Since no reasonable person can deny Israel’s right to defend its citizens against mass murder, rape and mutilation by Hamas terrorists, current criticism of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is necessarily based on the notion that an unreasonable number of Gazan civilians are being killed.
While definitive figures are impossible to establish while fighting is ongoing, one thing is certain: Hamas’s casualty figures cannot be trusted any more than Hamas’s denial of mass rape on October 7 or its vile assertion that Israeli women received “good treatment” on October 7.
Palestinian terrorists have a long history of lies when it comes to casualties caused by the IDF. As just one example, consider Israel’s invasion of the West Bank city of Jenin in April 2002. During the bloody months of March and April 2002, Palestinian terror groups — including but not limited to Hamas — dispatched numerous suicide / homicide bombers who massacred over 100 Israelis. They detonated themselves in a Netanya hotel where guests were celebrating the Passover seder, a busy Haifa restaurant, multiple public buses, and a market in Jerusalem. Because many of the bombers were dispatched from Jenin, the IDF invaded Jenin in April 2002 with the utterly reasonable goal of neutralizing the intolerable terrorist threat it posed to Israeli civilians.
The fighting in Jenin lasted for about 10 days. The IDF went house to house. To avoid booby-trapped entrances, the IDF was forced to damage many structures to gain entry through outside walls. But while the fighting involved substantial property damage, the IDF was surgical in its use of firepower. Hundreds of Palestinian terrorists surrendered to Israeli forces, and very few civilians were killed despite the challenging urban landscape in which the IDF was required to fight.
By April 11, 2002, however, a CNN article related that “the Palestinians are reporting 500 dead.” On April 12, United Press International quoted an allegation by Ahmed Abdel Rahman, the Secretary-General of the Palestinian Authority Cabinet, that the IDF had killed “thousands” of Palestinians in Jenin and “took hundreds of bodies to northern Israel to hide their massacre.” On April 15, the New York Times reported on “rumors circulating of massacres and mass burials in the Jenin refugee camp.” Notably, the headline of that article read: “Israelis Say Arab Dead in Jenin Number in Dozens, Not Hundreds.”
When the dust settled, the United Nations (no friend of Israel) issued a report in which it confirmed the accuracy of Israel’s estimates and the fallacy of the Palestinian estimates: it found that 52 Palestinians had died in Jenin. Of those, Israel reported that 38 were armed men and 14 were civilians, for a ratio of about 0.4 civilians killed to every combatant killed. Even Human Rights Watch (a perennial critic of Israel) concluded that just 22 civilians were killed. Even accepting the HRW number, the civilian to combatant death ratio in Jenin was about 0.7:1. The Palestinians’ casualty allegations, like its charge that the IDF committed a “massacre,” were outright lies.
Terrible as any civilian death is in war, a civilian to combatant death ratio under 1:1, especially in an urban environment, is simply unheard-of. By comparison, as Colonel Richard Kemp, a retired British Army officer with 30 years of experience, including in Afghanistan and Iraq, has explained, even the United States, which is more careful than most countries to avoid civilian casualties, achieved only a 3:1 ratio in Iraq and a ratio between 3:1 and 5:1 in Afghanistan.
Fast-forward to the present. The key metric by which the IDF’s precision in Gaza should be measured is, again, the ratio of civilian deaths to Hamas combatant deaths. Yet Western media outlets routinely report — maddeningly, without any criticism whatsoever — that the Hamas-run Ministry of Health “does not distinguish between civilians and Hamas fighters.” The combatant death figures are of course uniquely in Hamas’s control, but Western media outlets simply accept without comment that Hamas declines to disclose those figures, which Hamas understandably does not want the world to know. Incredibly, while Western media outlets let Hamas off the hook for hiding its combatant deaths, those same outlets repeat an unsubstantiated and inflammatory claim by Hamas that “Women and children account for nearly 70 percent of all deaths reported in Gaza.”
And, of course, this claim comes from the very same Hamas officials who falsely blamed Israel for bombing the Al-Ahri Arab Hospital in Gaza City on October 17 – a slander that the New York Times immediately published without fact-checking it, as its editors later tepidly admitted.
For its part, Israel estimates it has so far killed about 8,000 Hamas terrorists during the Gaza war. Even assuming Hamas’s overall casualty numbers are correct — it most recently claimed about 21,000 deaths since the war started — if the IDF’s numbers are also accurate (as they were in Jenin in 2002), the civilian to combatant death ratio is well under 2:1. Although not quite as favorable as the ratio in Jenin in 2002, this ratio is still an incredible humanitarian achievement by the IDF. All this despite the extraordinarily difficult circumstances in which the IDF is fighting – an urban battlefield in which terrorists deliberately hide behind civilians and fire rockets from within humanitarian safe zones, attack from hundreds of kilometers of underground terror tunnels, and hold Israeli hostages. It may not be an exaggeration to say that, in Gaza, the IDF has acted more carefully, and more precisely, than any army in the history of the world.
And, yet, pro-Hamas protesters, and even world governments, bizarrely accuse Israel of “genocide.” South Africa has even filed suit against Israel for alleged genocide. Given Israel’s apparent success in minimizing civilian casualties in Gaza, the only plausible conclusion is that those calling Israel’s actions “genocide” would deny Israel the right to defend itself altogether. That is antisemitism per se.
To be sure, the IDF has made mistakes — but those mistakes only highlight the difference between the IDF, which regards every civilian death as a tragedy, and Hamas, which seeks civilian deaths as a strategy. Perhaps the most powerful reminder that mistakes inevitably occur in war is that 29 of the 170 IDF soldiers who have fallen so far in Gaza were killed by friendly fire. The IDF seeks to avoid both civilian casualties among Gazans and, of course, losses among its own soldiers — but both are inevitable in a conflict this complex.
As we turn the page to a new year in 2024, over 100 Israeli hostages are still held in unspeakable conditions by Hamas terrorists in Gaza. Israel’s goals are modest and eminently reasonable: the return of its hostages, and the ability to live in peace. People of conscience around the world should support these goals — and treat Hamas’s public statements with the skepticism they richly deserve.