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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

B'Tselem releases Gaza report (UPDATED)

From YNet:
A new report published Wednesday by rights group B'Tselem reveals that the IDF killed 1,387 Palestinians, 773 of whom were non-combatants. On the other hand, a report published by the Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center shows that at least 1,000 of the Palestinians killed in the Gaza Strip were Hamas combatants or were suspected of being combatants, and were therefore marked as targets by the IDF. [Here is an earlier ICT report - EoZ.]

According to the B'Tselem data, 773 of those killed did not take part in the hostilities, 320 of whom were minors under the age of 18 and 109 were women (above the age of 18). The rest of those killed were 330 armed combatants, 245 Palestinian policemen – most of whom were killed in aerial bombings of the police station – and 38 others whose participation in the hostilities could not be determined.
The report itself is not yet on B'Tselem's website so I cannot see all the details, but it is supposed to list the names of all the victims so it will be interesting to compare it to the PCHR, PMoH and Al Mezan lists.

Just from this summary we can see that B'Tselem seems to not consider whether those killed were members of terror groups; they are only looking at evidence that they were armed at the time they were killed. While this is understandable - one has to define "civilian" somehow, and this definition seems in line with international human rights standards - it necessarily means that terrorists who were hiding as civilians would be undercounted. For example, I have previously posted a video showing terrorists dressed as civilians shooting a rocket from the middle of a tree-lined street in Jabalya and running away after the fuse is lit. If they were killed a minute later by the IDF, without any weapons on them and two blocks away, B'Tselem's methodology would presumably call them "civilians."

For better or for worse, it is more reasonable and probably more accurate to assume that all members of terror organizations were de facto militants at the time they were killed rather than make a presumption that they were civilians.

Hopefully the report will be on-line soon and we can look into the details and see how it jives with the research that Suzanne, t34zakat, PTWatch and I have been doing. But since we have so far found 656 legitimate targets, compared to B'Tselem's number of between 575 and 613, we can determine that B'Tselem is being liberal in its definition of "civilian."

It also shows that they are more intellectually honest than the PCHR, which defined Hamas policemen - most of whom were al-Qassam Brigades members - as civilian by default.

UPDATE: It turns out that the ICRC wrote its own interpretation of how to define combatants when dealing with non-state actors who don't wear uniforms. They are to be commended for at least tackling the issue.

They write:
As has been shown above, in IHL governing non-international armed conflict, the concept of organized armed group refers to non-State armed forces in a strictly functional sense. For the practical purposes of the principle of distinction, therefore, membership in such groups cannot depend on abstract affiliation, family ties, or other criteria prone to error,
arbitrariness or abuse. Instead, membership must depend on whether the continuous function assumed by an individual corresponds to that collectively exercised by the group as a whole, namely the conduct of hostilities on behalf of a non-State party to the conflict. Consequently, under IHL, the decisive criterion for individual membership in an organized armed group is whether a person assumes a continuous function for the group involving his or her direct participation in hostilities (hereafter: "continuous combat function").

Continuous combat function does not imply de jure entitlement to combatant privilege.52 Rather, it distinguishes members of the organized fighting forces of a non-State party from civilians who directly participate in hostilities on a merely spontaneous, sporadic, or unorganized basis, or who assume exclusively political, administrative or other non-combat
functions.53

Continuous combat function requires lasting integration into an organized armed group acting as the armed forces of a non-State party to an armed conflict. Thus, individuals whose continuous function involves the preparation, execution, or command of acts or operations amounting to direct participation in hostilities are assuming a continuous combat function. An individual recruited, trained and equipped by such a group to continuously and directly participate
in hostilities on its behalf can be considered to assume a continuous combat function even before he or she first carries out a hostile act. This case must be distinguished from persons comparable to reservists who, after a period of basic training or active membership, leave the armed group and reintegrate into civilian life. Such "reservists" are civilians until and for such time as they are called back to active duty.54

Individuals who continuously accompany or support an organized armed group, but whose function does not involve direct participation in hostilities, are not members of that group within the meaning of IHL. Instead, they remain civilians assuming support functions, similar to private
contractors and civilian employees accompanying State armed forces.55 Thus, recruiters, trainers, financiers and propagandists may continuously contribute to the general war effort of a non-State party, but they are not members of an organized armed group belonging to that party unless their function additionally includes activities amounting to direct participation in hostilities.56 The same applies to individuals whose function is limited to the purchasing, smuggling, manufacturing and maintaining of weapons and other equipment outside specific military operations or to the collection of intelligence other than of a tactical nature.57

Although such persons may accompany organized armed groups and provide substantial support to a party to the conflict, they do not assume continuous combat function and, for the purposes of the principle of distinction, cannot be regarded as members of an organized armed group. 58 As civilians, they benefit from protection against direct attack unless and for such time as they directly participate in hostilities, even though their activities or location may increase their exposure to incidental death or injury.
I need to read the whole thing, but I believe that the vast majority of terrorists that our group identified would fit under these criteria. The Hamas and PIJ obituaries list exactly what heroic deeds they were doing at the time they were killed, for example. Most of the others were identified as members of specific brigades, which means that they would be (IMO) considered equivalent to uniformed army.

A couple of al-Qassam Brigades people, like a cook and a group of singers, might be considered civilian by the ICRC definition.

Notably, many experts were upset that the ICRC refused to define voluntary human shields for military targets as combatants.