Jolie Bain Pillsbury

Numbers Matter

I am irritating my friends and family a bit more than usual lately. I rudely interrupt them every time they mention the “32,000 Gazans Killed in the War”. Each time, I stop them and say: didn’t you mean to distinguish between combatants and noncombatants?”

At which point they get irritated.  It is so much easier in today’s world to constantly repeat an undifferentiated number, one promulgated by Hamas and its supporters. It is harder to actually account for the horrible reality of war. Israel is waging the war that Hamas chose. It is a war being fought in a complex urban environment against a terrorist enemy using its own people as human shields.

In the unfolding tragedy of this war as it enters its sixth month these are some of the horrific numbers that partially and imperfectly tell the story of that war:

  • 1200 Israelis killed on October 7th by Hamas
  • Over 230 kidnapped on October 7th by Hamas,
  • 105 hostages released in November 2023
  • 134 still held hostage as of March 2024
  • Over 250 IDF soldiers killed in ground operations in the war as of March 2024
  • At least 13,000 Hamas combatants killed in the war as of March 2024
  • At least 19,000 non-combatants Gazans killed in the war as of March 2024.

Every one of these numbers represent a terrible tragedy. These numbers will change before the war is over. Some are being revised now. The IDF is taking unprecedented measures to separate combatants from non-combatants as it pursues its military goal of defeating Hamas. The IDF is dropping leaflets, sharing maps and making announcements. While the battle rages in the hospitals from which hundreds of Hamas combatants shoot rockets and machine guns, the IDF brings medical teams to the front line to care for the non-combatants.  Despite these efforts, until Hamas surrenders and releases the hostages the numbers of IDF soldiers, Hamas combatants and Gazan noncombatants killed will grow.  Growing grief; increasing incalculable loss.

The lack of distinction between combatants and non-combatant deaths signals a conscious or unconscious acceptance of Hamas’s world view. In the Hamas world view, there is no difference between combatants and non-combatants. That world view led to October 7th when Hamas invaded Israel with the specific intent to kill, rape and capture as many Israeli civilians as they could. Hamas continues to cower in their terror tunnels built with UN complicity and Qatar money and located under civilian homes and hospitals and businesses. Embedded in the civilian population, using non-combatants as human shields, Hamas launches attacks from schools, hospitals and UN office buildings.

 There are no civilized wars, but there are civilized societies that go to war. Those societies try, as Israel does, in the midst of the horror and death of war to minimize civilian casualties. Every death is a tragedy, yet it is crucial to preserve that narrow but important distinction between combatant and non-combatant. This is a distinction that the IDF attempts to preserve, and one Hamas has erased. Every time that undifferentiated number is used, not accounting for combatant and non-combatant deaths, it supports Hamas’s terror tactics and does not acknowledge the extraordinary efforts that the IDF is currently making to not harm the very non-combatants that Hamas is intentionally putting in harm’s way.

About the Author
Jolie Bain Pillsbury, Ph D. Retired, residing in Arlington, Virginia. Public and private sector career focused on producing measurable results through the development of cross-sector collaborative leadership skills. Author of “The Theory of Aligned Contributions” and “Results Based Facilitation: Books 1 & 2.
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