(This is the article that I wrote as an op-ed, that was inexplicably not published as planned. Much of it was beautifully rewritten by a prominent writer and author.)
For three weeks in December 2008-January 2009, Israel and Hamas fought a war in the after Hamas announced it was abandoning the ceasefire and began escalated rocket and mortar attacks on Israel.
There is one fact about that war which people around the world think they know: there were about 1400 Palestinians killed in the war and most or almost all of them were civilians, mainly women an children.
This claim, however, is false and demonstrably so on the basis of careful research using publicly available and reliable materials. Indeed, a group of bloggers, including the author, have shown already that more than 30 percent of the claimed "civilian" casualties were in fact, to use the polite word, armed militants or members of Hamas-led security forces. And the number of such combatants we are discovering is rising every day.
While Hamas and other Palestinian political groups were using alleged to bolster their case with international public opinion, they demonstrably knew otherwise. In fact, they publicly bragged about the military activities of those they labeled innocent civilian bystanders.
The basis for many claims about the distribution of casualties was in a March report <http://pchrgaza.org/files/PressR/English/2008/list.pdf> by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR). Widely covered‹and credulously accepted‹in the Western media, the report was a seemingly comprehensive, detailed list of every death. The bottom line: : the name, gender, age, location, and job of each person is detailed. Most importantly, the PCHR claimed 1180 of the alleged 1414 victims were civilians.
Our team cross-checked the names listed by PCHR with lists of "resisters" compiled by the Al- Mezan Center for Human Rights <http://www.mezan.org/en/index.php> , lists of "martyrs" published by Hamas, the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), and other militant groups in , as well as from the Ma'an News Agency, and other Palestinian sources.
The released its own report on casualties from Operation Cast Lead, saying 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 we could not check specifics against the PCHR claims.
Our results so far show that at least, if all armed police are counted, 391 of the 1180 people who PCHR classifies as "civilians," were, in fact, militants.
PCHR's criteria to determine exactly who is a "militant" are unclear. Sometimes they speak of "active combatants" but at other times they state, accurately, that any members of armed groups, such as the al-Qassam Brigades, would be considered legitimate targets under international law.
The team has identified members of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Resistance Committees, the PFLP and the DFLP considered "civilians" by the PCHR. Examples include Adib Harb (brigade commander for the PRC), 'Eid 'Oda al-Shandi (field commander in the al-Qassam Brigades) and even senior Hamas leader Nizar Rayyan.
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 <http://pchrgaza.ps/files/PressR/English/2008/44-2009.html> to this categorization, saying that Hamas policemen are civilians.
Even by the PCHR's own criteria, our research <http://elderofziyon.blogspot.com/2009/04/more-of-those-civilians-killed-in-gaza.html> has detailed proof identifying over 64% of the police killed in Operation Cast Lead some 180 of them out of 283, were also members of militant groups, predominantly the al-Qassam Brigades acting as combatants against Israel.
Certainly, the PCHR is aware of the affiliations of many of not all of the victims in Gaza . For example, the PRC al-Nasser Salah Addin Brigades‹the most extremist group in Gaza which has been reportedly linked to al-Qaida--published a list <http://www.moqawmh.com/ara/index.php?act=News&id=2583> of its 18 of its "martyrs" on January 22. Yet nine of them, including two commanders, were classified as "civilian" by the PCHR months later. Similarly, an al-Qassam Brigades' leader famous for developing the , Amir Yousef Al-Mansy, was also called a "civilian." It strains credulity to think that the PCHR was unaware that they were militants engaged in fighting Israel.
Why, then, did they classify so many known militants as civilians? One can only conclude that the reason is to deceive the media.
Such a high number of members among the police killed indicates that Hamas itself does not distinguish between its so-called civilian and military wings. Effectively, Hamas considers its police to be the same as its military force. If Hamas does not make such a distinction, why shouldn't everyone else conclude that its entire police force is a legitimate target?
In addition to the police, we have identified 117 other militants that the PCHR classified as "civilian." None of our findings are inconsistent with the IDF report on Gaza casualties.
While the PCHR misrepresents the facts about Palestinian casualties it makes other statements which reveal the highly politicized nature of the group that show it is not a human rights organization. For example, it consistently uses the phrase "IOF" ("Israel Occupation Forces") instead of Israel Defense Forces, the proper name of Israel's military, in trying to make Israel look as bad as possible.
The PCHR's influence cannot be overstated. UN groups routinely quote PCHR figures and reports. News media around the world rely on organizations like the PCHR to give them accurate information about what happens in Gaza. The PCHR presents itself as an unbiased party and is taken as such in media reports. The truth, however, is quite different.
Israel's war in Gaza was not aimed at causing civilian losses, nor was it a war of "occupation," as the PCHR would have it, but of defense. The fact that the casualty figures are being misrepresented is a demonstration of the fact that charges made against Israel are false. We are confident that as our research continues we will find many more soldiers of Hamas and other groups waging war against Israel disguised as civilians.
(updated numbers 6/12/09)