Casualties of the Gaza War
||The neutrality of this article is disputed. (September 2011)|
Gaza War fatalities estimates made by human rights NGOs and by the involved combatants:
|Human Rights NGOs||Combatants|
|B'Tselem||Palestinian Centre for Human Rights||Israeli Defense Forces||Palestinian Ministry of Health, Gaza|
* B'Tselem was unable to classify 36 deaths, including six children, as combatant or non-combatant; With the release of the updated figures in December 2009, it is unclear whether the number of combatants remain 330 or change to 375.
** The IDF regards Gazan police as part of the Hamas armed forces.
*** Includes four IDF soldiers killed by the IDF in friendly fire incidents.
**** The figure refers to Police officers killed at police stations.
***** The figure refers to what PCHR claimed was non-combatant civil police officers.
The World Health Organization reported that sixteen health personnel were killed and that 22 health personnel were injured over the course of the offensive. In response, the Israeli Defense Ministry stated that nine of the sixteen medical personnel killed were Hamas operatives, referring to publications on Hamas affiliated Web sites. The UNRWA reported that five of its staff members were killed and that eleven staff members were injured. The World Food Programme reported that one of its contractors was killed and that two were injured.
Hamas gunmen killed one Egyptian border guard and wounded another on December 28. Shrapnel from an Israeli air strike near the Rafah border crossing wounded two border guards and two Egyptian children. A Ukrainian woman married to a Palestinian and their daughter were killed by Israeli tank shelling on January 8; the couple's other daughter was wounded.
In 2009, the United Nations Mine Action Centre reported that 12 people have been killed and 27 injured in the Gaza Strip by unexploded ordnance since the ceasefire.
Difficulties in ascertaining an accurate Palestinian casualty count have been attributed to a number of factors. It was reported that Hamas fighters had been ordered not to wear military uniforms during the fighting. Israeli-Arab journalist Khaled Abu Toameh wrote in The Jerusalem Post that this practice led to the over-counting of civilian casualties and under-counting Hamas military casualties, as Palestinian casualties arrived at hospitals without weapons or any other signs revealing they were actually fighters. Further difficulties were encountered due to differing definitions of who should be counted as a combatant, and the lack of access to the conflict zone by independent media or human rights workers due to Israel's strict blockade of the borders before, during, and after the conflict.
Based on data collected by Amnesty International delegates in Gaza and on cases documented by local NGOs, Amnesty concluded that an overall figure of some 1,400 fatalities is accurate and that, in addition to some 300 children, 115 women and 85 men aged over 50, some 200 men aged less than 50 were unarmed civilians who took no part in the hostilities.
Israeli officials have stated that the PMoH significantly inflated the civilian death toll and played down the number of Hamas casualties. UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes has stated that the PMoH figures have not been seriously challenged. His report however was dated January 27, 2009, well before the Israeli Defense Forces released their final assessments which did indeed seriously challenge the PMoH figures.
In an interview published in the London-based Arabic newspaper Al Hayat (November 1, 2010), Hamas interior minister Fathi Hammad stated that around 700 of the Gaza fatalities were Hamas fighters or militants from allied groups such as Islamic Jihad. Between 200 to 300 of these were from Hamas, and a similar number were from other militant groups, along with about 150 security forces. These figures differ dramatically from those given at the time of the conflict by Hamas. As the Agence France Presse correspondent commented, "His numbers roughly match the 709 "terror operatives" the Israeli military said it had killed during the fighting, which included members of the Hamas-run police force that has patrolled Gaza since the group seized power in 2007."
B'Tselem wrote that the fact that a person is listed among the fatalities, or noting that a person was a civilian or that he or she was not taking part in hostilities at the time of death, does not indicate that a breach of law was committed, or that the person killed was innocent. The NGO stressed that the data does not, in and of itself, lead to legal or moral conclusions. Nevertheless, as of September 2009, B'Tselem said it did not receive satisfactory answers to about 20 cases that raise suspicion of breaches of laws of armed conflict that had been sent to Israel's Attorney General and the military's Judge Advocate General.
B'Tselem stated that their count was based on testimonies from eye-witnesses and relatives of the dead, cross-checked with investigations carried out by Palestinian and international human rights organizations. The NGO added that some difficulties in estimating the death toll could be attributed to the IDF's refusal to allow them into the Gaza Strip after the conflict had ended to supplement the work of field-researchers there. B'Tselem also noted that the IDF refused to release its list of casualties to allow B'Tselem to cross check the names against its own list.
B'Tselem wrote that its fatalities classification was based on the guidelines of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) published in June 2009. The ICRC opined that anyone who fulfills a "continuous combat function" should be considered a combatant even if he is not taking a direct part in hostilities at the moment he is killed and a person who does not fulfill a continuous combat function, but is killed when directly participating in hostilities, is also considered a combatant; persons who continuously accompany or support an organized armed group but whose function does not involve direct participation in hostilities maintain their status as civilians and are not legitimate objects of attack. ICRC spokesman said that the aim of its recommendations, which are not legally binding, was to provide the ICRC's view on to how implement the notion of 'direct participation in hostilities' in contemporary armed conflict. All 50 experts on the law of armed conflict, who provided advice to ICRC, had agreed that civilians who act as voluntary human shields should fit within the definition of persons who take direct part in hostilities, which would make them legitimate military targets, opposing to the view expressed in ICRC's publication.
In the article published in SPME, B'Tselem casualties findings were dubbed flawed due to the group's restrictive definitions of combatants, resulting in "misclassification biases". The authors also wrote that B’Tselem data show a high male to female ratio — greater than 4.0 – among teens and adults classified as non-combatants, suggesting that many dead male civilians could have been involved in combatant situations, either as shields, fighters, circumstantial helpers, sporadic helpers, or bystanders who were drawn into the goings on.
The PCHR stated that the large number of civilians among the dead, as reckoned by their own Gaza informants, is proof that Israeli troops "used excessive and random force through the entire period of aggression, violating the principle of distinction between combatants and civilians". The NGO also contested the IDF figures, saying that it regarded them as a "deliberate manipulative attempt" to distort the reality of the attacks, and to "disguise Israeli illegal actions". The PCHR civilian count included Hamas members killed in what the PCHR assessed were non-combat situations. The PCHR's representative reaffirmed further its own figures, saying that extensive investigation and cross-checking was done in researching the numbers and identities of Palestinians killed; he assured that the fatalities list does not include deaths caused by "internal events" or natural causes, countering allegations from some Israeli security sources. The Israeli International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) compiled a report on their research of the casualties figures published by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, supplemented by Hamas and Fatah websites and official Palestinian government online sources. The ICT said that many of those listed by PCHR as civilians, including civil policemen, were in fact hailed as militant martyrs by Hamas. The report went on to say that some of the civilians were Fatah members killed by Hamas and that among the youngsters counted as children by the PCHR, 18 combatants were identified. Based on their examination of age distribution of the casualties listed by PCHR, the ICT estimated that 63% to 75% of the Palestinians killed in Gaza War appear to have been specifically targeted, combat-aged males, and stated that PCHR’s own data refutes the claim that Israel’s attacks were indiscriminate.
Human Rights Watch stated that police are presumptively civilians but are considered valid targets if formally incorporated into the armed forces of a party to a conflict or directly participate in the hostilities. The IDF made clear that it regards police under the control of Hamas in Gaza to be inherently equivalent to armed fighters, including them in the militant's count. The PCHR representative argued however that Israel wrongly classified 255 police officers killed at the outset of the war as militants, explaining that International Law regards policemen who are not engaged in fighting as non-combatants or civilians. Israeli Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (ITIC) compiled a report saying that during Gaza War many supposedly civil policemen were at the same time operatives in Hamas’s military wing. ITIC stated that Hamas' military wing recruits police officers for military operations and that police forces were drafted to fight Israel during the war in January 2009. One of ITIC bulletins also presented supposed evidence of Hamas policy to hide details of Hamas men who were killed or injured in the fighting.
B'Tselem in its fatalities' figures report wrote that it knew many police officers in the Gaza Strip are also members of the military wings of Palestinian armed groups, and might have taken part in hostilities against Israel. At the same time, the NGO did not possess concrete information on integration of police officers in the combat forces of Hamas and was unable to determine whether all the police officers were legitimate targets or whether the Palestinian police in Gaza, as an institution, is part of the combat forces of Hamas, all of whose members carry out a continuous combat function. For these reasons, police officers that were killed in an attack aimed at police or police stations, were listed by B'Tselem in a separate category.
The controversial Goldstone Report concluded that while there were many individual Gaza policemen who were members of militant groups, the Gaza police forces were a civilian police force and "cannot be said to have been taking a direct part in hostilities and thus did not lose their civilian immunity from direct attack as civilians". The report did not "rule out the possibility that there might be individuals in the police force who retain their links to the armed groups" but finds no evidence that the police were part of the Gaza armed forces and that it "could not verify the allegations of membership of armed groups of policemen." NGO UN Watch noted that the Goldstone Report relies on the testimony of the Gaza police spokesperson Islam Shahwan and accepts the interpretation of his own words "face the enemy" as meaning "distributing food stuffs". In the initial response to the fact-finding mission's report, issued on September 24, 2009, the Israeli Government further added that "in seeking to support its assertion" that the police in Gaza were a civilian police force, not only did the committee reinterpret some of the evidence, but also ignored other explicit statements of the police officials, e.g. the alleged admission by Hamas police chief Jamal al-Jarrah that "the police took part in the fighting alongside the resistance".
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- Operation Cast Lead, 27 Dec. '08 to 18 Jan. '09, B'Tselem, December 27, 2009. Retrieved March 2, 2010.
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- "FIELD UPDATE ON GAZA FROM THE HUMANITARIAN COORDINATOR: 3–5 February 2009, 1700 hours". United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). February 5, 2009. Retrieved 2009-05-02.
- THE OPERATION IN GAZA: FACTUAL AND LEGAL ASPECTS IMFA, July 29, 2009
- PCHR Contests Distortion of Gaza Strip Death Toll, PCHR, March 2006, 2009
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- A Gaza War Full of Traps and Trickery
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- See Efrat Weiss and AP, "Israel Challenges Palestinian Claims on Gaza Death Toll," March 3, 2009, Yediot Achronot and http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3692950,00.html . The actual IDF final report summary, "Majority of Palestinians Killed in Operation Cast Lead: Terror Operatives," March 26, 2009, can be accessed at the IDF news site: http://dover.idf.il/IDF/English/News/today/09/03/2602.htm
- B’Tselem’s investigation of fatalities in Operation Cast Lead, B'Tselem, September 20, 2009
- "Inside the Ring, page 3, The Washington Times, June 18, 2009". The Washington Times. June 18, 2009. Retrieved 2010-03-24.
- COMMENTS ON B'TSELEM'S CIVILIAN CASUALTY ESTIMATES IN OPERATION CAST LEAD, SPME, September 13, 2009
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- Rights group names 1,417 Gaza war dead The Washington Times, March 19, 2009
- "PCHR Contests Distortion of Gaza Strip Death Toll". Palestinian Center for Human Rights. March 26, 2009. Archived from the original on March 29, 2009. Retrieved March 29, 2009.
- Younis, Khan. Rights Group Puts Gaza Death Toll At 1,284, CBS, February 17, 2009.
- "Israel's Gaza toll far lower than Palestinian tally". Reuters. March 26, 2009.
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- Goldstone report cites same Hamas witness who claims Israel distributes libido-increasing gum, UN Watch, September 29, 2009.
- INITIAL RESPONSE TO REPORT OF THE FACT FINDING MISSION ON GAZA, IMFA, September 24, 2009