Casualties of the Gaza War (2008–09)

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Gaza War fatalities estimates made by human rights NGOs and by the involved combatants:

Human Rights NGOs Combatants
B'Tselem[1] Palestinian Centre for Human Rights[2][3] Israeli Defense Forces[4] Palestinian Ministry of Health, Gaza[5]
Palestinian TOTAL 1391* 1417 1166 1440
Palestinian combatants 350 236 709**
Palestinian non-combatants 759 926 295
Women (non-combatants) 108 116 49 114
Minors/children (non-combatants) 318 313 89 431
Police officers 248*** 255****
Israeli TOTAL 13 13
Israeli combatants 10***** 10*****
Israeli non-combatants 3 3

* B'Tselem was unable to classify 32 deaths, including four children, as combatant or non-combatant.[1]

** The IDF regards Gazan police as part of the Hamas armed forces.[6]

*** The figure refers to police officers killed at police stations,[1] 17 other policemen were killed while participating in hostilities.[7]

**** The figure refers to what PCHR claimed was non-combatant civil police officers.[8]

***** Includes four IDF soldiers killed by the IDF in friendly fire incidents.

Other casualties[edit]

The World Health Organization reported that sixteen health personnel were killed and that 22 health personnel were injured over the course of the offensive.[9] 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.[10] The UNRWA reported that five of its staff members were killed and that eleven staff members were injured.[9] The World Food Programme reported that one of its contractors was killed and that two were injured.[9]

Hamas gunmen killed one Egyptian border guard and wounded another on December 28.[11] Shrapnel from an Israeli air strike near the Rafah border crossing wounded two border guards and two Egyptian children.[12] 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.[13]

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.[14]

Disputed figures[edit]

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.[15][16] 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.[17] 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.[18]

Video of Israelis running to bomb shelters during a rocket attack in 2009.

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.[19]

Israeli officials have stated that the Palestinian Ministry of Health (PMoH) significantly inflated the civilian death toll and played down the number of Hamas casualties.[20] UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes has stated that the PMoH figures have not been seriously challenged.[21] 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.[22]

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 and 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."[23]

B'Tselem figures[edit]

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.[24]

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.[25]

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.[24] 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.[26] 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.[26]

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.[27][28]

PCHR figures[edit]

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".[29] 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".[30] The PCHR civilian count included Hamas members killed in what the PCHR assessed were non-combat situations.[31] 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.[32] 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.[33] 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.[34] 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.[34]

A Palestinian police officer injured during the conflict.[35]

Police classification[edit]

The 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".[36] 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."[36]

The NGO UN Watch stated 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".[37][non-primary source needed] 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".[38]

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.[39] The IDF stated 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.[32] The PCHR representative argued however that Israel wrongly classified 255 police officers killed at the outset of the war as militants,[40] explaining that International Law regards policemen who are not engaged in fighting as non-combatants or civilians.[32]

The 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.[41] 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.[42] 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.[43]

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.[24]


  1. ^ a b c Fatalities during Operation Cast Lead, B'Tselem
  2. ^ "Rights group names 1,417 Gaza war dead". The Washington Times. Associated Press. March 19, 2009. Archived from the original on January 5, 2010. Retrieved March 19, 2009.
  3. ^ "Confirmed figures reveal the true extent of the destruction inflicted upon the Gaza Strip". Palestinian Center for Human Rights. March 19, 2009. Archived from the original on September 3, 2014. Retrieved July 23, 2014.
  4. ^ "IDF releases Cast Lead casualty numbers". The Jerusalem Post. March 28, 2009. Archived from the original on January 25, 2011. Retrieved February 22, 2010.. Also see note 23 below for citation of the official summary of the Final Report on the IDF's own internet news site.
  5. ^ "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 May 2, 2009.
  7. ^ "Palestinians who took part in the hostilities and were killed by Israeli security forces in the Gaza Strip, during Operation Cast Lead - B'Tselem". B'Tselem.
  8. ^ PCHR Contests Distortion of Gaza Strip Death Toll, PCHR, March 2006, 2009
  9. ^ a b c "Protection of Civilians Weekly Report" (PDF). January 16–20, 2009. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 6, 2010. Retrieved July 7, 2010.
  10. ^ Israel refutes claims of Gaza misconduct Archived February 24, 2012, at the Wayback Machine, The Jerusalem Post, August 10, 2009
  11. ^ "ABC News: Israeli Troops Mobilise as Gaza Assault Widens". ABC News. Archived from the original on December 29, 2008. Retrieved December 28, 2008.
  12. ^ "Two Egyptian Children, Police Injured in Israeli Air Strike Near Gaza Border". January 11, 2009. Archived from the original on January 14, 2009.
  13. ^ "Gaza death toll of 765 includes Ukrainian mother, baby; nearly 100 Ukrainians evacuated". Kyiv Post. January 9, 2009.
  14. ^ "Country Overviews — Occupied Palestinian Territory". United Nations Mine Action Service. 2009. Archived from the original on September 26, 2010. Retrieved February 2, 2010.
  15. ^ Erlanger, Steven. "A Gaza War Full of Traps and Trickery".
  16. ^ "In Gaza, Hamas Struggles to Restore Order". CBS News. January 19, 2009. Retrieved March 24, 2010.
  17. ^ Khaled Abu Toameh, Analysis: Trumpets of victory strike false note[permanent dead link], The Jerusalem Post, January 20, 2009
  18. ^ Counting casualties of Gaza's war, BBC News, January 28, 2009
  19. ^ OPERATION ‘CAST LEAD’: 22 DAYS OF DEATH AND DESTRUCTION, Amnesty International, July 2, 2009
  20. ^ Lazaroff, Tovah; Yaakov Katz (January 23, 2009). "Israel disputes Gaza death toll". The Jerusalem Post. Archived from the original on January 11, 2012. Retrieved February 17, 2009.
  21. ^ "Briefing to the Security Council on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian Question" (PDF). UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. January 27, 2009. Archived from the original (PDF) on February 19, 2009. Retrieved 2009-02-11.
  22. ^ See Efrat Weiss and AP, "Israel Challenges Palestinian Claims on Gaza Death Toll," March 3, 2009, Yediot Achronot and,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: "Archived copy". Archived from the original on May 20, 2011. Retrieved January 13, 2011.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  23. ^[permanent dead link]
  24. ^ a b c B’Tselem’s investigation of fatalities in Operation Cast Lead, B'Tselem, September 20, 2009
  25. ^ "B'Tselem's investigation of fatalities in Operation Cast Lead" (PDF). B'Tselem. September 9, 2009. Archived from the original (PDF) on February 24, 2010. Retrieved February 21, 2010.
  26. ^ a b "Inside the Ring, page 3, The Washington Times, June 18, 2009". The Washington Times. June 18, 2009. Retrieved March 24, 2010.
  28. ^ DAN IZENBERG, Report slams B'Tselem Cast Lead figures Archived January 15, 2011, at the Wayback Machine, The Jerusalem Post, 2009-09-16
  29. ^ Rights group names 1,417 Gaza war dead The Washington Times, March 19, 2009
  30. ^ "PCHR Contests Distortion of Gaza Strip Death Toll". Palestinian Center for Human Rights. March 26, 2009. Archived from the original on March 31, 2009. Retrieved March 29, 2009.
  31. ^ Younis, Khan. Rights Group Puts Gaza Death Toll At 1,284, CBS, February 17, 2009.
  32. ^ a b c "Israel's Gaza toll far lower than Palestinian tally". Reuters. March 26, 2009.
  33. ^ (PDF). International Institute for Counter-Terrorism. 2009 Missing or empty |title= (help)
  34. ^ a b "Casualties in Operation Cast Lead: A closer look" (PDF). International Institute for Counter-Terrorism. April 2009.
  35. ^ "War on Gaza Day 3" (in Arabic). Al Jazeera. December 29, 2008. Archived from the original on October 6, 2011. Retrieved June 21, 2009.
  36. ^ a b "Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict" (PDF). London: United Nations Human Rights Council. Retrieved September 15, 2009.
  37. ^ Goldstone report cites same Hamas witness who claims Israel distributes libido-increasing gum, UN Watch, September 29, 2009.
  38. ^ INITIAL RESPONSE TO REPORT OF THE FACT FINDING MISSION ON GAZA Archived October 1, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, IMFA, September 24, 2009
  39. ^ "Israel/Gaza: Civilians must not be tagets". Human Rights Watch. December 30, 2008. Retrieved March 26, 2009.
  40. ^ "Israel challenges Palestinian claim on Gaza dead". Fox News Channel. March 26, 2009.
  41. ^ "Mounting evidence indicates that during Operation Cast Lead members of Hamas's internal security forces served as commanders and operatives in Hamas's military wing". Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center. March 24, 2009. Archived from the original on October 13, 2009. Retrieved July 7, 2010.
  42. ^ Israeli intel: Hamas using police for military ops, WorldTribune, September 7, 2009
  43. ^ "Hamas hides the casualties suffered by its operatives". IITC. Archived from the original on April 27, 2009. Retrieved July 7, 2010.