Middle East

Casualties and Solutions in the Israel-Palestinian Conflict, 2009

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Barry Rubin

If you launch a West Bank operation to defeat a terrorist war (against international complaints); build a security fence (despite international

criticism); and fight a defensive action in the Gaza Strip (despite international condemnation) the result is that fewer of your citizens are murdered.

And that outcome is far more important than the international criticisms and slanders.

In 2009, Israel suffered the lowest number of casualties during the last decade. A total of 15 Israelis were killed last year, down from 36 in 2008. Nine of the 15 were killed during Israel’s offensive into Gaza (four soldiers killed by Hamas fire; five civilians killed by Hamas rockets). One soldier was killed later in a Hamas cross-border attack and five civilians were killed in terror attacks from the West Bank. Another four soldiers were killed in the Gaza war by friendly fire.  

Compared to 2,048 rockets fired from Gaza in 2008, only 566 were shot off in 2009, mostly in the very beginning of the year before the Israeli operation in Gaza was completed.

Almost no Palestinians were killed on the West Bank for the simple reason that they were not waging warfare against Israel. The restraint of the Palestinian Authority paid off in terms of low levels of violence and successful economic development. 

A far larger number of Palestinians were killed in Gaza, though far fewer civilians than is generally claimed. This was the result, of course, of Hamas reopening the war in late 2008, despite Israeli pleas to continue the ceasefire.

Regarding the Palestine Committee on Human Rights’ figures, which are uncritically used by virtually all the media and NGOs, 1415 Gazans were killed in the fighting (previous lists counted 1417 or 1434). The group claims that of this number, 926 were civilians, including 313 children and 116 women; 255 were non-combatant police officers (they count only 10 of them as combatants). According to this report, 236 combatants were killed, representing 16.7 percent of the total deaths.

The blog Elder of Ziyon, among others, has done extensive documented research on this issue.
7 of them were either duplicates (5), killed by Hamas (1) or blank (1.) This leaves 1408.

After doing detailed studies of Hamas and Palestinian media accounts, Elders of Ziyon was able to identify specifically 661 of these 1408 as combatants. This included police and others who were praised by Hamas or Palestinian media as heroic fighters and members of military formations.

No doubt, a higher figure could be arrived at with more information from Hamas and other Palestinian sources. In addition, many civilians who were killed were acting at the time as voluntary or involuntary human shields for Hamas fighters. All of those who died—whether civilian or armed—did so as a result of Hamas’s decisions to wage war on Israel and to hide among and behind civilians as its military strategy.

Equally important, Israel’s strategy should be recognized as being as successful as possible in defending its own citizens. Since the Palestinian side—both Palestinian Authority and Hamas—refuse to end the conflict, no such strategy can be perfectly successful. 

The principle of asymmetric warfare used by Palestinian groups dictates continuing the conflict no matter how high the costs and losses and no matter how low the possibility of military victory. The battle is to be continued in order to wear down the adversary and bring in outside political forces which will be mobilized for the Palestinian side precisely by the appearance of suffering and the reality of continued strife.

One hopes that the year 2010 will see less suffering on both sides. But we should—especially if we want to minimize that suffering and solve the conflict—recognize from where that suffering arises and how it can be mitigated by defensive measures, maintaining Israeli strategic credibility, weakening terrorist forces, and realistic diplomacy

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan)


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