International media outlets, including The New York Times and the BBC, have raised serious questions regarding Gaza civilian casualty figures as recorded by health officials both in the Strip and abroad.
The outlets maintain that the hard data does not support the notion that the Israel Defense Forces is engaged in “indiscriminate” killing of unarmed residents in the Palestinian enclave, as was suggested by several international leaders over the past month.
Citing figures released by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the BBC’s head of statistics Anthony Reuben found that the number of civilian men killed in the fighting outnumbered the number of women by a factor of nearly 3.5:1. According to the UN, 725 men were killed in the conflict as opposed to 214 women. When the 216 confirmed “members of armed groups” were included in the figures, the disparity grew even larger. Israeli military officials said 750-1,000 Hamas and other gunmen had been killed in the fighting as of Tuesday, August 5.
“If the Israeli attacks have been ‘indiscriminate,’ as the UN Human Rights Council says, it is hard to work out why they have killed so many more civilian men than women,” Reuben noted dryly.
The question echoes a New York Times analysis from earlier this week, which showed “that the population most likely to be militants, men ages 20 to 29, is also the most overrepresented in the death toll: They are 9 percent of Gaza’s 1.7 million residents, but 34 percent of those killed whose ages were provided. At the same time, women and children under 15, the least likely to be legitimate targets, were the most underrepresented, making up 71 percent of the population and 33 percent of the known-age casualties.”
Both analyses do not, in any way, suggest that large numbers of Gazan civilians haven’t suffered and died in the fighting. But they do give rise to the option, in Reuben’s words, “that some of the conclusions being drawn [from death-toll figures] may be premature.”
The death-toll statistics may constitute decisive evidence that, contrary to the claims of organizations such as the UN Human Rights Council, Human Rights Watch, and others, civilians were not the targets of Israel’s strikes in the Strip. Deliberate targeting of civilians would amount to war crimes under both international and Israeli law. Israel has stressed that it is seeking to avoid civilian casualties as it tackles Hamas rockets and tunnels, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday the international community should hold Hamas responsible for all Gaza civilian deaths since it uses Gaza civilians as “human shields” for its terrorist infrastructure.
Health officials in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip say at least 1,867 Palestinians have been killed since the fighting began, most of them civilians and many of them children. The UN and Gaza human rights groups monitoring the death toll have said that more than 75 percent of those killed in Gaza were civilians. But an Israeli military spokesman, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, said last week that about 900 members of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other Palestinian terror groups had been killed by Israeli forces during the war.
In a conversation with The Associated Press on Sunday, another military official had said at least 300 terrorists were killed. Lerner said the figure of 900 terrorists killed was an approximation, based on reporting from individual Israeli units, but provided no further details. Later, in an official press release, the army said between 750 and 1,000 militants had been killed.
The IDF also said it had struck nearly 4,762 terror targets — most of them rocket-launching sites, nearly 1,000 of them command and control centers, about 240 buildings of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, nearly 200 weapons storage and manufacturing facilities, close to 150 terror training compounds, and 1,535 additional terror sites.
On the Israeli side, the war in Gaza has claimed the lives of 64 soldiers, 11 of whom were killed by Hamas gunmen emerging from tunnels dug under the Gaza-Israel border, and three civilians. Over 3,300 rockets have been launched at Israeli cities in the month-long conflict, according to IDF figures.
The Israeli government has blamed Hamas for the death and destruction in Gaza, since it emplaced its rockets, rocket launchers, cross-border tunnel openings and other military infrastructure in homes, schools and mosques.
AP and AFP contributed to this report.