With few exceptions, reporters, commentators and analysts unquestioningly accept the casualty statistics given by Gaza's Hamas-controlled medical authorities, who ascribeall deaths to the IDF. Is anyone in Gaza dying of natural causes? Mass executions of "collaborators," and civilians killed by malfunctioning Hamas rockets, are all attributed to IDF fire.
Are the "overwhelming majority" of the dead really civilians? It would seem so. We see a great deal of grotesque and heart-rending footage of dead and bleeding women and children but never so much as a glimpse of killed or wounded fighters. Nor do reporters question or comment on the complete absence of Gazan military casualties, an extraordinary phenomenon unique to this conflict. The reality of course is that Hamas make great efforts to segregate their military casualties to preserve the fiction that Israel is killing civilians only. There are also increasing indications that Hamas, through direct force or threat, are preventing journalists from filming their fighters, whether dead or alive.
We will not get to the truth until the battle is over. But we know now that Hamas have ordered their people to report all deaths as innocent civilians. We know too that Hamas has a track record of lying about casualties. After Operation Cast Lead, the 2008-09 fighting in Gaza, the IDF estimated that of 1,166 Palestinian deaths, 709 were fighters. Hamas – backed by several NGOs – claimed that only 49 of its fighters had been killed, the rest were innocent civilians.
Much later they were forced to admit that the IDF had been right all along and between 600 and 700 of the casualties had in fact been fighters. But the short-memoried media are incapable of factoring this in before broadcasting their ill-founded and inflammatory assertions.
Analysis of casualty details released by Qatar-based Al Jazeera indicate that so far in the conflict most of those killed in Gaza have been young men of fighting age, notwomen, children or old people. According to one analyst, despite comprising around 50% of the population, the proportion of women among the dead is 21%.
Preliminary analysis by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center in Israel suggests that 71, or 46.7%, of the first 152 Palestinians killed were fighters and 81, or 53.3%, non-involved civilians.
None of this analysis is definitive. But it does cast doubt upon the accusations of indiscriminate attack against the population by the IDF and upon the UN estimates – widely trumpeted as fact by the media and the not-exactly unbiased United Nations – that between 70 and 80% of Palestinian casualties have been civilians.
Nevertheless, many innocent civilians have tragically been killed. How has this happened, given the IDF's measures aimed at minimizing such deaths?
IDF commanders say they never intentionally fire at targets where uninvolved civilians are present, a policy that goes much further than the Geneva Conventions demand. This policy has been confirmed to me by foot soldiers on the ground and F16 pilots carrying out strikes into Gaza.
But mistakes happen. Surveillance and intelligence can never be foolproof. There have been reports of Hamas forcing civilians back in once buildings have been evacuated. There is sometimes unexpected fallout from attacks, for example when an adjacent building containing civilians collapses, often caused by secondary explosions resulting from Hamas's own munitions.
Errors can be made in interpretation of imagery, passage of information and inputting of target data. We don't yet know what happened to the four boys tragically killed on a Gaza beach; it is not credible that they were identified as children and then deliberately killed.
Weapons guidance systems sometimes malfunction and bombs, bullets or missiles can land where they are not supposed to. Even the most hi-tech communications systems can fail at the critical moment.
Nowhere are these errors more frequent and catastrophic than in ground combat, where commanders and soldiers experience chaos, noise, smoke, fear, exhaustion, danger, shock, maiming, death and destruction that are beyond the comprehension of our interviewer in her air conditioned TV studio.
These mistakes and malfunctions happen in all fighting armies and in all conflicts. And in all conflicts, mistakes include the deaths of soldiers by friendly fire. Do those who condemn the killing of Palestinian civilians as deliberate acts by the IDF suggest that the friendly fire incidents in Gaza are also intentional?Read the whole thing. I have been told by a reliable source that on average, 15 people per day die in Gaza of natural causes. We're now on Day 26 of Operation Protective Edge. That means you can probably knock out 390 casualties (26 x 15) already.