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Gaza Civilian Casualties

August 10, 2014

Many in the media, political leaders, and the public have been asking about the carnage in Gaza.  Why are were so many civilians killed and injured?  Richard Kemp wrote for the Gatestone Institute that the IDF spokesperson, Peter Lerner, was challenged by a reporter to explain whether the IDF was intentionally targeting civilians, or simply incompetent.  Kemp writes, “To suggest that military incompetence is the only explanation for civilian deaths other than deliberate mass murder reveals a breathtaking but unsurprising ignorance of the realities of combat.”

Actually, a better question is why there have been so FEW casualties in Gaza. Of course any harm to innocent bystanders (emphasis on “innocent”!) is regrettable and tragic. Israel’s goal is to neutralize the threats of Hamas rocket and tunnels, indiscriminately targeting Israeli civilians. The IDF has targeted with pinpoint strikes thousands of rocket launchers, weapons caches, terror tunnels, command-and-control centers, training facilities, and other military installations. The total number of casualties (as of August 3) is estimated at between 1,000 and 1,600, depending on your source.  Many of these—again, estimates range from 20% to 60%–are Hamas “fighters” and leaders. Relative to the scope of the military operation and Gaza’s population density, the rather small number of casualties supports Israel’s claims of very precise targeting and giving advance warnings to civilians to evacuate the targeted facilities.

So why are civilians dying anyway, despite these extraordinary measures?  Here are some of the reasons, with examples or other details:

  • IDF mistakes & misfires (yes, this happens occasionally, despite Israel’s best intents and efforts)
  • “Collateral damage” (innocent bystanders who are inadvertently near legitimate military target, when the target is precisely hit and with appropriate force)
  • Human shields (intentionally put in the line of fire to defend a military target; evidence)
  • Secondary explosions (detonation of munitions and explosives hit by the primary strike; example, July 10)
  • Hamas mistakes & misfires (example: 7 Palestinians killed when a Fajr-5 rocket exploded during launch)
  • Hamas rockets fall short (example: Shifa hospital and Shati refugee camp, July 28)
  • “Work accidents” and their collateral damage (example, July 19)
  • Inured and killed while digging tunnels (earlier report included at least 160 children)
  • Suicide attacks (example, August 1)
  • Hamas executing suspected “collaborators” (example, July 27; example, July 29), high-level “traitors” (example, August 7), and anti-war protesters (example, July 29)
  • Accidental injuries from celebratory shooting in the air (I haven’t heard of any on this round but it’s happened previously)
  • Palestinian death or injury from natural (and other) causes attributed to IDF (earlier example)
  • Not really civilians (analysis by age and gender of casualties as of July 23)
  • Not really injured (example)
  • Not really from Gaza (example)

Other suggestions and examples welcome!

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