Counting the Deaths in Gaza

by | Nov 2, 2023 | Military

There is often no sharp line between combatants and civilians when it comes to Hamas terrorists and their facilitators, since Hamas does not have a regular army with uniforms and other criteria for distinguishing between the two.

Hamas puts out claimed death tolls among Palestinians in three categories: total, children and women. The U.S. government disputes the figures, and for good reason, since Hamas has a long history of lying about casualties.

But even if their figures were accurate, they hide the relevant truth: how many of the dead were active Hamas terrorists? How many were directly complicit in terrorism? How many were vocal supporters of Hamas terrorism? How many 14-, 15-, 16- and 17-year olds, who Hamas counts as “children,” were in fact combatants or accessories? How many women were Hamas accessories?

How many were killed by misfiring terrorist rockets, as in the hospital parking lot? How many of those killed by Israeli fire are really totally innocent civilians, such as the very young children whose bodies Hamas eagerly displays on television? What are the actual percentages?

There is often no sharp line between combatants and civilians when it comes to Hamas terrorists and their facilitators, since Hamas does not have a regular army with uniforms and other criteria for distinguishing between the two. It is a continuum, with young children at the civilian end and complicit “civilians” at the combatant end, with many categories somewhere along the spectrum.

Hamas’s medical data deliberately denies the public the information necessary to honestly determine who and how many are closest to the civilian end as compared to the combatant end.

Recall the Hamas videos showing bloodthirsty crowds chanting “Allahu Akbar” as bleeding Israeli women were driven and displayed through the streets? Most of the cheering “civilians” in those crowds may be civilians as a matter of the law of war, but do they deserve the same sympathy as the dead babies that Hamas eagerly poses in front of TV cameras? No, it is a matter of degree.

What about members of the Hamas political wing? Where are they on the continuum? What about those who build, operate or service the Hamas terror tunnels?

A common mantra is that Israel is at war only with Hamas, not with the Palestinian people of Gaza. That ignores the reality that many, perhaps most, of the Palestinian people of Gaza support the brutal tactics of Hamas. Even their young children are taught that killing Jews is good. This does not make the children complicit, but what about the teachers? Even if it doesn’t make them combatants, it surely makes them less sympathetic victims, especially if they follow Hamas’s orders not to try to move away from areas of combat.

Israel is at war with Hamas, which controls Gaza politically and militarily. It is comparable to when America was at war with Germany and Japan in the 1940s. Civilians pay a price when their country attacks another country, as Hamas attacked Israel. Even when it is only a group within a country, such as Al Qaeda or ISIS, civilians die, as many did in Afghanistan and Iraq when the United States battled terrorists thousands of miles away from our homeland. Israel is fighting mass murderers just across its borders.

The result is many gray areas, as a matter of law and morality, that cannot be quantified by the simplistic tripartite categories that Hamas releases to the public, even if they were grossly accurate.

The overlaps among these and other categories are real and relevant.

Every genuine civilian and young child that is killed is a tragedy, but these tragedies are entirely the fault and responsibility of Hamas. When Hamas decided to invade Israel and murder and kidnap its civilians, it knew that Israel would have to respond militarily and that Palestinian civilians would inevitably become collateral victims.

Not only did Hamas know its attack would lead to the death of Palestinians, it intended and desired that result as part of its “dead baby” playbook. Hamas knows that Israel never deliberately targets innocent babies. Why would it? It loses every time a dead Palestinian is displayed on TV cameras, as it is losing now in public opinion. Hamas also knows that despite every effort to avoid and reduce civilian casualties, some will occur, especially because Hamas uses them as human shields to protect its terrorists.

This tactic is well illustrated by the famous political cartoon showing an Israeli soldier shooting from in front of a baby carriage to protect the baby, while a Hamas terrorist fires from behind a carriage, using the baby to protect him.

So, when you hear the number of Palestinians that Hamas claims were killed, ask hard questions. The number of totally innocent civilians may be far lower than the misleading totals released by Hamas’s partisans as parts of its public relations war against Israel.

Alan Dershowitz is professor emeritus at Harvard Law School and the author of “Get Trump,” “Guilt by Accusation” and “The Price of Principle.” Active in litigation, writing, and defense of civil liberties and human rights. Visit his substack and follow him at @AlanDersh.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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