There is a way to end the Gaza tragedy …
but playing the blame game is not it
Contributed by Ira Weiss
It is tempting for activists on both sides to cynically use the tragedy of this war to advance their political agendas. One example of that is an attempt by some anti-Israel activists to portray the civilian casualties as the result of some special Israeli malevolence. It is estimated that perhaps 70% of the deaths from Israeli attacks in Gaza are non-combatants. That is a tragic and lamentable reflection of how modern warfare is fought by all countries these days, not evidence of some especially egregious Israeli military practice.
There was a symposium held in 1983 in Finland on “Children and War.” Kahnert and Pitt delivered a seminal paper at that symposium and it was published in the proceedings of the conference.
Kahnert and Pitt found that until about 100 years ago most victims of warfare were combatants, but not since then. In WWI about 5% of the victims were non-combatants, but it was 50% in WWII. In the Vietnam war it was somewhere between 50 and 90%! And, when we get to the Lebanese civil war it was about 97%. These two experts on civilian casualties in war estimated that if there were another conventional war in Europe, “up to 99% of the victims would be civilians.”
Gaza is a much more urban and crowded setting than most battlefields. And, while there are farms and open fields in Gaza, Hamas militants almost always intentionally set up their rocket launchers in crowded neighborhoods instead. Moreover, the government of Gaza routinely uses apartments, mosques, hospitals and ambulances to store rockets and other weapons.
Given those facts, it seems to me that if Israel fought the way most other countries fight wars today, we would expect the ratio of non-combatant deaths to be well above 90%. That is what happened in the Lebanon civil war in the 1970s and that is what is happening in Syria now. 70% is tragic. VERY tragic. However, it is NOT evidence of some egregious practice specific to Israeli military tactics. In fact, I think the only reason it is not 99% as Kahnert and Pitt predicted, is that the IDF is using leaflets, phone calls and warning shots to notify civilians of impending attacks on nearby military targets. I don’t know of an another army that does that.
War is hell and the current conflagration in Gaza is no exception. The world community needs to find a way to end it. And the ONLY way is to meet the legitimate needs of BOTH populations by ending BOTH the blockade of Gaza and the Hamas rockets. For a cease fire to provide more than temporary respite from more war and more civilian deaths, it will have to include an agreement to BOTH end the blockade of Gaza and to disarm Hamas. I don’t think one is possible without the other. Absent an enforceable and verifiable disarming of Hamas, Israel will not end the blockade. Since Israel withdrew from the Gaza in 2005, militants have launched over 11,000 rockets into Israel. The millions of Israelis live under the constant threat of rocket attacks, will not support an end to the invasion, much less an end to the blockade, if they cannot be assured that Hamas will not again use an armistice to re-arm and start the rocket attacks again.