Friday, August 08, 2014

Hamas' Phony Statistics on Civilian Deaths

Alan M. Dershowitz
It's a mystery why so many in the media accept as gospel Hamas-supplied 
figures on the number of civilians killed in the recent war. Hamas claims 
that of the more than 1800 Palestinians killed close to 90% were civilians. 
Israel, on the other hand, says that close to half of them were combatants. 
The objective facts support a number much closer to Israel's than to Hamas'.
Even human rights group antagonistic to Israel acknowledge, according to a 
New York Times report, that Hamas probably counts among the "civilians 
killed by Israel" the following groups: Palestinians killed by Hamas as 
collaborators; Palestinians killed through domestic violence; Palestinians 
killed by errant Hamas rockets or mortars; and Palestinians who died 
naturally during the conflict. I wonder if Hamas also included the reported 
162 children who died while performing child slave labor in building their 
terror tunnels. Hamas also defines combatants to include only armed fighters 
who were killed while fighting Israelis. They exclude Hamas supporters who 
build tunnels, who allow their homes to be used to store and fire rockets, 
Hamas policemen, members of the Hamas political wing and others who work 
hand in hand with the armed terrorists.
Several years ago I came up with a concept which I call, the "continuum of 
civilianality"—an inelegant phrase that is intended to convey the reality 
that who is a civilian and who is a combatant is often a matter of degree. 
Clearly every child below the age in which he or she is capable of assisting 
Hamas is a civilian. Clearly every Hamas fighter who fires rockets, bears 
arms, or operates in the tunnels is a combatant. Between these extremes lie 
a wide range of people, some of whom are closer to the civilian end, many of 
whom who are closer to the combatant end. The law of war has not established 
a clear line between combatants and civilians, especially in the context of 
urban warfare where people carry guns at night and bake bread during the 
day, or fire rockets during the day and go back home to sleep with their 
families at night. (Interestingly the Israeli Supreme Court has tried to 
devise a functional definition of combatants in the murky context of urban 
guerrilla warfare.)
Data published by the New York Times strongly suggest that a very large 
number—perhaps a majority—of those killed are closer to the combatant end of 
the continuum than to the civilian end. First of all, the vast majority of 
those killed have been male rather than female. In an Islamic society, males 
are far more likely to be combatants than females. Second, most of those 
killed are within the age range (15-40) that are likely to be combatants. 
The vast majority of these are male as well. The number of people over 60 
who have been killed is infinitesimal. The number of children below the age 
of 15 is also relatively small, although their pictures have been shown more 
frequently than others. In other words, the genders and ages of those killed 
are not representative of the general population of Gaza. It is far more 
representative of the genders and ages of combatants. These data strongly 
suggest that a very large percentage of Palestinians killed are on the 
combatant side of the continuum.
They also prove, as if any proof were necessary to unbiased eyes, that 
Israel did not target civilians randomly. If it had, the dead would be 
representative of the Gaza population in general, rather than of the 
subgroups most closely identified with combatants.
The media should immediately stop using Hamas-approved statistics, which in 
the past have proved to be extremely unreliable. Instead, they should try to 
document, independently, the nature of each person killed and describe their 
age, gender, occupation, affiliation with Hamas and other objective factors 
relevant to their status as a combatant, non-combatant or someone in the 
middle. It is lazy and dangerous for the media to rely on Hamas-approved 
propaganda figures. In fact, when the infamous Goldstone Report falsely 
stated that the vast majority of people killed in Operation Cast Lead were 
civilians and not Hamas fighters, many in Gaza complained to Hamas. They 
accused Hamas of cowardice for allowing so many civilians to be killed while 
protecting their own fighters. As a result of these complaints, Hamas was 
forced to tell the truth: namely that many more of those killed were 
actually Hamas fighters or armed policemen. It is likely that Hamas will 
make a similar "correction" with regard to this conflict. But that 
correction will not be covered by the media, as the prior correction was 
The headline—"Most of those killed by Israel were children, women and the 
elderly"—will continue to be the conventional wisdom, despite its factual 
falsity. Unless it is corrected, Hamas will continue with its "dead baby 
strategy" and more people on both sides will die.

No comments: