After the first day, when the highest numbers bandied around were in the low 200s, Hamas admitted, according to PMW, to a death toll of 180 policemen.
Hamas TV: 180 killed are from Hamas armed forces
Among those killed Hamas Police Commander, Tawfik Jaber
Hamas TV acknowledged this morning that the vast majority of those killed are from the Hamas military. A news ticker running repeatedly from 10:00 AM announced:
“More than 180 Palestinian policemen were killed including the [Police] Commander, General Tawfik Jaber.”
In the background Hamas TV is repeatedly broadcasting the same scenes of dozens of bodies of the uniformed Hamas soldiers who were killed in Israel’s first attack yesterday when Israel hit the Hamas officer’s course graduation ceremony.
Hamas TV, Dec. 28, 2008
I note three things about this:
- Hizbullah systematically disguised the high death toll during the 2006 summer war because “real men” don’t show they’ve been hurt. High casualties are only good if they are civilian casualties. To admit to this many dead policemen is a shame on every level. Can anyone think of a reason to doubt this figure?
- Policemen are only one of the many military operations that Israelis targeted. How many other of the casualties after day 1, according to Palestinian sources are combatants.
- This suggests something around a 80-90% military to civilian mortality rate as a result of Israeli airstrikes.
What is the historical record here? What are the other examples of ratios in an aerial bombardment of hostile forces operating from a civilian area? What are the acceptable ratios in US and British troops in Afghanistan and Iraq?
UPDATE: Reuters reports that Haniya claims “15 women and some children” killed in the raids. (HT/Media Backspin)
Hamas estimated that at least 15 women and some children had been killed in the past two days. “Palestine has never seen an uglier massacre,” Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said.
AP writers, Ibrahim Barzak and Amy Teibel report
More than 400 people were also wounded. Most of the casualties were security forces, but Palestinian officials said at least 15 civilians were among the dead.
Taking the 15 as the total of civilian casualties, Media Backspin comes up with a figure of 94.8% of the casualties are military men. If even approximately true, that would make this operation the cleanest in the history of aerial warfare, and probably set a standard for decades to come despite the continuously improving nature of targeting systems.
Haniya’s remark is particularly revealing of his quadruple standard. As Belmont Club points out
The Palestinian Center for Human Rights reported that in one seven day period alone, between June 7 and 14, 2007 internecine fighting between Fatah and Hamas killed 161 Palestinians, including 7 children and 11 women. Nor has it stopped. In June of 2008, human rights groups reported that both Fatah and Hamas were engaged in kidnapping and torturing each other’s operatives. The hammer of violence and repression falls on everyone…
The standard would only be double if it didn’t apply to the enemy; here it applies to one’s own people. What I do is justified, right or wrong; what you do is evil, justified or not.
Further UPDATE: Of course these statistics show up in a significantly different form in Palestinian publications, which regularly speak of massacres, despite the fact that that, traditionally, applies not to the killing of combatants, but of civilians. In order to make that work, the Al Mezan, a Palestinian Human Rights Organization, makes its own assertions.
Mostly, the strikes targeted police and security installations across the densely populated Gaza Strip, which is indicative of IOF’s disregard for civilian life and well-being. More than 900 people have been killed and injured, most of whom are non-combatants…
In order to document this claim about “most of [the casualties] are non-combatants, Al Mezan gives statistics:
Al Mezan’s initial monitoring indicates that at least 257 people have been killed in the IOF’s strikes in the last 24 hours. Of those, the vast majority are non-combatants and civilians; including 20 children, nine women and 60 civilians. The majority of the rest of the casualties are members of the civilian police who were inside their stations or undertaking training. At least 597 people were also injured, including 35 children whose wounds were reportedly critical.
(IOF, for those who don’t frequent Palestinian media, is “Israel Occupation Forces.” It’s so important for Palestinian identity that Israelis be occupiers — explains all their suffering — that they can’t bear letting go of them, even after the Israelis leave, as in Gaza. It’s almost like Israel says, “I wan’t a divorce,” and they respond, “You can’t divorce me, you’re still beating me.”)
So the charge is that the “vast majority” are non-combatants and civilians, not because they can total 89 civilians out of 257 (or almost exactly 33%), but by claiming that the Gaza police forces are non-combatants.
Of course, all of this emanates from people who find the targeting of civilians in Israel “resistance,” and who have nothing to say about Hamas’ stationing of hostile forces within the Palestinian civilian population. In fact, given Hamas’ behavior — firing from civilian areas, locating military installations in civilian areas, hiding among civilians — they are responsible for their own casualties.
Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. Geneva, 12 August 1949. (HT: Alvin Rosenfeld)
Art. 28. The presence of a protected person may not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations.
Rules for the Limitation of the Dangers incurred by the Civilian Population in Time of War. ICRC, 1956 CHAPTER II : OBJECTIVES BARRED FROM ATTACK
Immunity of the civilian population
Art. 6. Attacks directed against the civilian population, as such, whether with the object of terrorizing it or for any other reason, are prohibited. This prohibition applies both to attacks on individuals and to those directed against groups.
In consequence, it is also forbidden to attack dwellings, installations or means of transport, which are for the exclusive use of, and occupied by, the civilian population.
Nevertheless, should members of the civilian population, Article 11 notwithstanding, be within or in close proximity to a military objective they must accept the risks resulting from an attack directed against that objective.
Will we ever know even approximately?
Further UPDATE: The stakes here are quite high. One major dimension of the issue of disproportionality of the use of force concerns whether military or civilian sites are targeted.
Is There Proportionality Against Military Forces?
And in fighting counterinsurgency wars, most armies seek to achieve military victory by defeating the military capacity of an adversary, as efficiently as possible. There clearly is no international expectation that military losses in war should be on a one-to-one basis; most armies seek to decisively eliminate as many enemy forces as possible while minimizing their own losses of troops. There are NATO members who have been critical of “Israel’s disproportionate use of force,” while NATO armies take pride in their “kill ratios” against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Moreover, decisive military action against an aggressor has another effect: it increases deterrence.14 To expect Israel to hold back in its use of decisive force against legitimate military targets in Gaza is to condemn it to a long war of attrition with Hamas.
The loss of any civilian lives is truly regrettable. Israel has cancelled many military operations because of its concern with civilian casualties. But should civilian losses occur despite the best efforts of Israel to avoid them, it is ultimately not Israel’s responsibility. As political philosopher Michael Walzer noted in 2006: “When Palestinian militants launch rocket attacks from civilian areas, they are themselves responsible – and no one else is – for the civilian deaths caused by Israeli counterfire.”15
International critics of Israel may be looking to craft balanced statements that spread the blame for the present conflict to both sides. But they would be better served if they did not engage in this artificial exercise, and clearly distinguish the side that is the aggressor in this conflict – Hamas – and the side that is trying to defeat the aggression – Israel.