Jay Tcath

Wrestling with, not diminishing, the claim of 30,000 Gazans killed

Screen capture, JVP-Chicago Instagram, March 8, 2024
Screen capture, JVP-Chicago Instagram, March 8, 2024

Gazans killed since October 7 greatly outnumber Israelis killed. That is a fact, not an indictment.

Anti-Israel voices exploit that fact to enhance empathy for Palestinians, plead for an unconditional ceasefire, and demonize Israel with charges of ethnic cleansing.

The Hamas-controlled Gazan Health Ministry asserts over 30,000 Palestinians have been killed. Thirty thousand is a lot. Every person is created in God’s image.  Neither Israelis nor American Jews celebrate such horrible losses. The IDF goes to unmatched lengths to avoid civilian deaths, even when it endangers their troops.

[West Point’s chair of urban warfare studies found that Israel “has implemented more measures to prevent civilian casualties than any other military in history–above and beyond what international law requires and more than the U.S. did in its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”]

Many have cast doubt on the 30,000 number and how it is determined.  In October President Biden said that he has “no confidence in the number that the Palestinians are using. More recently a Statistics and Data Science professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School demonstrated statistically that the daily pace of numbers being reported is simply implausible. That was followed by another credible analysis debunking how the 30,000 figure is arrived at.

That is all compelling.  Unfortunately, it is irrelevant to the PR battle being waged today.  After all, even if the true number were significantly smaller – 20,000 or even 10,000 – the charges of genocide would be just as loud.

30,000 is today the only number “game” in town.  Exhibit A: within 5 months President Biden went from doubting Hamas’ numbers to citing them in his State of the Union.

30,000 killed is the established narrative with which Israel and her supporters must reckon.

A reckoning can be fraught; one must respond without sounding heartless.  And an honest reckoning doesn’t affirm every pro-Israel talking point.

For those reasons, and the lack of alternative numbers (provided by academic critics or Israel itself), addressing 30,000 killed leaves many tongue-tied.  But since Hamas weaponizes the number, additional context is merited.

  • The US, the UN, international aid organizations, and “even” Israel believe, both in the current and previous conflicts, that Gaza’s Health Ministry’s gross casualty numbers have been generally accurate. Yet this is a case where the correct total comprises false parts.
  • The Ministry never distinguishes between civilians and combatants, or whether the deceased were killed by Israel, errant Palestinian fire, or internecine Palestinian violence; all casualties are listed as victims of “Israeli aggression.”
  • The Ministry asserts that 70% of the dead are women and children and that the remaining third are its fighters. That begs a question: have no male noncombatants been killed?  Does that mean that every Gazan male is a Hamas fighter?  If so, does that mean that every adult male Gazan is a terrorist?  On this point Israel does provide a verified number: they have eliminated over 12,000 Hamas fighters.
  • Why are Hamas-generated numbers about the profile of those killed automatically believed while the credibility of what official Israeli sources say on other topics isn’t?
  • Hamas intentionally targets Israeli civilians while encouraging and celebrating the death (martyrdom) of Gazans.
  • Relatedly, as its military capacity erodes, the Palestinian death toll is one of Hamas’ few remaining strategic “assets.”
  • The IDF moral code explains why the Gazan combatant-to-civilian death ratio is, bad PR notwithstanding, so low:  less than two civilians killed for every combatant.  While that might not sound low, United Nations data shows that civilians are usually 90% of all war casualties.  And Israel is achieving that historic low ratio in the most challenging environment: urban warfare, where terrorist tunnels snake beneath houses, mosques, hospitals, schools, and U.N. and humanitarian facilities.

Every loss of innocent life in any war is tragic. When those losses are distorted for political purposes, when the innocent are mourned as is the terrorist, a measure of their humanity is further eroded.  It is revealing when only one country, when defending itself and adhering to the highest ethical codes, is vilified by countries (and their supporters) whose own track records are incomparably worse.  The only conclusion to be made is that their argument is informed by a deformed politics, not a shared humanity.

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