, he added. “The people involved in these kinds of reports are not interested in the exact numbers. If they want to attack Israel they will do it regardless of the true number of casualties. They have their narrative, and nothing is going to change that.”

I’m not sure that answer is adequate any more in these days of 24/7 news cycles, simplistic sound-bites and blatant propaganda.

One organization that is doing sterling work in providing real-time information in an easily digestible format is the IDF Spokesman’s office, via their blog and their social media accounts. Here is one of the IDF Spokesman’s tweets from yesterday for example:

And here is a video from the IDF showing Hamas terrorists shooting from within a civilian house:

Interestingly, Al-Jazeera have provided some very useful figures proving Israel’s point, as CAMERA points out:

Shown below is a chart of male fatalities in Gaza resulting from hostilities between Hamas and Israel between July 7 and July 14, derived from a list published by Al Jazeera on July 14. Information provided by Qatar-owned Al Jazeera should not be accepted at face value, as the emirate has close ties to the Hamas-led Gazan government, but nevertheless, the information provided in the list shows that as in past hostilities, the fatalities are disproportionately [compared to the overall population] among young males, which corresponds with the characteristics of combatants. Males over 40 years old are also disproportionately represented. Some of the fatalities in those over 40 years of age likely represent senior members of terrorist organization. Media coverage often parrots the line fed by Gazan authorities that “most of the casualties are civilians” despite the well-established propensity of Gazan authorities to exaggerate the proportion of civilian casualties.

The x axis shows the age from 1 to 65 and the y axis shows the number of fatalities associated with each age. The total number of male fatalities is 150, but the ages are only available for 131, and 3 over age 65 are not shown due to space limitations. So 128 are shown on the chart. There were also 20 female fatalities over the same time frame.
Of the 150 male fatalities, 83 are between the ages of 16-39, 28 are over 40 years old and 20 are under 16 years old. For 19 not shown, the age was unspecified, although one of these was listed as a member of Islamic Jihad.
Notably, only about 12 percent of the total fatalities are female, though females make up half the population. Also, the median age of Gazans is reported to be around 15. Males under 15 make up just 13 percent of the total fatalities even though they represent half of all males in the Gaza Strip.
Gaza fatalities according to Al Jazeera

Gaza fatalities according to Al Jazeera

Israellycool takes these figures and runs them further in their analysis of the Gaza casualty figures so far:

 Some of the claims I am seeing online include how the vast majority of Gazans killed are civilians, and how Israel is deliberately targeting them.

Regarding the latter, we all know this is nonsense – if Israel wanted to kill civilians it would carpet bomb Gaza. It is precisely because we want to avoid civilian casualties, that we opt for pinpoint strikes and ground operations, at risk to our soldiers’ lives.

But what about the first claim? Are the vast majority civilians?

Without having all of the terrorist obituaries or intel to prove who was a terrorist, this is hard to analyze. But what we do have is a list of the names and ages of those killed so far, which does provide us with some insights.

An anonymous Israellycool reader and her family spent countless hours going over this list from Al Jazeera – a media outlet that can’t be accused of slanting things Israel’s way. Their main findings regarding the casualties to date are as follows:

There are several very enlightening charts there. These two are the most useful:

Gaza casualty figures

Gaza casualty figures

Israellycool continues:

In other words, these figures bring into question how many of those killed were really innocent civilians.

What these figures also indicate is if Israel was indiscriminately killing Gazans, the representation in terms of gender and age would be broader (with relatively more children killed than the approx 18%, considering nearly 50% of Gazans are under the age of 14).

Another item worth reading, amongst so many others, is “Getting the law right on the Israel-Hamas conflict”:

the law of war does not require warnings before targeting enemy personnel — indeed, the law authorizes the use of lethal force as a first resort against enemy fighters and military objects. Imagine the absurdity of a system that required soldiers to give the enemy a chance to hide or plan an ambush by giving a warning before attacking: The United States did not warn German or Japanese soldiers before attacking them in World War II, nor should it have. Hamas militants are fighters, not civilians, and therefore are not entitled to protection from attack, just as Israeli soldiers are not protected from attack during conflict. It is the civilians of Gaza and Israel and every other conflict zone that the law seeks to protect, through a comprehensive web of protections and obligations.

Second, Hamas has announced that it is launching rockets at Haifa, at Tel Aviv, at Jerusalem and other Israeli cities. Not at military bases, army units, communication networks or any other military target, but at cities populated by hundreds of thousands, even millions of civilians. The law of war requires that parties distinguish between military and civilian targets and only attack military personnel and targets. Deliberate attacks on civilians and indiscriminate attacks — attacks that are incapable of distinguishing between legitimate targets and civilians — are prohibited and are war crimes.

Third, Hamas’s use of civilians and civilian buildings in Gaza as a shield is well known. Media reports tell of rockets being launched from residential buildings and schoolyards, munitions stored in houses, mosques and hospitals, Hamas leaders using civilian homes as command posts, and civilians being encouraged to go up on their roofs as human shields. These reports unfortunately rarely, if ever, mention that such conduct violates the law and, even more important, puts civilians at ever greater risk of death and injury.

Using human shields is not a romanticized effort at neighborhood defense — it is a war crime.

Do go and read it all.

And in case one still has trouble internalizing Hamas’ use of human shields, watch this chilling video:

And in order to show how insanely humane (and I mean that most sincerely) we are, here is a picture (h/t Zvi) of the IDF hospital to treat wounded Gazans in Israel.

IDF clinic for wounded Gazans

We need to keep our wits about us, both in the military fight and in the psychological war in the media.

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