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OpinionIsrael at War

Civilian deaths in Gaza: Relatively low

Nations engaged in genocide do not go to such great lengths trying to reduce civilian casualties, including placing their own soldiers at heightened risk.

Palestinians fleeing battles between Israel and Hamas terrorists in the Khan Yunis area move towards the southern Gaza Strip, Jan. 25, 2024. Photo by Atia Mohammed/Flash90.
Palestinians fleeing battles between Israel and Hamas terrorists in the Khan Yunis area move towards the southern Gaza Strip, Jan. 25, 2024. Photo by Atia Mohammed/Flash90.
Harvard Law School professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz.
Alan Dershowitz

You wouldn’t know it from the hectoring decision just rendered by the International Court of Justice against Israel, but the death toll among civilians in Gaza—even including children and women—is among the lowest in the history of comparable warfare. Over the past several months, it has become even lower.

According to The New York Times, “The daily death toll in Gaza has more than halved in the past month,” and has fallen almost two-thirds since late October. Moreover, the percentage of civilian to combatant casualities has gone down considerably as well.

In a massive understatement, the Times also reported that these considerable reductions in civilian deaths have been “somewhat overlooked” by the media and critics. “Somewhat”! They have been totally buried and ignored. The Times also opined that Israel’s “harshest critics are wrong to accuse it of wanting to maximize civilian deaths.”

It is no accident that this reduced civilian death toll has been “somewhat overlooked” by the media and by Israel’s critics, including previously by The New York Times itself. Israel is subject to a discernible double standard when it comes to covering its military actions.

Even before the recent dramatic reduction in civilian deaths, Israel’s military actions produced far fewer deaths and a far lower ratio of civilian-to-combatant deaths than in any comparable urban warfare. This is especially significant considering the reality that Hamas deliberately increases civilian deaths by using women and children as human shields and by hiding its military personnel and equipment among civilians. The current ratio of civilian-to-combatant is well below two-to-one, which compares extremely favorably with ratios achieved by other Western democracies in urban warfare.

Critics of Israel almost never cite comparable data from other military encounters. This omission creates the false impression that the civilian death tolls in Gaza are among the highest in history, when they are in fact among the lowest.

Every actual death of an innocent civilian—especially among babies and very young children—is a tragedy. It is these deaths that are always highlighted by Hamas to the media, but no one knows how many such deaths are actually among this most vulnerable segment of the population, or how many of those are the result of Hamas deliberately using young children as shields.

The Hamas figures for total deaths do not purport to distinguish combatants from what they consider civilian deaths. They never give the ages of the “children” they claim have been killed, although they regard anyone under the age of 19 as a child, even if they are active combatants. Hamas has recruited fighters as young as 13. The Hamas figures also do not count the Gazans who were killed by errant rockets launched by terrorists, or Gazans killed by Hamas for refusing its orders not to move to safer locations.

The New York Times’ conclusion that the new data suggests it is “wrong to accuse [Israel] of wanting to maximize civilian deaths” is highly relevant to the false charges of genocide that are being considered by the International Court of Justice.

Nations engaged in genocide do not go to such great lengths trying to reduce civilian casualties, including placing their own soldiers at heightened risk by employing focused ground forces instead of relying exclusively on air and sea bombardment. The ICJ should immediately reject the genocide charges against Israel and initiate war crime charges against Hamas and Iran, both of which willfully try to increase civilian deaths.

The decreasing civilian death rate among Gazans should also end the campaign to impose a ceasefire on Israel before the Israel Defense Forces completes its legitimate mission to destroy Hamas’s military capacity. Successfully completing that mission will save civilian lives in the long run, by reducing Hamas’s capacity to keep its promise of repeating the barbarism of Oct. 7 and also by reducing its use of civilian shields.

Israel’s conduct in its defensive war, started by Hamas, has been exemplary. It satisfies all international standards, and its effort to minimize civilian deaths while accomplishing its legitimate goals has generally been successful. There is always a tradeoff between reducing enemy civilian deaths and increasing risks to one’s own soldiers and civilians. Israel has struck a better balance than most, following the unprecedented Hamas barbarisms.

The time has come, indeed it is long overdue, for the world to stop imposing a double standard on the nation-state of the Jewish people. Double standards are a form of bigotry, and when bigotry is addressed to the only nation-state of the Jewish people, it becomes a form of international antisemitism against the Jew among nations. It must stop.

Originally published by The Gatestone Institute.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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