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Civilians or Plainclothes Combatants in Gaza Death Toll?

Could it be that most of the Palestinians who died in Gaza were combatants? The claim that the vast majority were civilians fueled a global anti-Israel outpouring during the war in Gaza to which even our own State Department and White House contributed. According to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, as of August 13th 1,965 had died in Gaza of whom 1,417, about 72 percent, were civilians. This office has issued running totals daily that have been the basis for virtually all news reports on the subject. But these reports beg the question of how the OCHA knows who is a “civilian.” And, moreover, the numbers themselves suggest a very different assessment from what the OCHA offers.

The body of a young man is delivered to a Gaza hospital or morgue dressed in civilian garb, as are most Hamas fighters. The Hamas Health Ministry says the individual is a civilian. Who will contradict it? Hamas has published directives instructing that all fatalities are to be described as civilians. No one on the scene will dare argue. Theses identifications are then repeated by local Palestinian human rights organizations and in turn tallied by UN’s OCHA whence they are cited in the press as though authoritative.

Should they be believed? Look closely at the UN figures. As of August 13th, OCHA says 458 children had died and 1,507 adults. Of the adults it says that 238 were women and 1,269 men. But wait. Why should more male civilians die than females? Perhaps a few civilians die in the streets. Shopping? Walking to work amidst the mayhem? There cannot be many such cases, if any. Civilian deaths occur within buildings that are hit by weapons or bombs and are sprayed with shrapnel or collapse atop those within. Mostly these are apartment buildings, but also, as we have heard, schools, mosques, and the like. How can there be more males present than females? If the number of male civilians who died under such circumstances is about equal to the number of female deaths (238), then about a thousand of the adult males who perished died fighting. And so did some of the “children,” since the UN counts people up to age 18 as “children” and UNICEF reports that more than 60 percent of the children who died were also males. In other words, perhaps 20 percent of them were older teens who also died fighting. Add it up, and it suggests that perhaps as many as 1,100—upwards of 55 percent of the deaths—were combatants, not civilians.

Of course, a single dead child is far too many. Our hearts should ache for them and their families. But we do not honor them by twisting the facts—especially if such distortions encourage Hamas to launch more such wars in which more children will die. 

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