B'Tselem, proportionality, the civilian:military ratio

Tuvia Brodie,

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Tuvia Brodie
Tuvia Brodie has a PhD from the University of Pittsburgh under the name Philip Brodie. He has worked for the University of Pittsburgh, Chatham College and American Express. He and his wife made aliyah in 2010. All of his children have followed. He believes in Israel's right to exist. He believes that the words of Tanach (the Jewish Bible) are meant for us. His blog address is http://tuviainil.blogspot.com He usually publishes 3-4 times a week on his blog and 1-3 times at Arutz Sheva. Please check the blog regularly for new posts.

Last week, you read here about the link between the Gaza 2014 war--and Hiroshima (Tuvia Brodie, "Hiroshima, Israel, the bomb--and Human rights lies", arutzsheva, August, 15, 2016). Today, we take a different look at that same 2014 war.

Today, we look at a new report published recently by the NGO, B'Tselem (“50 Days: More than 500 Children: Facts and figures on fatalities in Gaza, Summer 2014”, July 20, 2016).Because of this most recent B'Tselem report, we're going to look at 2014 Gaza war civilian deaths in terms of a war's expected civilian:military death ratio. We're going to talk about something that will always be ignored by those who demonize Israel over Gaza deaths.

In a moment,you will see how those who would destroy Israel distort, misrepresent and manipulate fact for the sole purpose of harming the Jewish state.

B'Tselem is a Jewish anti-Israel Non-Government Organization (NGO). This NGO is based in Israel. Its Homepage says its goal is to promote “a future where all Israelis and Palestinians will live in freedom and dignity [my emphasis]”.

This Homepage gives the impression that B'Tselem is concerned about both Israelis and 'Palestinians'. But if you stay on the B’Tselem site and click on, About B’Tselem, you discover that B’Tselem isn’t about “all Israelis and Palestinians” [my emphasis]. Its full name tells you otherwise: “The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories” (ibid).

The phrase, ‘Occupied Territories’ is not neutral. It's politically charged. In public discourse, it's typically used by those who bond with the ‘Palestinian Cause’. That ‘Cause’ doesn't seek peace and dignity between Arab and Jew. It seeks to replace the Jewish Israel with an Arab-Muslim state called, ‘Palestine’. In other words, the 'Palestinian Cause' seeks to destroy Israel.

The Jewish B’Tselem defends that 'Cause'. Part of that 'defense' includes aggressive attacks against Israel. 

It does its pro-'Palestinian'/anti-Israel dirty work by accusing Israel of war crimes. Yes, it does talk about Arab attacks against Jews—and Arab attacks against Arabs. But in its major effort to research-and-accuse, it focuses squarely on Israel. It distorts the truth to accuse its own home--the Jewish state--of crimes against humanity.

For example, just last month (July 20, 2016), B’Tselem released a report on the 2014 Gaza-Israel war (“50 Days: More than...," ibid). In the ‘interactive’ portion of this report, B’Tselem presents its own Gaza fatality figures: (1) total Gazans killed: 2,202; (2), total killed who were participants in hostilities [militants], 762; those killed who didn’t participate in hostilities [civilians]: 1,394; fatalities about whom no information was available [unknown]: 46 (ibid).

B’Tselem defends these numbers. These numbers aren't frivolous. This “data are based on a meticulous, exhaustive investigation carried out by the organization’s field researchers in Gaza, which were cross referenced with other publicly available sources”. More important, B’Tselem states that the 1,394 civilians it claims Israel killed in Gaza truly “casts doubt on Israel’s claim that all the targets were legitimate and that the military adhered to the principle of proportionality during the attacks and took precautions to reduce harm to civilians” (ibid). B’Tselem concludes that it holds Israeli decision-makers fully responsible—“both morally and legally – for the extreme harm [done] to civilians [in Gaza, in 2014]”.

Using language of International Law, B'Tselem says Israel didn't behave with 'proportionality' in its attacks on Gaza (a potential crime). Israel inflicted 'extreme' harm (a potential crime). It concludes that Israel's decision-makers should be held fully responsible, both morally and legally for what it did in Gaza--a veiled recommendation that Israel's leaders should be charged in International court for war crimes committed against Gaza. 

B’Tselem concocts a false case against Israel. You can see how false that case is when you look at Gaza's casualty numbers through the prism of a civilian:military death ratio.

In fact, when you understand the true significance of civilian death numbers in Gaza, you'll see that B’Tselem’s numbers don’t prove that Israel did “massive harm” to Gaza civilians--or killed 'disproportionately'. They prove something else entirely about Israel. 

Two centuries ago, armies didn’t typically set out deliberately to kill civilians (Valerie Epps, “Civilian casualties in modern war”,Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law, August 28, 2013, p 309). That has changed. Now, civilians “have been moved to stage-center in the theatre of war” (ibid, quoting an ICRC 2001 report), p 319). This change represents a fundamental shift in the nature of war, and it “is illustrated by a stark statistic: in World War I, nine soldiers were killed for every civilian life lost . In today’s wars, it is estimated that ten civilians die for every soldier or fighter” ” (ibid, p. 319).

Today, some object to this 10-civilians-for-every-one-fighter death ratio. They claim it’s way too high (ibid, p 320).

But…the more time passes, the more wars we see, the more correct it appears. Researchers who study how many civilians die for every fighter killed in war (the civilian:military death ratio) have discovered a disturbing trend in modern warfare: civilians are no longer incidental victims (A. Wagner, S.J.A Mason, “The civilianization of armed conflict: trends and implications”,internationalreviewoftheredcross, December 2008, volume 90, no. 872, p. 845). Civilians have become the main target (ibid). They are killed at a massive rate (Adam Roberts, “Lives and Statistics: are 90% of war victims civilian?”, Survival, vol 52, no 3, June-July, 2010). 

The UN agrees with these higher civilian death estimates. As reported by UNICEF, "Civilian fatalities in wartime have climbed from 5 percent at the turn of the [20th] century...to more than 90 percent" (Patterns in conflict: civilians are now the target", unicef, no date).

In short, B’Tselem ignores UNICEF findings. It ignores the ugly reality that modern war has become ‘civilianized’ (Wagner, Mason, ibid). It ignores the fact that modern war is no longer about the clash of armies. It's about killing civilians (unicef, ibid). 

This focus on 'war in order to kill civilians' appears to indict Israel. After all, if 21st century war is about killing massive numbers of civilians, then that's what Israel did in Gaza, didn't it? At least, that's what the anti-Israel industry claims. That's what B'Tselem claims. 

But as you'll see in a moment, that's a lie. The opposite is true.

Consider how B'Tselem attacks Israel: It states in its July, 2016 report that in the 2014 war, the Gaza civilian death rate was 63% of total deaths (1,394 in a total of 2,202 deaths). That high percentage number was, for B’Tselem, proof positive that Israel was morally and legally (sic) responsible for “massive” harm to civilians. It was also the only 'proof' B'Tselem needed to accuse Israel of killing Gazans at a "disproportionate" rate.

But even when one rejects the Israeli argument--that less than 900 civilians died in 2014 Gaza (The 2014 Gaza Conflict”, mfa.gov.il [Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs], June 14, 2015; click on full report, pp. 2-3)—and uses instead B’Tselem’s inflated numbers, the civilian death number (1,394) is not shocking. It's not 'extreme'. It's not 'disproportionate'. It's not what B'Tselem claims it is.

You see, B'Tselem's inflated civilian death number translates into a civilian:military death ratio of 1.83:1. That is, for every fighter killed, 1.83 civilians were killed.

When you compare this 1.83:1 Gaza ratio with the average war ratio of more than 8:1, Israel is not a brutal, indiscriminate killer. Israel did not kill 'disproportionately'. 

When modern war may now create as many as 8-10 civilian deaths for every fighter killed (Sabrina Tavernise, A.W. Lehren, “A Grim Portrait of Civilian Deaths in Iraq”,newyorktimes, October 22, 2010), Israel should be honoured for keeping the Gaza civilian:military death ratio below 2.0:1. Given that Hamas does everything possible to enhance civilian deaths (fighting from urban areas, using human shields, misrepresenting fighter deaths as civilian deaths, using residences, hospitals, schools, mosques and UN refugee centers as command posts and weapons depots, etc.), Israel’s 1.83:1 number is nothing short of miraculous.

B’Tselem misrepresents the truth. It prefers to pull facts out of context to support the lie that Israel is a brutal and indiscriminate killer who uses war as an excuse to kill innocent ‘Palestinians’--and to kill those 'innocents' 'disproportionately'.


When we look at the 2014 Gaza death numbers through the lens of a civilian:military death ratio, we can understand how correct Israel was when it claimed that it took extreme measures to protect civilians. The truth is, Israel didn’t kill 8 or 9 or 10 civilians for every fighter killed (today's probable average) in the 2014 Gaza war. In that war, fewer that 2 civilians died for every fighter killed. 

For modern warfare, that's extraordinary proof that Israel protected civilians as it bombed. It's also an unheard-of accomplishment for modern, urban guerrilla warfare.

B'Tselem is not an honest broker of information. Its published reports aid Israel's enemies.

B'Tselem works to destroy Israel. It betrays the Jewish nation.