Why the Israeli-Hamas Death Toll Is So Lopsided

Hamas and Israel are at it again, launching hundreds of rockets and airstrikes at each other. Typical news articles reporting on the latest developments say that around 139 Palestinians have died so far while around 5 Israelis have died. This leads to typical comments like “death totals 130 to 5… sounds like a legit war…”

These lopsided death tolls might lead one to believe the Israel is far more aggressive than Hamas, but this is not necessarily true. The same article says that Hamas has launched about 1,400 rockets into Israel, while Israel has carried out about 1,500 airstrikes into the Gaza Strip – roughly equivalent numbers. The reason the death toll is so striking is that Hamas basically sucks at attacking Israelis, and Israel is much better at defending itself.

This is nothing new. Alan Dershowitz explained the lopsided death toll eight years ago in his book The Case For Israel:

The Palestinians have willfully tried to kill many more Israelis than they have succeeded in doing, whereas the deaths attributable to Israel have mostly been caused accidentally in a legitimate effort to try to stop terrorism… Israeli authorities prevented hundreds of attempted terrorist attacks…

…Israel has allocated very substantial resources to its medical response to terrorism… Many of these victims would have died if the Israeli medical response had not been so extraordinary…

Israeli’s medical response to terrorism must be contrasted with the Palestinian response… Israel’s health minister “has several times offered to treat all Palestinians wounded in the current Intifada at Israeli hospitals and at Israel’s expense.” …The Palestinians rejected the offer… significantly fewer Palestinians would have died of their injuries if their leaders had been willing to have them treated by Israel’s excellent first responders than by often incompetent Palestinian doctors and inadequate Palestinian hospitals.

Now, clearly Dershowitz is biased, and clearly I hold some of that bias as well. But I repeatedly see these notions confirmed in the news reports I see out of Israel and Gaza today.

Hamas is still trying to indiscriminately kill large numbers of Israelis; they’re just very bad at it. Israel’s military says that of the 1,500 or so rockets launched by Hamas before the ceasefire, well over half of them “exploded in open country.” (In fact, Israel also claims that 152 of them exploded in Gaza, perhaps contributing to their own civilian deaths.) And Israel has gotten better at defending itself, as its Iron Dome successfully intercepted 84 percent of the rockets that were actually heading for populated areas.

It is also clear that, unlike Hamas, Israel was mainly focused on military targets. Now I must object to collateral Gaza civilian deaths just as I object to collateral Pakistani civilian deaths from our own military, and it’s arguable that Israel’s airstrikes are creating more enemies than they’re destroying. But there’s clearly a large difference between Israel and Hamas here. It may even be a larger difference than that between America and al-Qeada, who is not, say, firing upwards of 1,500 rockets into our southern border.

And it seems that Israel is still trying to clumsily counter its civilian casualties with leaflet warnings and hundreds of trucks of medical supplies.

With all of this in mind, I find it both bizarre and sad that Palestinians are celebrating the recent cease-fire as some sort of “victory,” when things mostly seem to be back to what they were two weeks ago, minus hundreds of Palestinians and thousands of wasted rockets. It’s disturbing to read quotes like “we made great gains and showed our strength” or “Imagine, the rockets of our resistance hitting Tel Aviv, hitting them and making them afraid everywhere they were.” It is stunning that the Palestinians seem even more convinced that Hamas is good for them when their actions continually result in large numbers of Palestinian deaths and hardly any Israeli deaths due to their own sheer incompetence.

Lest I end this piece with the impression that I’m a raging Zionist, I wanted to mention something else while I’m on the subject, and it’s that I’m encouraged to see Egypt’s role in brokering the (admittedly fragile) cease-fire. The Brietbarts of the world and other doom-and-gloom conservatives were convinced that the Muslim Brotherhood would “end the Camp David Accords once and for all,” but so far it looks like Morsi is actually helping the peace process. Surely this should be shocking to those convinced that Obama supported the Arab Spring to get radical Muslims in power who would destabilize the region and increase the tensions against Israel/America. Oh well, I suppose there’s still plenty of time for that…

One thought on “Why the Israeli-Hamas Death Toll Is So Lopsided”

  1. A distinction must be made between targeted killing of civilians and accidental civilian casualties that are an inevitable byproduct of stopping the terrorism (particularly due the fact that terrorists use civilians as human shields).
    The civilian to combatant casualty ratio of Israel is far better.

    If the Israel did not target the terrorists, the Israeli civilian death rate would be much higher.

    Part of the reason that Israeli casualties are less, is due to the tremendous amount of resources spent by Israel to protect & save its civilians.
    Palestinians would be safer and have a lower civilian death rate if they kept terrorists out of their civilian communities. They wouldn’t even have to stop the terrorism, if they would just fight Israel without using civilians as human shields, the Palestinian civilian death rate would be much lower.

    The following is a statement delivered by Col. Richard Kemp, October 16, 2009, UN Human Rights Council Special Session on Goldstone Report:

    “I am the former commander of the British forces in Afghanistan. I served with NATO and the United Nations; commanded troops in Northern Ireland, Bosnia and Macedonia; and participated in the Gulf War. I spent considerable time in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, and worked on international terrorism for the UK Governments Joint Intelligence Committee.

    Mr. President, based on my knowledge and experience, I can say this: During Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli Defense Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.

    Israel did so while facing an enemy that deliberately positioned its military capability behind the human shield of the civilian population.

    Hamas, like Hizballah, are expert at driving the media agenda. Both will always have people ready to give interviews condemning Israeli forces for war crimes. They are adept at staging and distorting incidents.

    The IDF faces a challenge that we British do not have to face to the same extent. It is the automatic, Pavlovian presumption by many in the international media, and international human rights groups, that the IDF are in the wrong, that they are abusing human rights.

    The truth is that the IDF took extraordinary measures to give Gaza civilians notice of targeted areas, dropping over 2 million leaflets, and making over 100,000 phone calls. Many missions that could have taken out Hamas military capability were aborted to prevent civilian casualties. During the conflict, the IDF allowed huge amounts of humanitarian aid into Gaza. To deliver aid virtually into your enemy’s hands is, to the military tactician, normally quite unthinkable. But the IDF took on those risks.

    Despite all of this, of course innocent civilians were killed. War is chaos and full of mistakes. There have been mistakes by the British, American and other forces in Afghanistan and in Iraq, many of which can be put down to human error. But mistakes are not war crimes.

    More than anything, the civilian casualties were a consequence of Hamas way of fighting. Hamas deliberately tried to sacrifice their own civilians.

    Mr. President, Israel had no choice apart from defending its people, to stop Hamas from attacking them with rockets.

    And I say this again: the IDF did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.”

    – Statement delivered by Col. Richard Kemp, October 16, 2009, UN Human Rights Council Special Session on Goldstone Report

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