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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Preliminary results of PCHR Gaza casualty analysis (updated)

In March, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights widely released a report detailing the people who were killed in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead. This report was a seemingly comprehensive list of the details about every death: the name, gender, age, location, and job of each person is detailed. Most importantly, the PCHR classified all the victims as being either "militants" or "civilians," and their counts indicated that 1180 of 1414 victims were civilians.

Meanwhile, the IDF has claimed that there were 1166 killed in Gaza, of whom 709 were known Hamas or Islamic Jihad militants.

The IDF did not release their list of casualties, so its claims cannot be independently verified at this time. On the other hand, I and other bloggers have been researching the PCHR's claims and have found serious inconsistencies with that organization's methodologies and classifications.

Our team cross-checked the names listed by PCHR with lists of "resisters" compiled by the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, lists of "martyrs" published by Hamas, the Popular Resistance Committees and other militant groups in Gaza, as well as from the Ma'an News Agency, Palestinian Arabic discussion groups and other sources.

Our preliminary results show that at least 342 of the people killed, that PCHR classifies as "civilians," were, in fact, militants.

PCHR's criteria to determine exactly who is a "militant" is unclear. They seem to claim that they are only counting those whom they had direct evidence were engaging in hostilities at the moment of their deaths, but this is far from clear. At any rate, the term "militant" is not a legal term, and in common usage it refers to anyone who belongs to a military or paramilitary group. The PCHR's statistics are deceptive and slanted towards creating a false impression of IDF brutality.

So far, we have identified members of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Resistance Committees, the PFLP and the DFLP who are all considered "civilians" by the PCHR. The full list can be seen at http://elderofziyon.blogspot.com/2009/04/more-of-those-civilians-killed-in-gaza.html. These include the links to the original sources where the victims are associated with these various militant groups.

This is far from a comprehensive list. This is only based on the names that we have found. We are not trying to create a full count of civilians and militants; rather we are showing that the statistics given by the PCHR and publicized in the media are knowingly false.

The IDF has categorized most or all of the Hamas police force as "Hamas or Islamic Jihad operatives" and therefore as legal targets. The PCHR takes strong exception to this categorization, and reveals its own definition of "combatants":
PCHR consider the IOF’s classification of police officers as combatants illegal: this classification constitutes a wilful violation of the principle of distinction, a key component of customary international law. Hamas is a multi-faceted organisation, exercising de facto governmental control of the Gaza Strip. As an organisation, it cannot be considered an armed group. Rather, a distinction must be made between Hamas’ armed and political/civil components. The Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades are the military wing of the Hamas organisation, they are an armed group, and are considered as combatants according to IHL. However, Hamas’ political and civil wings are comprised of civilians, who are legally entitled to the protections associated with this status, provided they do not take an active part in hostilities. Civil police, and governmental officials cannot be considered combatants. Attacks intentionally directed against these individuals constitute wilful killing, a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions, and a violation of customary international law.
If we fully accept the PCHR's definitions and interpretations of international humanitarian law (IHL) here, then they are saying that members of armed militias like the Al Qassam Brigades are legal combatants and therefore legitimate targets. By extension, it is clear that the Hamas policemen who were also members of the Al Qassam Brigades were, in fact, legitimate targets from the IDF.

Our research has detailed proof that at least 205 of the policemen listed to have been killed in Operation Cast Lead and classified as "civilian" by the PCHR were, in fact, militants. In addition, the PCHR itself classified 10 policemen as "militants."

(The PCHR has been inconsistent in its own press releases. While they claim that 255 non-combatant policemen were killed in Cast Lead, or that 255 police officers were killed in total, their English list includes some 282 people identified as "policemen," of whom 272 were considered "civilian." Their Arabic list counts some 280 policemen in total.)

By any count, over two thirds of the policemen killed in Operation Cast Lead were members of militant groups, predominantly the al-Qassam Brigades.

Certainly, the PCHR is aware of the affiliations of many of not all of the victims in Gaza. To give one example, the Popular Resistance Committees al-Nasser Salah Addin Brigades published a list of its 18 "martyrs" on January 22, 2009. Yet nine of them - including a "commander" and a "field commander" - were classified as "civilian" by the PCHR nearly two months later. It strains credulity to think that with all the effort the PCHR made in compiling the names and classifying the victims that they were unaware of their affiliations with armed groups.

Why, then, did they classify so many known militants as civilians? One can only conclude that the PCHR is not being consistent with even its own description of who is considered a "militant" - and that the reason is to deceive the readers of its reports and the media who would uncritically report the PCHR's conclusions.

Such a high number of Al Qassam members among the police that were killed indicates that Hamas itself does not distinguish between its so-called civilian and military wings. Effectively, Hamas considers its police force to be the same as its military force. If Hamas does not respect the principle of distinction in its own civilian organization, it forfeits the demand for its opponents to adhere to the principle of distinction, and the entire police force would be considered a legitimate target.

The IDF indeed defined the entire Hamas police force as a legitimate target. If we accept that definition, the total number of militants that we can identify by name using the IDF's criteria would be:

282 total police officers
226 "PCHR militants" (not counting the ten police militants according to PCHR)
148 militants identified as "civilian" by PCHR
---
656 total police and militant victims

This is not far from the 709 militants the IDF has said it is aware of.

The evidence that Hamas doesn't distinguish between its civilian and military wings is overwhelming; for more on that topic see this excerpt from Hamas: Politics, Charity, and Terrorism in the Service of Jihad by Matthew Levitt:
Because of the notion that Hamas has independent "wings," its political and charitable fronts are allowed to operate openly in many Western and Middle Eastern capitals. In these cities, Islamic social welfare groups tied to Hamas are often tolerated when their logistical and financial support for Hamas is conducted under the rubric ofcharitable or humanitarian assistance.
While convenient for Hamas and its supporters, this distinction is contradicted by the consistent if scattered findings of investigators, journalists, and analysts. A review ofthe evidence regarding the integration of Hamas' political activism, social services, and terrorism demonstrates the centrality of the group's overt activities to the organization's ability to recruit, indoctrinate, train, fund, and dispatch suicide bombers to attack civilian targets.
The social welfare organizations of Hamas answer to the same political leaders who play hands-on roles in Hamas terrorist attacks. In some cases, the mere existence of these institutions is invoked to classify Hamas as a social welfare rather than a terrorist organization. To debunk these specious assumptions, it is necessary to fully expose what Hamas calls the dawa (its social welfare and proselytization network). This is sometimes difficult because, as one U.S. official explained, "Hamas is loosely structured, with some elements working clandestinely and others working openly through mosques and social service institutions to recruit members, raise money, organize activities, and distribute propaganda."
Yet even without this knowledge, the PCHR is inconsistent in its definitions. Its only consistency, as evidenced by its use of the term "IOF" ("Israel Occupation Forces") instead of IDF, is a desire to make Israel look as bad as possible. This is not the function of a "human rights" organization - it betrays a political agenda rather than a humanitarian one.

The al-Fakhoura UNRWA School

An interesting finding from the PCHR report regards the al-Fakhoura UNRWA school in Jabalya. On January 6th, 2009, the IDF returned fire from nearby the school, and the initial reports from various Gaza organizations charged that between 30 and 50 people were killed there. The PCHR wrote then that the IDF killed "27 civilians instantly" (not counting the Deeb family which was not near the school and indeed appears to have been killed by an errant shell.) The IDF, on the other hand, has claimed that 12 were killed outside the school.

The PCHR report lists exactly 12 victims from near the al-Fakhoura school, although they do not line up with the names and descriptions given by the IDF. Even so, the PCHR does not seem to be interested in publicizing the discrepancy between its initial reports of a massacre and what it later admits.

Child Militants

The PCHR press releases emphasize child victims of the conflict, but they do not mention another fact of which they are aware: that children are being drafted for use by militant groups.

The PCHR list includes 7 militants who were under 18:

#580 ‘Ateya Rushdi Khalil Aal-Khuli (16)
#830 Ahmed Fawzi Hassan Lubbad (17)
#942 Ibrahim Mustafa Sa’id (17)
#1070 Mahmoud Ahmed Fares Juha (16)
#1094 Mohammed Nader Khalil Abu Sha’aban (17)
#1256 Tamer Reyad Ibrahim Faza'a (17)
#1397 Tamer ‘Umar Isma’il al-Louh (17)

We have identified another 8 children who were members of militant groups that PCHR named as civilian:

#280 Ahmed Rasmi Mohammed Abu Jazar "Mujahid" 16 years old
#405 Tareq Yaser Mohammed ‘Afana 16 years old Al Qassam Brigades member
#409 Mahmoud Majed Mahmoud Abu Nahla 16 years old "Shahid Fighter" in ICT list
#415 Ghassan Nizar Abdul Kader Rayan 16 years old (Nizar Rayyan's son) "Al Qassam shahid" (his siblings are not mentioned)
#992 Mohammed Jaber Mohammed ‘Eleyan 16 years old member of PRC/Nasser Brigades
#1156 Hammam Mohammed Hassan al-Khudary 16 years old Islamic Jihad member
#1162 Belal Jamal Isma’il Abu ‘Awwad 17 years old Al Qassam member
#1229 ‘Imad Maher Saleh Ferwana (Ammar Maher Farwana) 17 years old listed as "resister" on Al Mezan list
#1275 Samer Mohammed al-Abed Abu Aser, 17 years old, Islamic Jihad member http://www.saraya.ps/view.php?id=11327 (Saraya site down now, data from ICT)

We have yet to see the PCHR condemn Hamas or Islamic Jihad for their recruitment and use of children as fighters.

Discrepancies in total number killed

The IDF has stated that 1166 people were killed during Cast Lead, and has suggested that the difference in total killed between their count and the counts from PCHR, Palestinian Ministry of Health and Al-Mezan could possibly be because the Gazan organizations counted people who died naturally as being "martyred" by the IDF.

While we have no way to verify that claim, the Palestinian Ministry of Health has a list of all "martyrs" who died, they say, as a result of the "siege" of Gaza (typically cancer and heart disease patients, presumably because of a lack of medical care and the ability to travel to Israel for treatment.). Their monthly totals of such deaths before and after Cast Lead look like this:

November - 10
December - 14
January - 3
February - 13
March - 23

None of the December deaths occured during Cast Lead.

It is curious that the number of deaths from cancer and similar diseases would have plummeted so much during the fighting. While this is hardly proof, it does indicate that the statistics that come out of official institutions in Gaza and the PA are suspect and that there is a possibility that the total number of Cast Lead victims has been exaggerated.

Conclusion

While the results are not complete, there is overwhelming evidence that the PCHR knowingly and maliciously lied in its statistics regarding the numbers of civilians and militants killed during Operation Cast Lead. Knowing its clear biases, the most reasonable conclusion is that the PCHR was not nearly as interested in the truth as it was in demonizing the IDF. The report itself cannot be considered reliable.

Given this information, it is difficult to know whether to believe that organization in other areas.