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On the casualty ratio in Gaza January 19, 2009

Posted by dorigo in news, politics.
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In this short post I wish to discuss whether during the 22-day-long war in Gaza the israeli defence force (IDF) has been, as some commenter claimed here, “the most moral army in the world”. It is indeed reported by media that the IDF makes phone calls to civilian houses before those are bombed, that leaflets are spread on areas which will be targeted, etcetera. I think these are commendable actions, but on the other hand the media these days are full of news that report despicable episodes by the israeli army, which tend to demonstrate the opposite. Leaving aside the endless debate that such conflicting evidences would set up, let me stay on the easier ground of mathematics, and aseptically discuss the civilian casualty ratio in Gaza.

First of all, there are a couple of caveats to mention. The ratio is not too easy to ascertain, because -to some extent- many of the Gaza “civilians” might be considered supporters of the Hamas force. So we have to stick to numbers provided by Israel itself, rather than rely on the claims by Hamas that just 48 of its combatants have been killed in the attack. Israel sets that number at “at least 500”, and I will take 500 as a fair estimate, ignoring the Hamas claim and the rather propaganda-sounding “at least” by the IDF.¬† Let us give the number a 20% uncertainty: 500+-100. As for the total casualties, their number is less uncertain: most sources set it at 1300 or above, if we stick to palestinians who have lost their life until today. More can die of the wounds in the near future, but the ratio we are to compute should not be affected by that.

The other caveat is that one could argue that it is unfair to judge the actions of the IDF on the basis of the casualty ratio, because the action was aimed at eradicating the weapons potential of Hamas rather than Hamas itself, and the weapons had allegedly been concealed in homes, hospitals, schools, places of worship. This objection to me is not too valuable, because it amounts to declaring that the action had been decided in spite of that practice. Or, to put it another way: if Hamas uses the horrible practice of human shields, Israel uses the even more horrible practice of ignoring it!

Now, let us look at the numbers. (1300-500)/500 = 1.6 \pm 0.5, roughly. That means that for each Hamas fighter, more than one civilian has been killed.

Let us now look at some statistics reported one year ago by Haaretz  here, about the civilian casualty ratio of air strikes. It is reported at 1:30.

So I am led to conclude that the IDF considered not enough the air strikes, and needed a different strategy to counter the Kassam missiles; and that they did not really care about the civilian losses they would inflict on palestinians, this time.

And a warning: Of course, I am willing to hear other opinions on the matter; this blog is usually censorship-free. Since, however, I am bored by allegations of being “anti-semitic”, “communist”, of “caring zero for the other wars in the world”, “where were you when Serbia was bombed by your country”, etcetera, I will apply some measure of censorship here. Either leave your name and address, or refrain from posting meaningless, insulting comments, please.