New B’Tselem Report on Operation Protective Edge…and a Critic who Fires Blanks at B’Tselem

B’Tselem is one of the finest casualty recording organisations in the world so the recent publication of its report on Operation Protective Edge (July 8 – August 26, 2014) is an important moment for the field.  The report is simultaneously very good and very brief so I urge everyone to have a look.

There is a well-organised interactive page that lists each person killed (Palestinians and Israelis) by name, age and gender.  This page also provides the date, location and circumstance of each death.

A special feature of the report is that victims are classified according to whether or not they participated in hostilities (with this category sometimes left empty).  To make these calls B’Tselem looks for evidence that a victim either belonged to a combat organisation or was fighting when he/she was killed.  (See the methodology page for details).

B’Tselem clearly puts considerable effort into making and explaining their useful “participation in hostilities” classifications.  It is, therefore, frustrating to see Ben-Dror Yemini dismiss all this hard work and declare that of the 1,394 people killed while not participating in hostilities (according to B’Tselem) “the vast majority of those killed are fighters.”

How does Yemini back up his strong claim?

To see just how farfetched the NGO’s claims are, one need only look at the very data it provides, including the gender and age of each fatality. Let’s leave for a moment the group of 808 fatalities that even B’Tselem graciously admits were terrorists. We’re left with 1,394. If they were indeed all innocents, killed as a result of indiscriminate or random fire, the age distribution would be identical, or at the very least close, to the age distribution in the Gaza Strip.

But lo and behold, it turns out that the real statistics are quite different. Among those defined as innocents between the ages of 18-32, 275 are men and 127 are women. Among all fatalities aged 18-59, 1,296 are men and 247 are women. Five times(!) more men than women. Such high numbers of fighting-aged men, compared to such small numbers of women from the same age group do not point toward randomness. Such a discrepancy could not have occurred if indisriminate fire towards population centers had actually taken place.

Oh dear…..we’ve been here before.  I’m a bit embarrassed to even take this seriously but such misconceptions appear to be common so they can’t be overlooked.

From this 9/11 page we learn that:

The victims were overwhelmingly male (about 75 percent), young (many under 40, most under 50),…

Aha – on 9/11 Al-Qaeda mainly attacked fighters!  There can be no benign reason why the Twin Towers were so packed full of young males.

Indeed, in this paper we found that about 80% of the people killed by suicide bombs in Iraq were adult males (at least out of the ones for which we could find victim demographics).  It appears that Iraqi open-air markets are also packed full of legitimate targets.

OK, it’s obvious why Twin-Tower demographics didn’t match those of America as a whole but what about open-air markets in Iraq?   The answer is almost surely that women and children are generally kept away from such places since they are potential targets for suicide bombers and other attacks.

Let me by crystal clear so as to avoid misinterpretations.  I do not think that the Twin Towers were filled with fighters.  I do not think that open air markets in Iraq are filled with fighters.  And I do not think that most adult males in Gaza are fighters.  Moreover, when B’Tselem investigates and finds that a particular victim did not participate in hostilities I will not overturn this judgement just because that person was an adult male.

I’m hoping that people will pay attention to this post and stop making such wrong headed claims about adult males as a whole…at least until I reach my 60th birthday.




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