The Truth About Gaza’s Civilian Deaths

Op-Ed by Emily Thompson

Human rights organizations recently published reports detailing the numbers of killed civilians in Gaza. According to Oxfam International, the daily death rate in Gaza is higher than any other major 21st century conflict.

In its new report released Jan. 11, Oxfam calculated that the number of average deaths per day for Gaza “is significantly higher than any recent major armed conflict including Syria (96.5 deaths per day), Sudan (51.6), Iraq (50.8), Ukraine (43.9) Afghanistan (23.8) and Yemen (15.8).”

Human Rights Watch (HRW) published its World Report 2024 in December in which it outlined the various conflicts taking place around the world.

“Renewed hostilities between Israel and Hamas and in Sudan caused tremendous suffering, as did ongoing conflicts in Ukraine, Myanmar, Ethiopia, and the Sahel,” HRW said in the report.

“Governments struggled to deal with the hottest year on record and the onslaught of wildfires, drought, and storms that wreaked havoc on millions of people in Bangladesh, Libya, and Canada. Economic inequality rose around the world, as did anger about the policy decisions that have left many people struggling to survive. The rights of women and girls and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people faced harsh backlashes in many places, exemplified by the Taliban’s gender persecution in Afghanistan.”

Turning to Israel’s war against Hamas, HRW notes,

“On October 7, Hamas-led gunmen from the Gaza Strip launched an attack in southern Israel, deliberately killing civilians, firing into crowds, gunning people down in their homes, and taking hostages back to Gaza, including older people and children, acts that amount to war crimes. According to Israeli authorities, more than 1,200 people, most of them civilians, have been killed since October 7 and 133 remained held hostage, as of December 15.”

According to HRW, after Israel launched its war against Hamas in Gaza, “more than 18,700 Palestinians, most of them civilians, including more than 7,800 children, were killed between October 7 and December 12, according to Gaza authorities.”

The reports by Oxfam and HRW highlight an ongoing and glaring problem, which is often overlooked. Taking into account Hamas’ own claim that it has approximately 40,000 fighters, how is it possible then that all of the casualties in Gaza are listed as civilians and none are noted to be terrorists?

When HRW quotes Gaza authorities, or when media outlets quote the Gaza Health Ministry, they are obfuscating the fact that it is Hamas that is publishing these numbers and being that it is a terrorist organization, these numbers cannot be trusted.

Granted, there are many civilians who are dying in this conflict, but when Oxfam and HRW make the claim that the body count is entirely civilian, this raises questions.

For instance, where are all the terrorists? The Israeli army says it kills dozens of terrorists each day and it publishes videos showing the fighting taking place in Gaza where viewers can see Hamas terrorists with weapons being killed. Yet those numbers disappear when media outlets and human rights organizations talk about Palestinian casualties.

The former Commander of the British Armed Forces in Afghanistan, Col. Richard Kemp, has in the past explained the IDF’s efforts to avoid civilian casualties:

“The UN estimate is that there has been an average three-to-one ratio of civilian to combatant deaths in such conflicts worldwide. Three civilians for every combatant killed. That is the estimated ratio in Afghanistan: three to one. In Iraq, and in Kosovo, it was worse: the ratio is believed to be four-to-one. Anecdotal evidence suggests the ratios were very much higher in Chechnya and Serbia. In Gaza, it was less than one-to-one.”

The 2009 United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza conflict made the claim that Israel intentionally targeted civilians. But the UN-appointed head of that mission, Richard Goldstone, retracted the claim and admitted that Israel did not indeed target civilians intentionally.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken summed it up best during a press conference in Israel on Jan. 9 as part of his Middle East tour when he said, “We want this war to end as soon as possible. There’s been far too much loss of life, far too much suffering. But it’s vital that Israel achieve its very legitimate objectives of ensuring that October 7th can never happen again, and we believe they’ve made considerable progress toward that goal.”

“At the same time,” Blinken continued, “I think it’s very important to remember that everyone has choices to make, and that includes Hamas. Hamas could have ended this on October 8th by not hiding behind civilians, by putting down its weapons, by surrendering, by releasing the hostages. None of the suffering – none of the suffering – would have happened if Hamas hadn’t done – did what it did on October 7th and had it made different decisions thereafter. So it’s very important to keep that in perspective, and again, this could end tomorrow if Hamas makes those decisions.”

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