Israel has evidence that almost half of Palestinians killed in the 25-day-old Gaza war were combatants, its deputy foreign minister said on Saturday, pushing back against international allegations of a lopsidedly heavy civilian death toll.
Gazan human rights groups say at least 80 percent of the 1,669 Palestinians killed have been non-combatants, including hundreds of children. The U.N. Human Rights Council last week accused the Israelis of "disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks" and launched an inquiry into possible war crimes.
"There is research being done in the military, very professionally and reliably, (whose) conclusion is that at least 47% of the fatalities are terrorists, with photographs and names," Tzachi Hanegbi told Israel's Channel Two television, adding that the data would be presented to investigators.
He did not elaborate. Israel rejected the U.N. Human Rights Council's probe announcement, describing the forum as biased, but usually conducts its own combat inquiries.
Israel says Hamas and other Palestinian guerrillas in Gaza are terrorists and in past conflicts has used broad definitions of combatants - including, for example, Palestinian policemen working for the Hamas administration.
Other significant factors in the count include:
1. The statistics from the 'Palestinian Health Ministry' in Gaza come from Hamas and are therefore not reliable.
2. The statistics from the 'human rights council' counted anyone under the age of 18 as a civilian, whereas Hamas uses 16 and 17-year olds (and sometimes even younger children) as combatants. and even uses babies as human shields.
3. The more significant statistic in determining whether civilians or combatants are being killed is the male to female casualty ratio. The numbers I have seen for Operation Protective Edge put that at 3:1.
4. Israel's record is actually comparable or better than other Western countries.
According to a 2010 assessment by John Sloboda of Iraq Body Count, a United Kingdom-based organization, American and Coalition forces had killed at least 28,736 combatants as well as 13,807 civilians in the Iraq War, indicating a civilian to combatant casualty ratio inflicted by coalition forces of 1:2. However, overall, figures by theIraq Body Count from 20 March 2003 to 14 March 2013 indicate that of 174,000 casualties only 39,900 were combatants, resulting in a civilian casualty rate of 77%.
The civilian casualty ratio for U.S. drone strikes in Pakistanis notoriously difficult to quantify. The U.S. itself puts the number of civilians killed from drone strikes in the last two years at no more than 20 to 30, a total that is far too low according to a spokesman for the NGO CIVIC. At the other extreme, Daniel L. Byman of the Brookings Institutionsuggests that drone strikes may kill "10 or so civilians" for every militant killed, which would represent a civilian to combatant casualty ratio of 10:1. Byman argues that civilian killings constitute a humanitarian tragedy and create dangerous political problems, including damage to the legitimacy of the Pakistani government and alienation of the Pakistani populace from America. An ongoing study by the New America Foundation finds non-militant casualty rates started high but have declined steeply over time, from about 60% (3 out of 5) in 2004-2007 to less than 2% (1 out of 50) in 2012. The study puts the overall non-militant casualty rate since 2004 at 15-16%, or a 1:5 ratio, out of a total of between 1,908 and 3,225 people killed in Pakistan by drone strikes since 2004.
By the way, Britain's civilian-combatant ratio in Afghanistan was 3:1.
After Operation Cast Lead, Israel produced a 500-page report which, among other things, showed that it had killed mostly combatants (make sure to watch the video at that link). Subsequently, former Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations demolished the 'human rights council's investigation chairman, Richard Goldstone, in a debate (videos at this link) at Brandeis University, which I live-blogged. After that debate, Goldstone refused to debate anyone else (including Alan Dershowitz) about his report, and eventually he recanted the major accusations in the report - far too late.