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Friday, May 15, 2009

Some more about Gaza deaths

Isaac's Dad brings up some very good points in the comments, and while they have been said in passing, they are important to mention explicitly:

1. Excuse me if I missed it, but can you put a permalink to the PCHR study in a prominent place on your sidebar?
I was thinking about doing something similar to the self-death count. When I find some time....
2. With regards to that study, it struck me that the IDF's explanation for the discrepancy on the total number dead (natural deaths) was insufficient, leading to some further questions:

a. How does the PCHR treat "friendly fire" deaths? It strikes me as odd that I have not seen any reporting on how many Palestinians were killed by Hamas fire during the conflict.
We of course have no evidence either way. The PCHR's methods are to interview families of the dead. The families have incentive to say that their loved ones were "martyred" by Israel because the dead become heroes and the families get money from Palestinian Arab leaders for the rest of their lives. The PCHR also has incentive to demonize Israel. Without being there, we cannot prove that there were friendly fire incidents, but it seems certain that such incidents occurred.
b. How does the PCHR treat casualties as a result of "secondary explosions." We know that Hamas, and other factions, hid reams of explosive material that were targeted by the IDF and have seen the secondary explosions. I assume the IDF does not count deaths as a result of secondary explosions (intentional and unintentional) as their responsibility, and rightly so.
We've mentioned that as well, and it is equally certain that there were deaths from such explosions (not to mention Hamas booby traps that were accidentally tripped by Gazan civilians.) Unfortunately, we don't have anything to prove it. The PCHR says it uses "customary humanitarian law" to determine human rights violations and I don't think secondary explosions are mentioned. Most human rights organizations would lay the blame on the people who caused the initial explosion, not distinguishing between bombing a weapons depot and a fuel depot when assigning blame for deaths. Of course, the weapons depot is a legitimate target but HR activists would probably say that the expected civilian damage has to be proportionate to the miliitary advantage of the attack. It is one of the grey areas that need to be clarified.
3. With regards to Rayyan and his family, I understand that they are counted as civilian casualties by PCHR and that you and the IDF have said Rayyan was a legitimate target (I agree), but the argument should not end there. It was acknowledged in the Palestinian press that Rayyan and his family were aware his compound was to be bombed and had time to leave. It was alleged, and has not been denied by the Palestinians, that his compound was used to store weapons and explosives. Consequently, his home, and those that would protect it were combatatants, but, more importantly, even if his home was mistakenly targeted, Rayyan, and his family members who chose to remain, are responsible for their own deaths, because they chose to stay. In essence they performed a suicide mission by staying, with the media as the target. It should be noted on this point that, unlike many Palestinians in camps who may have had some difficulty finding a place to stay, the Rayyan family is a very large clan with multiple homes, and at least one family member stayed away.
To me, the Rayyan case was a classic case of human shields. Israel dropped leaflets and "knocked" on the roof, and Rayyan pretty much forced his wives and children to stay with him. If we ever get to phase 2 of the analysis of the PCHR figures, we would try to identify human shield cases by comparing last names of militants and last names of women and children killed at the same place on the same day. It would be interesting to know how the IDF classified Rayyan's family, however.