Comments on BTselems Civilian Casualty Estimates in Operation Cast Lead

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Richter, Elihu D. and Yael Stein. “Comments on B’Tselem’s Civilian Casualty Estimates in Operation Cast Lead.” Center for Injury Prevention and Genocide Prevention Program (2009): 1-11.


Background and Objective: On September 9 2009, B’Tselem published an “Investigation of fatalities in Operation Cast Lead”, referring to Israel’s operation in Gaza (Dec 27 2008 to Jan 18 2009. Based on this analysis, the report criticized what the authors consider “disproportionate use of force”, and called for investigation of alleged breaches of international law.    

Methods: In this study, we have examined the B’Tselem report on the standpoint of validity of content and context.  The study was based on primary data on identity and age and status (combatant or other)  of those reported  dead  from Palestinian, NGO, websites, blogs, military wings of terror groups and Palestinian police and cross checked their findings from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Followings standard practice with respect to request from NGOs, the IDF refused to provide B’Tselem with any primary data, but did publish a composite aggregate list. ( 

We also note that B’Tselem was guided by a restrictive definition of combatants, ($File/irrc-872-reports-documents.pdf) excluding persons who accompany or support an organized armed group, but whose function does not involve direct participation in hostilities, such as recruiters, financers and propagandists.     

Results: B’Tselem reported 1387 killed. Of these, 330 were classified as combatants and 773 were not.  In addition, 248 police were killed in attacks on police stations.  The IDF states that 1166 were killed, of whom 709 were classified as combatants and 295 were   not. The B’Tselem data show a high male-to-female ratio — greater than 4.0  —among teens  and adults  classified as  non-combatants. In  age 17-18, an age group often involved in hostilities, there is an abrupt increase in M/F ratio to 6.5.  These high m/f ratios suggest that many could have been involved in  combatant situations, either as shields, fighters, circumstantial helpers, sporadic helpers,  or bystanders who were drawn into the goings on, as well as  recruiters, financers and propagandists. The deaths of 119 children reported as under age 11 bespeaks to the conditions of asymmetric warfare: mixing of populations, shielding–either intended or inadvertent, and exposure to the massive firepower used by the IDF.  3

Discussion: B’Tselem’s classifications of combatant-non-combatant status for deaths among Gazans are flawed by restrictive definitions of combatants. Furthermore, B’Tselem equates absence of evidence on combatant status with evidence of absence. The high m/f ratios, especially among males of fighting age, including those in their mid to late teens, suggests that the IDF classifications are combatant and noncombatantstatus are probably far more accurate than those of B’Tselem. Without access to the IDF data and the B’Tselem data on age-sex distributions of combatants, it is not possible definitively to verify this assessment. B’Tselem’s comments are very clear and strong on the fact that Palestinian missile attacks on Israeli civilian communities with the intention to kill are grave breaches of International law, as is the fact that they are fired from sites in which civilians live, but information is not available on whether this organization has ever formally called for investigating these grave breaches. Regrettably, B’Tselem waited 8 years–until Israel had to go to war to stop these breaches.

Errors of Omission: B’Tselem, like other Human rights groups, has  been  silent on Hamas’ genocidal  incitement and hate language in the media, TV and texts—and, worst of all,   the obscene violation of Gilad Shalit’s human rights as a prisoner of war. All are crimes against humanity. The fact that these violations, the certainty of which is unquestioned, preceded Cast Lead is no excuse for not condemning them and calling for international prosecution.

Conclusion: B’Tselem’s report is flawed by major errors of commission and omission and possibly major misclassification biases.  Asymmetric warfare now includes asymmetric lawfare.